Project Description

Recro and Middlesbrough JCP Entrenched Worklessness Pilot Case Study – Part 1

My name is Mark and I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to do this programme, I should be studying for an IT course I am doing. I’m only here because they will stop my benefits otherwise. I will attend but refuse to participate.

Great start eh? It gets better. The room erupts with approval and it transpires that 12 of the 13 attendees don’t want to be here and only are as they have been mandated by advisors, two of whom are sitting in on this first session and will come back for the final session three days later.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. When we first started running “The Life You Want ©” in 2010 we only wanted people who volunteered to do the programme. It is literally a life changing experience and designed specifically for the long term unemployed. Many participants say it is the best thing they have ever done, they’ve learnt more on the programme than they ever did on anything else, even those who don’t want to be there.

We or our partners get them into work, quickly. We have a very high success record, regularly between 80% to 100% progression into sustainable employment. So why is “The Life You Want ©” not available everywhere and built into employability schemes and why do people not jump at the chance to do it? The JCP team at Middlesbrough have been great, this has been best part of a year in the making and that’s quick for this stuff. You can see why this is a challenge.

Middlesbrough is one of six entrenched worklessness pilots across the country which are testing different approaches to getting long term unemployed people into employment. It’s a tough ask. Middlesbrough is one of the highest unemployment areas in the country. I’m looking round the room and struck by how low many of these people seem. Life is hard on benefits. Many look like they’ve got some serious health issues, something we later learn to be the case. I visualise the meter whirring almost to overload as the cost to the public purse, let alone the personal cost and humanity around this.

The group thinks that most of these courses are a waste of time, in their experience. Some are undoubtedly well intentioned, others more about getting money from the system. This is a challenge and how do you differentiate, whether you’re a commissioner, a provider or unemployed?

For people who have been unemployed for years and been on numerous courses, often without even a sniff of a job, they are sceptical, cynical and hardened. Here we go again. Their reference points are failure, experience tells them you don’t get a job just because you do a course, or you get a qualification or a certificate.

It’s often a similar story for those who work on the frontline with these people, JCP advisors, housing officers, the voluntary sector and others. Successes with this client group are too few and far between.

What Employers Want

The big win being sought is also what employers are desperate for. They repeatedly feedback that they can’t get the skills and people they need. The system tries to respond. Employers say the same.

What they’re after is often intangible. You know it when you see it but also recognise when you don’t. It can be distilled into attitude. Underpinned with confidence, motivation, aspiration and self-esteem, sometimes termed soft skills, all things “The Life You Want ©” brings out in people.

Back to the group at Middlesbrough. It’s a tough crowd but this process works.

The advisors come back for the final session to see for themselves the difference in their clients. This is what a paradigm shift in confidence, motivation and aspiration looks like. This is how focused people can be with the right specialist help and expertise. They later tell me they were dreading opening the door, given what they’d seen from the first session.

They’re amazed by what they see. More importantly, the feedback from the group is excellent.

They say…

“This programme was totally different to anything I’ve done previously…”

“Something happened during that exercise, I’m not sure what it was but I felt a change inside of me…”

“I’m ready now, time for a job, no more training courses…”

“I’ve learnt to believe I can do something rather than thinking I can’t”

“The story exercise got me the most… it made me realise that life’s too short, just make the most of life and don’t hold back… if there’s something you want then go for it”

“This is the best course I’ve done because you don’t just concentrate on jobs, CV’s etc but you talk about reality and make us think about our future and our lives”

What Happens Next?

Now, the process is not finished. We delivered “The Life You Want ©”, a 3 day personal breakthrough, motivation and employment programme, then completed a handover with JCP advisors. We’ve just had confirmation that we can do more work with the group, specialist training, tailored to specific requirements where necessary, one to one coaching and mentoring, adding value and bespoke local solutions. We can guide and progress these people into sustainable employment.

On previous programmes participants tell us they had no idea how many opportunities were available, how to get into them and develop a career there. And then they get a job, sustain it, they often get promoted or move to a better job. They’re starting to develop a career. They connect through Linked In. They’re doing really well, this is what’s it’s about. No longer costing the state money but contributing to it and not stuck in a low skill, low paid job. The biggest thing employers are looking for is attitude and when it is there they can develop that person through the organisation.

The Statistics and Gathering Evidence

Statistically, it is very difficult to get the long term unemployed into sustainable employment and every report and piece of research shows this. As unemployment continues to fall some areas report that they are literally running out of unemployed people on JSA (jobseekers allowance).

As the economy picks up, many employers say it’s getting harder to attract good people. As immigration is reduced, where are we going to get the people?

The answer is in the stats less talked about, the long term unemployed including those on benefits including ESA and IS. We know some of these people are unable to work. That’s fine. But many of them could work and will have to work as deficit reduction tightens, labour shortages increase, and companies and sectors increasingly risk market failure due to talent shortages. It was highlighted at the 2014 CBI Annual Conference that skill shortages are the biggest risk to economic growth.

It’s a complicated journey for all involved and that’s part of what Recro does, helping translate that strategy into an operational reality, meeting the needs of employers and the long-term unemployed.

A New Research Experiment

We started an experiment in Middlesbrough with a measurement tool similar in style to a psychometric questionnaire, with 35 statements. We gave it to participants at the beginning of day one and then again at the end of day three. There are some control questions in there where the response should not change.

There’s an element of complexity around the responses as some which change may indicate a greater awareness by the participant of a knowledge gap, for example or that they do not know as much about something as they thought they did.

However, for many of the responses there is an obvious positive correlation available and a number of participants reported a 30%-40% positive change in just three days. Remember some of those responses will not change so that’s a very impressive shift. We’ll continue to use the questionnaire with Middlesbrough and refine and develop it as well for other areas we work in. This should help the learning and evidence for policy makers and funders.

What Next?

The Life You Want ©” needs to be built into schemes working with the long term unemployed. Policy makers, commissioners and providers have to understand this. Employers need to demand it from the system.

So changing the system and how it operates is the first challenge. Recent research from INLOGOV has found that you have to change the behaviour and thinking of the professionals first, before you can begin with your target population or client group.

The next challenge is getting policy makers, funders and practitioners to understand this work, what it is, how essential it is and what it enables to happen following it.

Change can be uncomfortable for some and standing still is not an option anymore. The desire and determination we facilitate and instil in participants during “The Life You Want ©” needs to be developed and replicated in the sector to make it happen in the first place.

Initial feedback from the JCP advisors in Middlesbrough having since met with their clients is that there is a noticeable change within a significant number of the group and significant change in attitude.

We don’t have the financial statistics available yet but I would expect that even if we get just one of those people into sustainable employment (and we would expect the number to be higher), the total programme will have more than paid for itself. A significant proportion of the group into work? Now that’s a serious amount of money being saved.

If you’d like more information on “The Life You Want ©” or how Recro can help your organisation please contact John McDonough on 07837 663 969 or