The Last Days of JobBridge



From top: Joan Burton and Enda Kenny at a JobBridge announcement in 2013: Michael Taft

JobBridge, the poorly-conceived, figure-massaging internship scheme, is finished.

But what – if anything – should replace it.

Michael Taft writes:

The Sunday Business Post’s investigation into JobBridge was devastating.

JobBridge has been used to staff the HSE, Hewlett-Packard, public enterprises, supermarkets and universities.

A large number of interns report frustrations, especially as they have almost no workplace rights, while the investigation showed a scheme that grew out of control lacking robust monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

It’s time JobBridge was closed down.

The youth section of Unite the Union has long campaigned for its abolition; Impact has recently called for the programme to go. It’s already being reduced.

The programme will be cut from €70 million last year to €51 million this year. Cut the rest of it. And let’s use the money to create a real programme of work, targeted at people who are having a hard time in the market.

Long-term unemployment can be a dismal experience. The longer you are out of work, the more difficult it can be to get back in: your current skills may be become degraded, previous work routines are undermine, there can be mental health issues, you get stuck so far into a rut that it is difficult to pull yourself out.

Training programmes work best when the person is motivated and there is a belief that a job is possible at the other end. Long-term unemployment is the ultimate de-motivating experience, leaving people with little hope.

In 2015, long-term unemployment (without a job for more than a year) averaged 114,000. That amounts to 5.3 percent of the labour force. By contrast, long-term unemployment in the EU-15 makes up 4.7 percent.

When we turn to what can be called ‘chronic’ long-term unemployment – two years and longer – we find, on average, 83,000 stuck in this situation and, of this, 50,000 have been unemployed for four years or longer.

So let’s redirect the resources – approximately €85 million – from the JobBridge and Gateway programme) into a guaranteed real job programme.

In other words, the state should become an employer of last resort; when people cannot find work in the labour market, the state will provide that work.

What would such a programme look like?

An Employer of Last Resort

The Gateway programme is a local authority labour activation scheme that provides short-term and part-time work and training opportunities for people unemployed longer than two years.

Participants work for the local authority for 19 ½ hours a week and the placement lasts 22 months.The minimum weekly payment for participants is €208: Jobseekers’ payment plus a €20 top-up.

Participants can take up other part-time employment provided it does not interfere with their Gateway work placement.

There are two major problems with Gateway. First is the coercive element: those who refuse a placement without good cause may have their social protection payment reduced or even removed altogether.

Secondly, job displacement: there is a real danger that long-term unemployed are doing work that should be done by full-time local authority workers.

Let’s transform this programme (its advantage is that it doesn’t interfere in the business market):

* Turn the placement into full-time employment on the National Minimum Wage with contracts for two years (there could be some provision for part-time work where appropriate).

* Extend the programme to all non-profit and civil society groups in addition to local authorities.

* Remove the coercive element and make the programme voluntary.

* Target, in the first instance, people out of work for two years or longer with particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on young people, those over 50 years and high unemployment areas.

* Integrate work with training/education. This is important as many of those on long-term unemployment may have skills deficit which would limit their transition from the scheme into other work.

To the extent that local authorities expand their job opportunities, this should only be undertaken where there is a prospect of transition to a full-time local authority job, overseen by employers and trade unions.

What Kind of Work?

There will be criticism that such programmes are largely ‘make-work’. However, when looking at the employment currently offered by local authorities through Gateway, we can see that there is real work going on:

GIS mapping * HR – to assist in running with Gateway projects * CMAS communications * digitising records, town and country files * ergonomic assessments * sustainable energy projects * Using CRM for health and safety tracking * LCDC administration * marketing and promotional work for local enterprise (buy / source local campaigns) * records management and data entry * social media (website, Facebook, Twitter) * library supports * Basic horticultural work i.e. planting, weeding in parks, walking trails, derelict sites * Amenity improvement schemes – bench-making, carpentry * Biomass Scheme – plant, maintain and harvest areas of willow biomass * graveyard maintenance * Sports development (e.g. walking, basketball and soccer clubs) * local museum supports (research, reception, security, exhibit guide) * historical sites * arts programmes for key groups (e.g. arts and disability) * tourism supports

This is some of the work that is already being undertaken –providing a broad range of opportunities up and down the skill ladder.

Community Participation

Under the current Gateway programme only local authorities can provide placements. This should be extended to non-profit groups, civil society organisations and community groups – allowing them to devise programmes that would employ people.

The range of such groups could be considerable:

Geographical-based community groups * single-issue groups (unemployed, arts, drug rehab groups, disability support groups) * local Chambers of Commerce and Trade Union Councils branches * environmental groups * Development and Area Partnerships * retirement and elderly groups * Youth Clubs * parish councils and church groups * rural support organisations * citizen information centres * literacy groups

The criteria for participation should be that civil society groups are non-profit, do not compete with commercial enterprises and create programmes with projected outcomes that are measureable.

One can imagine these groups coming together – under the organisation of the local authority – in small town, city suburb, rural area, villages to create programmes that would add to the community wealth and the local economy.

This is about community regeneration and repair, participation and democracy.

Funding the Programme

I estimate that the combined JobBridge / Gateway budgets could employ nearly 7,000 on a full-time basis (with a €3,700 payment for resources, materials and training). This is based on the wage minus the Jobseekers’ Allowance paid.

However, this doesn’t count the tax and PRSI gain the government would gain –which, on average, would be approximately €2,400 including employers’ PRSI. Nor does it count extra consumption tax revenue from greater purchasing power recipients would receive.

We could take a more radical approach and examine the prospect of amalgamating a number of schemes besides JobBridge and Gateway: Tus, Community Employment Programme and the Rural Social Scheme.

There is a total of €627 million spent on all these schemes combined. Are we getting the best impact out of this – in terms of employment and social value?

We should be aware that some of these schemes cater for more than just long-term unemployed.

The Rural Social Scheme, for instance is targeted at under-employed and low-income people working in agriculture and fishing.

Nonetheless, an amalgamated programme catering for full-time and part-time work, aimed at different social constituencies could be considered.

This employer of last resort programme will not create a full employment economy. That can only come about when all the levers available to the Government – labour market, fiscal, investment, enterprise policy – are pulling in the right direction.

This is only a modest start – but one that can be expanded if it is seen to work.

This is a programme to get people back into work, back into the social networks that will help them to explore new life-chance and job opportunities for themselves. It is about giving hope.

And the great thing is that this is wholly feasible and can be paid out of current resources. One thing’s for sure – it would be a great investment.

Michael Taft is Research Officer with Unite the Union. His column appears here every Tuesday. He is author of the political economy blog, Unite’s Notes on the Front. Follow Michael on Twitter: @notesonthefront


Yesterday: HSE Decided At A National Level To Use JobBridge

53 thoughts on “The Last Days of JobBridge

  1. Fact Checker

    The Community Employment Scheme is essentially what you are describing. Non-market employment for the long-term unemployed. It already exists and costs over €300m a year (four times as much as Jobbridge)

    It has many nice social outcomes (lines painted on GAA pitches, tea made at community centres) but all the research has shown that it does nothing to improve participants’ chances of getting a job afterwards. This has been the case, before, during and after the bust.

    Anecdote suggests that Jobbridge has had successes as well as the problems outlined above. However the plural of anecdote is not data. And I am keen to read the external evaluation of Jobbridge now under way when it is published, hopefully very soon.

    1. Clo

      This is definitely the CE scheme, but I would disagree that it does nothing to improve employment chances. having worked on such schemes or alongside such schemes for several years in the 1990s, I found that they provided a good bridge for college leavers and those returning to work after a period of employment or home-making to paid work. However, there was a certain lack of discrimination at that time in who was given places on the CE scheme: lots of ladies who had brought up their families and were ‘returning to work’ but at the same time nearish to retirement years and weren’t that pushed if they didn’t find anything. There also was very little assistance from within the scheme to find work – ie no bridge from the schemes to employment. Finally, the oversight from FAS at the time was very lax, and I could see how in badly-run schemes, not very much might be accomplished. However, well-run schemes have provided excellent outcomes in terms of the work actually done, especially in heritage projects.
      What is vital is a proper central sense of vision, proper oversight of individual schemes, and a sense of these schemes as an interim measure for people who are actively supported to progress.

  2. Robert

    I always thought the concept of job bridge was fine but like so many things it’s the implementation that fails. I know people who got good professional experience through this scheme they would have otherwise had to work for free for. Stacking shelves however is not an internship.

    1. Clampers Outside!

      Anecdote, and research, doesn’t just suggest but clearly outlines abuses and out right failures in JobBridge. It should be scrapped when those that implemented it can’t be bothered with monitoring and maintaining it, and publicly naming abusers.

        1. Fact Checker

          If Jobbridge disappeared tomorrow would employers:

          a) Immediately employ all participants on minimum wage or above
          b) Immediately employ no one at all
          c) Somewhere in between a) and b).

          If your answer is a) you are at a vast distance from both theory and evidence in the social sciences and there is no point taking debate further.

          If your answer is c) you are admitting that at least some interns are getting some benefit from the scheme (obviously employers are too).

          1. Clampers Outside!

            If a hundred people are drowning, and you throw 50 lifesavers into the area they are all in and walk away, some will survive. That’s JobBridge. So yeah, a little bit of ‘c’. But a little bit of ‘c’ does not make it acceptable.

            As for your list of just three options…. pffffft! Considering the figures in your own link regarding Galway/Mayo… 1 in 4 that went through JobBridge are in full time work since JobBridge started. What kind of work? How does it pay? Is 1 in 4 acceptable? Is 3 in 4 failures acceptable? Are the abuses acceptable? Look, I’ll wait, but I believe that the growing number of countries that are banning unpaid interns is a good indicator where JobBridge belongs…. in the bin.

            It’s not simply a case of whether someone got a job out of a JB scheme…. it’s the bigger picture and the impact on the entire working population, school leavers going straight into work, college graduates looking for work, implications for those in skilled jobs, the downgrading of jobs, 18 month internships for packing shelves, etc….. the greater social impact is important too. Jobbridge has a negative social impact.

          2. Fact Checker

            Of course abuse of the terms of the scheme is unacceptable and should be stamped out. That is a slightly different issue from whether the scheme is in principle a good thing or not.

            Personally I think if it is used for jobs where you need physical fitness and a week’s training (stacking shelves) it is a straight state subsidy to the employer. At the same time it is hard to think of any Jobbridge internship that leaves someone LESS employable at the end than an equivalent period of unemployment.

            The labour market (lower end) is not an easy place for someone with low skills. There are plenty of you, and employers are (globally) moving to a place where they prefer brain over brawn. This is a worldwide trend and the existence or otherwise of Jobbridge is not going to change this.

          3. Michael Taft

            Fact Checker – my answer would be (c) but no one can really say what that balance would be. However, the issue is not whether some have benefited from the scheme (there is no doubting that has occurred which shows the benefit of public intervention to help people). This issue breaks down into, first, whether the scheme as a whole is salvageable and, second, is there a better way of spending this money, targeting those who are in real need of assistance. There is no slide-rule answer to this. I just put forward an alternative suggestion.

          4. Fact Checker

            Thanks Michael. The real answer lies somewhere in the middle of course. My intuition suggests that when a) low-skilled labour is abundant; b) demand for low-skilled labour is inelastic; then the benefits of the subsidy accrue more to employers.

            There is a dynamic and a static aspect to this too though. Signalling is very hard, especially when you are very young and have no experience. This is particularly the case in sectors which require soft skills and not physical ability. Most people have at least the ability to put >0 items in boxes per hour. However in the service sector a person can be utterly and completely useless as their productivity completely depends on their ability to interact with others (we have all met these people).

            In the office-based service sector Jobbridge has clearly seen employers take a chance on young and inexperienced people that they would have otherwise not taken on, even at NMW. That component of it is surely something worth salvaging.

          5. Anne

            Most people have at least the ability to put >0 items in boxes per hour. However in the service sector a person can be utterly and completely useless as their productivity completely depends on their ability to interact with others (we have all met these people).

            I’d hate to think of anyone in terms of being utterly and completely useless..
            What a contempt for people.

            I’ve been on the phone with employees in customer care who’ve stuttered and struggled to explain what I’ve asked.. if you give them a chance they aren’t useless at all. Don’t be such a cretin.

      1. classter

        Clampers, is your argument not a big problem we have with the system in Ireland generally?

        If there is merit in something but there have been problems in implementation, then we should improve the implementation.

        If there is no merit it, then scrap it.

        1. Clampers Outside!

          It would have to change considerably, and maximum periods of internships – no intern should be doing more than three months, and some could be as short as a month….. and……. simply monitoring and penalising abusers…. but sure, with those changes isn’t that a completely different system than JobBridge already?

          I’m not saying there’s no need for such a system, but in its current state…. no, it’s not working. I say, bin it as it is.

  3. Jake38

    into a guaranteed real job programme.

    “In other words, the state should become an employer of last resort; when people cannot find work in the labour market, the state will provide that work.

    What would such a programme look like?”

    Answer. It would look like something from a socialist paradise such as Cuba or North Korea. No thanks.

    1. ahjayzis

      But anything less than that would look like a Soviet gulag or a Nazi extermination camp? Conundrum!

      Policy is hard when you’re hysterical all the time >_<

  4. Joe Small

    Ireland is pretty unusual in Europe in offering full unemployment benefits for an unlimited period. This is not the norm elsewhere. The objection to Gateway regarding the coercive element, whereby the payment to the welfare recipient can potentially be moderately reduced is a bit ridiculous in this context. That’s not my idea of coercion.

    1. Fact Checker

      In effect in Ireland the incentives to take up employment DECREASE with the duration of unemployment.

      How so?

      The longer you stay unemployed the more likely you are to apply for things like medical cards, housing payments, etc, which boost income. At the same time your likely wage is decreasing as your marketable skills depreciate (this is sad, but true).

      The best practice approach to long-term unemployment is a combination of:
      1) High initial unemployment payment which gradually DECLINES over time – most unemployment is short-term and dole is to get you over the hump
      2) Activation (it, being told to turn up at an Intreo office) which INCREASES over time – most unemployment is short-term and jobseekers don’t need activation in the first few months of unemployment
      3) As a last resort, financial penalties for failing to turn up at Intreo office, not seeking employment, etc

      Ireland is making progress on 2) and 3) but not on 1).

      I am not making any claims about the character of anyone in unemployment. It is grim and depressing and I am lucky to have only experienced it once, and briefly. At the same time, people respond to financial incentives and those incentives could be made (slightly) different to encourage jobseeking.

        1. Fact Checker

          I am just putting the consistent advice of the OECD (for the past decade) in a version that is short and less coded.

      1. DubLoony

        All very well but introducing those changes in what was the worst recession we’ve ever experienced wouldn’t have worked, there simply were not enough jobs for people.
        That is changing a bit now.

        1. Fact Checker

          I totally agree Dubloony

          Unfortunately these changes in Ireland only occur with speed when there is a public finance crisis – which inevitably coincides with an unemployment crisis. It leaves you pushing on a string.

          In principle these reforms should be accelerated when the labour market is good (as it is undoubtedly now) and certain conditions relaxed temporarily (like duration of benefits) when times are bad.

          However Ireland has rarely succeeded in running a counter-cyclical fiscal policy.

      2. MoyestWithExcitement

        “How so?

        The longer you stay unemployed the more likely you are to apply for things like medical cards, housing payments, etc, which boost income.”

        And is there any research available which proves that the long term unemployed are so because they’ve too many benefits?

        “At the same time, people respond to financial incentives and those incentives could be made (slightly) different to encourage jobseeking”

        I’m not sure you understand why people actually work. That’s OK though. It’s quite a common problem you have there. People work because it gives them dignity. The lazy bum which doesn’t want to work is basically a boogeyman. Asserting that long term unemployed folks aren’t bothering looking for work because state benefits are enough is rather silly but, again, it seems to be a widely held misconception in fairness to you. By extension, proposing to financially punish people on the dole is counter productive.

      3. Pauline Long

        The incentive to take up employment decreases not because of medical cards rent allowance etc but because of psychological issues loss of self esteem, of general worth, of pattern of day, loss of companionship loss of skills, poverty etc. Unemployment escalated not because people didn’t want to work but due to recession where ppl were made redundant sometimes after lifetimes in one job. All classes of people became unemployed. Don’t make them responsible talking about incentives when there were no jobs to he had. Some would have worked for nothing just to feel part of society. Don’t jump to conclusions and presumption. These schemes should be put in place only with the knowledge and expertise of the unemployed and unemployed organisations. Remember ” nothing about us without us” apply this in every category homeless disability mental illness we may all learn something.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          “nothing about us without us”

          Great line. It’s mad that our social welfare policies are decided upon by people with no idea what it’s like to be poor.

    2. Michael Taft

      Joe Small – just to clarify: the standard duration for unemployment benefit is nine months (six months for those on reduced PRSI contributions). After that, a person may apply for Jobseekers’ Assistance which is means-tested. This duration can be unlimited but it comes with conditions – being available for training schemes and work placement schemes. Many Mediterranean countries cut off all assistance after a time but they have under-developed social protection systems (only a small percentage of unemployed get any payment at all). In these countries they depend on family networks – which explains the Greek government’s resistance to the Troika demands to cut pensions – because pensions are shared out among many family members without work. This does not pertain in Northern and Central European countries within the EU-15. There is no cut-off.

      As to coercion, if someone refuses a placement on, for example, the Gateway scheme they can have their assistance payment reduced or terminated. It may not be coercive, but it is certainly persuasive.

      1. Fact Checker

        I am not sure this is the case.

        Most northern European systems involve some aspect of benefit reduction and/or increased conditionality over time (if not outright cessation of benefits).

        I will dig up a source for this when I have time.

        1. Michael Taft

          Fact Checker – benefits are reduced over time but they start off with a pay-related benefit (which can be between 60 and 80 percent of the previous wage). This can last up to a year or more. We don’t have a system so – ours is a flat-rate so it is not comparing like-with-like.

          1. Fact Checker

            Agreed. Ireland is not Belgium.

            My challenge (for next week’s column perhaps) is to compare the Irish benefits system with the UK which is also characterised by relatively low social insurance and flat-rated payments. However UK basic rates are MUCH lower and conditionality stricter.

      2. Joe Small

        There were about 244,000 people on Jobseekers Allowance in December 2015, with a reported 6,743 on penalty rates that year. That suggests that less than 3% of those on JA are subject to penalty rates. The remaining 97% or so receive full benefits. Its hardly a draconian system.

  5. 15 cents

    the hard evidence is there to prove it doesnt work .. and the feedback from people who have been thru it says it doesnt work .. so why do/did FG/LAB persist with it? they’d rather save face than just admit its rubbish and close it down. theyre a stubborn pack of useless rrrrrrrrrr! gits!

  6. Owen C

    “There are two major problems with Gateway. First is the coercive element: those who refuse a placement without good cause may have their social protection payment reduced or even removed altogether.”

    Why should the coercive element of this be removed? The grim reality of life, both now and in the past, is that a certain portion of society must work and be productive in order for society itself to function.

    1. Michael Taft

      Owen C – the evidence shows that ‘coercive’ elements for job placement schemes are unnecessary. Prior to the crash we had one of the highest employment rates among young people in the EU which shows that when there are appropriate jobs available, people will take up work. We also had very low levels of chronically long-term unemployment. It would be interesting to assess the productivity of someone working a job they didn’t want to do, or believed was not suitable to their talent or skills. It is arguable that it would be rather low which defeats the purpose of socially valuable and productive work.

      1. Pip

        True. And the system now used for encouraging/assisting people to access work/training/education is a glorified version of what started prior to the crash, to locate and assist the relatively small numbers of long term unemployed at that time.

  7. DubLoony

    Jobbridge was for that “can’t get work without experience, can’t get experience without a job” hurdle.
    Training /placements for work should be part of every area of study. No point in having degrees, diplomas, trade if you can’t actually apply the skills (says UCD Arts grad!).

    The pi$$ has been royally taken and it seriously needs to be reigned in.

    There needs to be ore individual supports to get long term unemployed back in circulation. Starting first with confidence building measures. Being told and internalizing a sense of worthlessness helps no-one.

  8. Auntie Dote

    When the CE schemes were first introduced in the 80’s they had many positive effects. These have been lost because important features and safeguards of the scheme as initially conceived were eroded over the years.
    These included (but not limited to)
    1) They were used to enhance and support ONLY the work of the voluntary sector, which would otherwise not be able to provide paying work. They included funds for physical resources as well as employment – an enormous boost to this sector.
    Note: they did NOT subsidise private or public employment, nor disincentivise private or public job creation.
    Today’s schemes skew both public and private labour markets to the detriment of labour – they are effectively job destruction schemes.
    2) They paid participants double the standard dole payment for 19 hours per week, and permitted people to look for other work as well. (This would equate to €376 for a single person today. IR£70 vs IR£35 then IIRC). A huge incentive to take part – and a genuine boost in income in recognition of work performed. Today’s activation schemes result in no advantage and even sometimes a direct loss of income to the participant as they may not even cover the added costs of travel, food, accommodation, child care, etc. that are incurred in going to work.

    3) They included ample provision and resources for training to be provided as part of the placement, and many people got a start in a fantastic career through participating in one.

    4) They were voluntary. No one was press ganged by the threat of being cut off from their welfare income for basic necessities.

    I believe JobBridge and Gateway should be abolished, as they are skewing both private and public job markets.

    OTOH, I would love to see the CE scheme re-vamped in such a way that it gives the voluntary sector a much needed boost, and gives participants a genuine income boost, as well.

  9. ahjayzis

    Mad we had to wait 4+ years after the first ad for a nine-month training placement for sandwich technicians on the state’s dime.

  10. Tish Mahorey

    Only 32% of JB interns got a full time job straight afterwards and not all of them were with the companies who they interned with.

    Jobbridge was abused wholesale by big companies and the Government let that happen.

    1. Rob_G

      That sounds pretty good, tbh – I wonder what the figure would be for the unemployed population generally getting a job over a given 9 month time period. 1 in 3 is not bad.

      1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

        Schemes for prisoners get more than 30% to give that some comparison

  11. Anne

    Massaging the unemployment figures was all it was about.

    Packing fupping shelves in Supervalue is not an internship… State sponsored exploitation is all it is.

    I’m disgusted that the likes of SuperValue availed of JobBridge to the extent they have. It’s just disgusting exploitation.

    These greedy fuppsh*tes would have to hire people and pay the minimum wage for every single one of the ‘interns’ they hired.

    1. Anne

      And another thing.. No oversight my hoop.
      When you see the application form and it has SUPERVALUE at the top of it and you get a couple hundred more with SUPERVALUE filled out at the ’employer’, someone somewhere knows SUPERVALUE are availing of the scheme … it was always open to them.

  12. Daisy Chainsaw

    What should replace it? Proper jobs with proper wages that were displaced by this scam

  13. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

    Getting an extra €50 and learning how to do a job that you won’t be getting because there’s a queue of people looking for an extra €50 while they learn how to do a job that they wont get because there’s a queue of people looking for an extra €50…etc.
    -And it’s all free to the ’employer’…

    What could go wrong?

  14. Truth in the News

    What Jobridge is an employment subsidation scheme to employers, which provides
    them with cheap labour, and even allows payment below the minimum rate
    surely there is case to be made under human rights laws, and a complaint to be
    made against the Government, indeed where is the International Labour Organisation in all of this, as all of this scheme is crass explotion of a vulnerable

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