THE BLOG
07/31/2012 05:00 pm ET | Updated Sep 30, 2012

Opportunity Working - I'll Tell You What Isn't

I do voluntary work at a Youth Project here in London. I also work in HR, so I have a fair idea of what people in general have to do in order to a) get a job b) remain employed. I also have an insiders view of the various job creation and back to work schemes that are around.

Firstly, what I do know is the current job creation schemes are not working. The main problem being, the providers of these schemes having been awarded mutli million pound contracts to get people back to work they have no idea at ground level what that actually means.

How the process generally works is like this. Some mandarin on a platinum final salary pension within Central Government is tasked with getting people back to work. This person (who is also very bright) will have come from a firmly middle class background, university educated (nothing wrong with that!), now living in nappy valley somewhere in the capital or is commuting from Surrey (again nothing wrong with that).

This person is fully versed in the concept of unemployment and will have had many meetings and round table discussions on the subject and could probably write an excellent document on the topic, but practically the closest they will ever have come to unemployment or the unemployed will be passing the local Job Centre on Guildford High St very quickly, whilst shopping in Waitrose on a Saturday.

Therein lies part of the problem, they are fantastic at the theory but have no sense of the practicalities and problems associated with unemployment. So this person appoints a working group who decide to invite organisations to tender. Many meetings are held, much organic and fair trade coffee and biscuits are eaten in the process and many an earnest discussion is held.

Organisations submitting tenders comprise of groups of consultants hired at great expense to put together a fancy Powerpoint presentation resplendent with graphics on the subject to wow the mandarin from Surrey. Mandarin (who is no match for these smart foxes) is suitably wowed by all but in particular one organisation (usually decided well before the process begins) gives the prized cash cow away (these contracts are considered very easy money, given the vast amounts involved and lack of accountability on the part of the Civil Service). Its really easy to fudge the figures on the monthly Service Level report designed in equal measure to impress and fool the hapless manadarin into thinking unemployment as we know it will soon be at an end.

The winning contractor hires even more consultants (usually ex Big 4) on about £1k a day to design how the contract 'will look', not really what it 'will do'! Again no clue about the unemployed or of unemployment at a real level. These consultants, after putting the finishing touches on some fancy graphs and tables, then sub contract the actual delivery of the project to even more companies and this is where the rot really starts.

This is the level at which the real money can be made, by squeezing the bottom line, these sub contractors tend to hire out of work trainers on a poor rate to deliver sub standard training at the job centre, so the less they spend on the project the more they earn. As far as the mandarin and consultants are concerned, once the unemployed show up, attend a c.v. and interview skills workshop, there should be no stopping them finding themselves work. Except we all know its not as simple as that.

So who suffers? Well the people who desperately need it the most thats who. They get a c.v. workshop and interview skills day from a disinterested, underpaid trainer, a few Powerpoint handouts and are none the wiser at the end of the day on how to actually find a job, and the cycle continues.

Its then left to 'not for profit' agencies, youth groups and unpaid volunteers to pick up the pieces for free.

If it was up to me, I would insist that the contracts are awarded to much smaller agencies, decided at local level, on the ground by the people who know what is needed and the ones who matter. I would insist on smaller groups and intense follow up and a much more personal service - a total wrap around service that may even have to deal with teaching someone to read and write, sort out their criminal convictions, give them confidence, steer them towards relevant work, retrain them, show someone cares. It might cost a bit more, but it does work and in the long run billions are saved in social security costs, and benefits.

Keep the provision, small, relevant and tight and make sure those responsible from the outset know what they are doing. Spend to save and society on the whole will benefit and not just the contractors and consultants.