By Richard Alberg
On the 31 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be entering a second lockdown on the 5 November. He also announced an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or furlough. The government’s ‘U-turn’ reflects widespread concern about a long-term rise in unemployment.
Between the start of the March lockdown and September, the number of people claiming benefits rose 120% to 2.7 million. There are worries many more jobs will be lost before the UK economy recovers. The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that, optimistically, employment levels will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2022. Its pessimistic conclusions say unemployment will peak at 13.2% (which is four million people) in 2021 and will be 6.3% by the end of 2024.
The face of unemployment is changing. The previous state-led employment schemes focused on the long-term unemployed. Today the most significant job losses are among young people, with 156,000 fewer 16- to 24-year-olds employed compared to three months ago. The hardest-hit industries are retail, hospitality and leisure. But job losses are affecting everyone, in all sectors and skill levels.
Overall, the jobseekers of today are more likely to be job-ready than the long-term unemployed. However, the number of job vacancies has halved in the UK compared to the start of the year, posing additional challenges. Jobseekers need the most agile solutions to find work.
Innovation is essential to creating an adequate response to the UK’s job crisis. Currently, Universal Credit, the ‘digital-first’ solution used by the DWP, attempts to offer personalisation to jobseekers through individual jobseeker commitments. Unfortunately, this personalised approach is cancelled out by the lack of technology in place to effectively job match using candidates’ CVs and commitments.
Jobcentres are not equipped to provide end-to-end employability solutions that amalgamate job search, CV services and training. Consequently, work coaches, who play a valuable role in supporting jobseekers back to work, are not able to target support where it is needed. The technology exists, however, to deliver, track and measure personalised employability solutions.
Digital solutions enable users to access training, advice, and job skills capability at any time. This self-service approach to employability programmes gives the jobseeker technology-assisted flexibility to find work at their own pace. For the job-ready client, the aggregate search engine provides job vacancies from a wide range of agencies and sites, offering geographic flexibility.
Big data and machine learning have a pivotal role in creating a more technologically-capable employability approach. Data can allow work coaches to closely track jobseeker progress, giving them in-depth insights into how best to target their support and find the right employability plan for an individual.
Nudge – the behavioural science innovation that attempts to encourage people to make better choices – has received a bad press recently. However, nudges can be positive and non-intrusive. The Behavioral Institute, for example, found that “compared to an automated fact-based message, a personalised, behaviourally informed text that incorporated reciprocity (the tendency to respond to a positive action with another positive action) by including ‘I’ve booked you a place. Good luck’ increased attendance at job fairs from 10.5% to 26.8%, improving employment prospects.”
Finally, we shouldn’t forget the need to continually update jobseeking skills. Employability solutions should include flexible and accessible eLearning options to help improve the chances of success. All jobseekers should know the most effective ways of identifying their skills-set, creating a CV, performing well in interviews and negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of technology we have available to help improve employability.
As technology evolves, more applications become apparent. In the future, we can look forward to more extensive employability personalisation created from deep insights on employability platforms, job matching services, sentiment analysis to help minimise attrition, more sophisticated nudging and AI. All these capabilities not only help the independently motivated jobseeker, but they also allow job coaches to target interventions for those that need it.
With exciting developments like this ahead, I am certain that the future of employability lies firmly in a complementary blend of technology and person-centred support.
Richard Alberg, CEO, Aptem Employ