Sunday, December 17, 2017

Journalist's first-hand experience on JobPath

PARTING COMPANY WITH TURAS NUA

- "Potentially, I was a poster boy for their endeavours"
BY BEN PANTER

What is it like to spend a year on JobPath? 

We recognise the importance of hearing from people experiencing disadvantage or discrimination.
Many have no doubt found JobPath worked for them, but despite statistics that point to low levels of complaints, the 'labour activation' programme seems to dissatisfy many. 
It has been debated at the highest levels in the Dáil, however nobody in that chamber has the first hand experience that Ben Panter was able to bring to the table. 
- Editor

FULL TEXT OF BEN PANTER'S ARTICLE, as published in the current edition of 'Changing Ireland' (available through Easons):
Jon was ecstatic – The Community Employment (CE) Scheme had offered him a role as a carer, enabling him to achieve his lifelong vocation, after a period of unemployment. Days later his tone had changed.
“Because I am with Turas Nua, I am not allowed to take the job,” he said.
I thought he was joking, but alas no. A place on a CE scheme is not a job.

Turas Nua is one of two companies that provide JobPath supports nationally and  as the overseer of national policy for the scheme later told me:
“CE is not full-time sustainable employment, but it is a stepping stone back to work for those who have been out of the workforce for an extended period.”

Once ‘activated’ onto the JobPath scheme, the principle goes, employment prospects should improve, negating the need for such initiatives.
“You will have a personal advisor who will provide intensive individual support and assistance, to help you find a sustainable full-time job,” said Ann Monaghan,

If by intensive she meant three sessions spread over six weeks where you are asked the sort of questions a probation officer would ask - about addiction, debt and family dynamics – then she was right.

Unfortunately, the JobPath programme can actively hinder prospects.  According to the DSP’s figures from their performance report of January 2017*, people unemployed for 1-2 years find themselves less likely to find work in their first year on JobPath.
When I asked about the troubling findings, I was told by an official, “It’s drawn from a very small sample size – the report qualifies that.”
Maybe? I was soon made rudely aware of how it might be the case.

At this stage, unaware of Jon’s and many other people’s experiences, I revised my C.V. and began trawling the websites for opportunities.

Two weeks later, I was called to Ennis to attend a meeting where I was guided through a questionnaire. It probes for details such as your family situation and any addiction or debt problems you might have. However, after an alloted 15 minutes, my time was up and I was re-booked in for another meeting a fortnight later to complete the task that could have easily been completed online.

The slow progress rankled. I was used to working efficiently with the bright young ranks of future journalists in the University of Limerick newsroom.

“Journalism,”  I was advised by the then supervisor of the Ennis office, Roisin,” was a niche career.”
“That’s alright, I’m flexible,” I replied, keeping the bright side up. Surely a shiny new degree would get me something?

A Jobsbridge internship (note - the scheme is now closed) in a local community radio station seemed the ideal chance to polish my broadcasting skills and the much maligned €50 (extra payment) would almost cover the transport up and down the coast of Clare.
“You won’t be able to apply,” the station manager told me bluntly. “People on JobPath cannot avail of the scheme, we had the same problem with our other (singular) candidate.”

Not one to be put off, I secured an interview for a job as a graphic designer with a multi-national in Shannon.
The application process had been challenging, involving phone screenings and online tests. This was a valuable opportunity. Taking “ownership” - to borrow from the list of HR buzzwords employed - I asked Turas Nua for a mock interview.
The appointment was made, but my advisor failed to show-up. Another day lost coming and going for nothing. I flunked the interview, I know that was on me, but still.
Winter was in full swing, I was living in a seasonal town with next to no transport and local employment was non-existent.

I needed transport, so I broadened my search for paid work, looking beyond journalism. Fortunately, I had a decade worth of experience driving heavy machinery on building sites and I heard of an opportunity in construction. The pay was good, I would soon be out of the mire on those wages. There was one barrier, the price of my safe-pass, manual handling and machine tickets totalled €450, a small investment that would be paid in weeks if I was on a salary, but on social welfare would take months to save.
A phone call to O’Dwyers Safety Services in Limerick seemed to bring forth good news. “The government will fund your machine ticket if you have been claiming benefits (including Back to Education Allowance) for the last twelve months.” Which was true. “Unless you are on JobPath,” he added.

It was no longer up for debate – the scheme tasked with getting me back to work was actively hurting me. I was frustrated, confused and aware that depression was beginning to sink its claws into me.
To get back into the workforce I needed to get out of JobPath. I contacted Ann Monaghan in the DSP.
“We do not facilitate a customer to move from one activation support to another. This is for a number of reasons, one of which is to ensure that the customer derives the maximum benefit from the support they are with,” she said.
“What could I do?” I asked.
“If you do not find a full-time sustainable job at the end of your 52 weeks with JobPath, you will return to the Intreo activation service and CE remains an option which you can discuss with your Intreo Case Officer,” she replied.

In other words wait it out; a course that Jon had decided to take. “I told Turas Nua that I will do what they need me to do and no more.” A waste of his time, social welfare payments, and the resources funneled to HR ‘professionals’ in their light and airy offices. 

Pleasantries aside, I furnished Roisin with my experiences, my findings and the work I had been doing behind the scenes, making sure to inform her of my correspondence with Ann. I finally got the promise of career advice and a mock interview - 26 weeks into the 52-week programme.

Ben Panter
Potentially, I was a poster boy for their organisation. Someone who had committed to improving his career prospects and was flexible and keen to work. I will continue to do so, handicapped though I was in my attempts at a New Journey with Turas Nua.


RESPONSE
Since Ben began JobPath, and his enquiries, the DSP’s name has changed to reflect a wider role and it is now the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP).
The DEASP were given an opportunity to respond to this article and provided the following information:

The most recent performance report on the JobPath service (published on the Department’s website www.welfare.ie) indicates that 19% of Jobseekers who engaged with JobPath between July 2015 and March 2016 entered full time employment. This was 36% above the weighted reference performance rate of 14%.

To the 31st October 2017, of the approximately 129,000 clients who had commenced with the service 412 complaints have been made; this represents 0.32% of the total number who have engaged.

The Department commissioned a Customer Satisfaction Survey to be carried out at the end of 2016. The survey was conducted using a representative sample of 2,000 JobPath clients (1,000 from each provider).

The results of the survey indicated that jobseekers feel that they are receiving a good service, with 76% – 81% satisfaction vs 5% – 8% dissatisfaction; that the contractor’s staff make them feel valued (90%+) and they have a good relationship with their personal adviser (90%+).They also feel that the service has improved their chances of getting a job (68% - 77%).

There is a robust complaints process and inspections regime in place for the oversight of the JobPath contracts. Should a customer feel they have received a less than satisfactory service; it is recommended that they engage with the complaints process provided.

During their time on JobPath, participants are encouraged and supported to take up employment related training, upskilling or other activities which could lead to a sustainable job in addition to assistance with the job application process.
If a person is successful in finding employment, the JobPath Company will provide in-work support to assist with the move back into employment.


WHAT IS JOBPATH?
JobPath is described on www.welfare.ie as “an employment activation service provided to assist jobseekers on the live register to secure and sustain full-time paid employment or self-employment.”  The service is provided on behalf of the Department by two private companies Seetec and Turas Nua.
* A report on the scheme’s performance, as referred to in the article, is available at: http://bit.ly/JopPathPerfJAN17

WHO GETS CALLED?
The Department selects jobseekers on a random basis for referral to JobPath. The scheme is backed by sanctions for those who, without good cause, do not co-operate.

SUCCESS V CRITICISM
There is no doubting the Government’s success in reducing unemployment, from a high of 15% fiver years ago to 6% today. Nonetheless, long-term unemployment remains high and the JobPath scheme - while well-meaning and despite the Government saying that the number of formal complaints is low - has drawn much criticism.
Opposition parties say JobPath makes it impossible for people to take up internships, or CE places, to the detriment of communities depending on CE-supported services.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has raised very serious complaints about the scheme in the Dail. Sinn Fein said JobPath sometimes makes it harder for unemployed people to find work and has published a document called ‘JobPath Exposed’. Fianna Fail labour spokesperson Willie O’Dea has highlighted the instrusiveness of questions posed by Turas Nua.
Citizens have also challenged the demand on them to “comply and engage”: http://www.broadsheet.ie/tag/jobpath/

BACKGROUND TO Dept’s RESPONSE
Ben formally submitted questions under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to the Department. His questions were answered by Ann Monaghan, Assistant Principal Officer in Contracted Public Appointment Services - responsible for overseeing the operations of the JobPath service from a policy and contract perspective for the Department nationally.

Since Ben began JobPath, and his enquiries, the DSP’s name has changed to reflect a wider role and it is now the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

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