I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now. Some brief thoughts, with more to follow. I’ve used a lot of bullet points to lay out the main areas quickly:

Online welfare to work is going to become a major component of overall welfare to work services in the lifetime of the Work Programme

Online training delivery is maturing rapidly, online delivery of many other services has become commonplace, computer literacy is becoming both expected for participation in the labour market and far more common among workless people than it was, and the structure of the Work Programme lends itself far better to the development and maintenance of online resources which rely on large scale delivery for their impact. I could come up with more reasons until the cows come home.

Online delivery can go hugely wrong

Imagine, if you will:

  • The personal details of 100,000 workless people are accidentally made public People share completed job applications and CVs with each other. A hundred people apply for a job, all with identical applications
  • Tumbleweed, population 0 - Shiny new website is set up and sits there, waiting for someone to make it worth visiting
  • Trolltown - Inadequate monitoring and controls lead to flame wars, claims of libel, and the fiery exit of disgruntled advisers and providers

Online delivery is a great opportunity for things to go right

Now imagine a service that is:

  • Flexible - Delivered on demand to the place most suited to the customer, with self service functionality complementing the more traditional adviser-led delivery
  • Cost efficient - Online delivery offers the opportunity to reduce the more transactional aspects of assisting customers, add self service delivery and peer learning, and reduce some of the inevitable messing about of appointments systems / travel etc. It also reduces the need for central facilities for job search and the like, although it obviously won’t remove the need completely
  • Creating and preserving its own good practices and knowledge - When online services are delivered well, they can increase the effectiveness of offline delivery by capturing information and knowledge that is often shared informally or kept in the head of whichever adviser has picked up on it, then making it easy to share that with people who need it
  • Ongoing - Purely offline delivery relies on regular meetings or at least phone calls, and in practice it can be very difficult to track people moving into employment. They tend to be working, commuting, or just busy trying to fit everything else in. Provided a customer has internet access, online networks and communities provide a useful way of maintaining an ongoing relationship without demanding too much time or resources on the part of either party
  • A rich source of MI for customers, advisers and contractors - Dependent on the system’s functionality, the resulting MI should be robust, unified, and accessible, making it an ideal basis on which to analyse and improve the relationships between all three parties (plus JCP of course!)

What should this online solution look like?

Well, there seem to be three main parts:

  • Marketplace - Enable primes, subcontractors and specialists to connect
  • Community and resources - Discussion, newsletter, best practice for advisers and customers
  • Client management system - The most traditional part of the three, but still with big opportunities for improvement around support for and MI capture of remote job search

There are also a couple of other really important things that run alongside all of this, namely the process of setting up, marketing, and getting people using such a system, and also ensuring that online delivery properly complements offline delivery by multiple subcontractors, without alienating or replacing them. While it’s possible that some people who are closest to the marketplace might be best served by entirely online delivery, that’s a different proposition, or at least a different element of the proposition, to the one we’re talking about here. The first of these means that the system’s design and roll-out have to be integrated into the overall roll-out of the Work Programme by the prime, and the second means that the system has to be moderately cheap, responsive to the needs of all parties, and reasonably good at self-managing (i.e. run in part by the community it serves).

Originally published at https://danieljohnston.co.uk/2010/10/25/helping-people-get-and-keep-jobs-using-online-support on October 25, 2010.