Jobcentres for a digital world

28 July 2016

Jobcentres have come a long way from the days when they were a shop-front for local employers to recruit local people by means of paper cards on boards. But although much of what they do has been automated or given a facelift, their core function to match immediate labour supply and demand has changed little. In an age of online job portals, private employment agencies and increasing self-employment, what is the function of the jobcentre? Do governments even need to provide a recruitment service – whether physical or online – when so many others exist?

A wonderful thing about the digital revolution in which we are living is that it allows businesses and organisations to rethink who they really are and what purpose they serve in the context of the newly possible. Digital disruption has far deeper ramifications on job search than moving from paper cards to online services. At Accenture, we see the mission for public employment services shifting from job placement to maximising human capital – helping each person achieve their full employment potential.

This is not a sudden shift in direction; it is the logical extension of changes already taking place in public employment services, accelerated by readily-available technology. First came a policy shift towards conditionality and tying receipt of financial assistance to active job search. Now, the reach of conditionality is extending into those in low-paid work and a key policy question of our times is “whilst the State is providing financial assistance, how much work or income is enough”? Simply getting a person into work – any work – is no longer enough.

It is not a sufficient or satisfactory goal for the person themselves or for the State that supports them.

So what does that really mean in practice? For a start, I would point to three tangible imperatives for public employment services.

Firstly, a focus on outcomes and getting an understanding of what it takes to improve them. Specifically, that means measuring income, employment retention and advancement over time. It means capturing the biographic and contextual data about each individual, recording what was done to help them and how they fared as a result. It is then using that data in a structured way, supported by artificial intelligence tooling, to continually improve how each individual is treated based on the success or otherwise of similar cohorts and data-driven ‘next best action’ advice.

Secondly, public employment services need to recognise their position at the head of an ecosystem of organisations – public, non-profit and private sector – driving human capital advancement. They are a logical point to bring together data and services from educational establishments, employers and other organisations to foster an integrated network for the purpose of economic growth. Public employment services are the best placed organisations to deal with sizeable employment shocks – such as mass redundancies or sudden demand – and should be coordinating the skills supply for regional growth and investment. This means appropriate sharing of the data they hold to foster collaboration and drive insight and, once again, measuring employment outcomes at a regional and strategic level.

Thirdly, public employment services still need to provide individual-level support for those individuals least able to help themselves. Some people will fall through the gaps of the digital workplace. Emphasis must be placed on simple user-experience and service design because increasingly, the individual customers of jobcentres will be the ones currently unable to cope in the wider digital world.

So – yes – governments will still need to provide or enable a recruitment service of sorts, but on a new model. The digital jobcentre, with artificial intelligence at its core, will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how we help people not just find work, but prosper and grow.

Mark Jennings is a Managing Director at Accenture

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