Community Worker Scheme not reaching its objective – NAO
A scheme supposedly aimed to facilitate the entry into the labour market of long-term unemployed persons is failing to meet its objectives with less than 10% of the participants finding a proper job.
This warning was sounded by the National Audit Office in a review of the Community Worker Scheme from which it transpired that out of 1,476 participants, just 121 managed to enter the labour market.
Launched in 2016, this scheme is run jointly between Jobs Plus and the General Workers Union and is costing millions per year. However, the results so far have been poor prompting criticism from various quarters that this scheme is intended primarily to keep unemployment levels artificially low.
In its analysis the NAO remarked that the scheme has not yet attained its aim of preparing and encouraging the vast majority of participants to seek employment in higher-value added economic sectors. “Within this context, the Scheme is being rendered as an end in itself rather than a steppingstone towards gainful and sustainable employment,” the report read.
This verdict was based on the strength of several criteria, whereby the NAO measured the progress registered following an earlier review published in 2019 when it has issued 11 recommendations. Subsequently, a new contract was signed in 2021, in which various provisions were introduced to take some of those recommendations on board. Three years down the line, four recommendations were fully implemented, five partly implemented and two not implemented at all.
On a positive note, recommendations for the inclusion of comprehensive deliverables and definitions in the contract agreement, as well as the establishment of the level and frequency of training were followed. Nonetheless, the minimum number of hours of training per year, set at 25, was deemed by the NAO as to low to achieve the ultimate objective to upskill the participants.
Concerns were also raised on key performance indicators in place to measure the scheme’s output, outcomes and impacts which translate to an evaluation of the employee’s job performance, behaviour and development. While mechanisms were introduced to collate performance indicators, these were not linked to any target or benchmark against which the outcome of the Scheme can be evaluated. Hence, the NAO expressed itself as uninformed as to the depth of analysis undertaken by Jobsplus in relation to these operational indicators. Such assessments could potentially provide pointers as to why few participants are partaking in gainful employment beyond the Scheme, the NAO pointed out.
In its conclusion the NAO called for efforts to ensure that this Scheme produces the desired outcomes, namely that improvements are made in the applicants’ employability skills, rather than ending up simply as a numbers exercise whereby persons are just struck off from the unemployment list and shifted on to this Scheme.