From top: Heather Humphries, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection; A Request For Tenders (RFT) for employment assistance and services
William Reid writes:
The Department of Social Protection in May 2021 published a Request for Tenders (RFT) to deliver an Employment Service. This Request for Tender (RFT) document has gone under the radar within the current coalition and is entirely based on the Jobpath model, which, to date, has not been publicly evaluated. Below are some of the impacts this model will have, which the coalition TDs are heretofore unaware of.
The Department of Social Protection’s recently published requests for tenders for regional employment services in seven counties (4 lots). It is proposed to roll out the RFT to the rest of the country in September 2021.
The proposed complex, rigid and limited ‘fee-per-jobseeker’ model creates new challenges for the jobseeker and undermines the value of existing quality work.
The model will dismantle the experience, relationships and expertise of not-for-profit companies working with local jobseekers, local Department of Social Protection (DSP) staff and local agencies, including, Education & Training Boards (ETBs), and Employers.
It is not possible to patch this ‘fee-per-jobseeker’ model up for improvement. A revised model should reflect the current best practice of a holistic service for jobseekers, provided with assurances of funding on a not-for-profit basis.
The Jobseeker is the most important person in the development of any service model. The challenges that will face the jobseeker if the current model is adopted cannot be underestimated.
The consequences for the jobseeker under the new model:
– Gaining access to the supports will become a challenge for local jobseekers. This will cause frustration and difficulties for local unemployed people who currently and historically, freely access an employment service. Jobseekers who would like to “walk in” to seek employment will need to navigate through a new red tape system to must request a referral from DSP. And this referral could then be denied due to the complex fee per person system. The new model will only accept Jobseekers who are referred from DSP
– The Department will make the decision on whether to authorise such a referral…… no progression fee will be paid in respect of any other jobseekers not in receipt of a social welfare payment.”
– When a jobseeker in need of assistance is reduced to being “a unit price”, this automatically moves the attention from the person to the income that the person may or may not bring. In contrast, a fair service payment, covering the costs in a not-forprofit model provides equality for all jobseekers and ensures a stable and accessibleservice for all.
– Jobseeker groups who currently access employment services, e.g. women returning to work, those under 18yo, specific cohorts of People with Disabilities, those not on the LR, are excluded from the model.
– This model only values outcomes of full time employment. Although it aims to support people who are “furthest from the labour market” it does not recognise the progression on to TUS, CE, education or a part time job as a positive outcome. Jobseekers may use these opportunities to upskill or gain experience in a new area of employment which would ultimately give them better chances of securing full time employment in the longer term. However, this is not encouraged under the current RTF.
– In the model, there is 12 months where jobseekers will not have the opportunity to access employment services for guidance and support: “..thirty-six (36) months of jobseeker referrals and a twelve (12) month run-off period inwhich no new jobseekers will be referred andServices to the existing jobseeker referrals shall be seen out“.
The consequences for the local Community under the new model:
– Existing strong inter- staff relationships with local DSP/Intreo offices, numerous local agencies, including counselling services, rehabilitation services as well as CE schemes,ETBs and Employers will be wiped out. These relationships facilitate quick responses for jobseekers who can be referred seamlessly to avail of specialist services. There appears to be no value to this work in the current model. In fact, referral systems will become more difficult and complicated for agencies and jobseekers to navigate due to the unnecessary fee per jobseeker model.
The consequences for existing staff in not for profit employment services:
– The expertise and experience these staff have, has been highly commended by jobseekers, agencies, employers and third party quality management assessors as well as independent auditors & government “think tanks”. The trained, skilled and experienced, staff who work in the not-for-profit sector seek to make a positive and progressive impact on the lives of jobseekers and to follow the respect, equality and inclusion. This group of individuals, who work to address each individual jobseeker’s needs, are now presented with insecurity and potential job losses as a consequence of the proposed model. This is a time when employment guidance staff should be recognised and valued for their flexibility and resilience. Staff have worked with huge caseloads during the recession when required (scaled up/down), including maintaining service delivery throughout the current pandemic.
– The proposed model measures and only pays for the elements that the service provider will have no control over e.g. number of referrals.
– Risks outlined in RTF – “The Department does not warrant that it will refer, nor shall there be any obligation for the Department to refer any number of jobseekers in excess of the estimated minimum number of jobseeker referrals to the Service. By submitting a Tender, Tenderers so acknowledge and agree. Tenderers should form their own judgements as to
the likely number and profile of jobseekers to be referred and of the progression to employment rates that may be achieved.”
– RFT states the following – “The Services are being procured in the context of Covid-19, which may have a significant impact on the volume of referrals into the service and may create operational risks and constraints for the successful Tenderer.”
– RFT statement – “They will need to demonstrate that they can meet the service requirements and achieve their targeted performance standards under a range of conditions, including possible significant fluctuations in demand, and this risk must be borne in mind in the all-inclusive pricing tendered.”
– Overall, this is a high risk model for a not-for-profit organisation with charitable status. This risk is highlighted throughout the RFT – “The Department does not warrant that it will refer, nor shall there be any obligation for the Department to refer any number of jobseekers in excess of the minimum number of jobseeker referrals to the service”
– Trustees of a charity need to ensure that the charity is not exposed to a potential loss, this model certainly poses that financial risk.
– Furthermore, incurring losses would put all of the supports and services of a charity at risk.
– Therefore organisations with charitable status and with experienced staff could not deliver on this proposed RFT as it stands, due to the high financial risk, reduced support for local jobseekers and complex and unnecessary fee per jobseeker method of payment. Thus, this would result in the loss of essential services to vulnerable individuals and jobs within the employment guidance sector.
The RFT, as it stands, does not respect ‘ obligations to employees and employment law.
The RFT is based on a previous flawed and failed model.
William Reid is a non political advocate of equality and inclusion and a compassionate supporter of social justice. He strongly believes, the community & voluntary sector have an important role to play in contributing, influencing and delivering on government policy. Views expressed are his own.
Written questions on July 14 from Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy to Minister Humphries.