Then Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton introduced Jobpath in late 2015. The scheme was envisioned to take people from long term unemployment on the live register and place them in jobs in the private sphere. Participants are randomly and mandatorily assigned to Jobpath, they are then expected to meet with a mentor every three weeks, who acts as a form of recruitment agent.
The participant is sent on non-specific training (CV construction, interview skills etc.). The employment sourced for the participant can be anything and not necessarily what the participant either wants or is trained in. Failure to comply with Jobpath places the participant under threat of reduction or loss of payment.
The scheme is operated by two private companies, Turas Nua and British company, Seetec, which was investigated for serious corruption in the UK some years back (see here) and (here) . These companies represent a privatisation of part of the Irish welfare state. Their role was, in part, performed by Local Employment Schemes and community projects, who worked as non profit companies or as part of the State. The companies’ profit is derived from outcomes, therefore, for the company to achieve the most profit from a client, it is in their interest to source employment of any kind. The participant becomes a product that must be sold. This mechanism creates an immediate disconnect between the participant’s best interests and that of the company.
By contrast, Community Employment Schemes, which are not for profit by nature, source specific training to the needs of the participant (QQI awards in journalism for journalists, childcare awards for childcare workers etc). CE recognises the problems in confidence, ability and experience that long term unemployed people face, onsite supervisors provide support for people who are becoming adjusted to the labour force. CE schemes bring long term unemployed back into the culture of work while providing a public good (community crèches, youth projects, sports clubs, energy use reduction services, etc.). Of those who enter CE Schemes, 40+ % find work in the private sphere upon their completion. These are people who were furthest from the labour market and through CE, gained qualifications, skills, experience and confidence to find employment on their own.
JobPath represents a huge threat for CE schemes. Once a participant is sent on a JobPath scheme they cannot participate on CE scheme for up to a year. There is a real impetus by Department of Social Protection to procure as many long term unemployed people on JobPath instead of other more beneficial labour activation schemes. In 2015, 5000 participants were signed on to the fledgling scheme. By the end of 2016, that number had reached 60,000.
This leaves significantly less people for CE schemes to employ. This may be the main contributory factor to the difficulties community organisations have been facing in recruiting participants on to CE. It represents a clear shift from Government policy away from supporting the participant, and the community, towards outsourcing to private companies. The Government may point to falling unemployment figures, without discussing the nature of that employment, which may be low paid, temporary and not suited to the participant. JobPath is not only the potential harm the long term unemployed but to undermine the community sector as a whole who rely on Community Employment to operate their projects.
I propose to campaign for a simple change in policy allowing people to enter into CE at any stage of the Jobpath. To give people a choice, to gain the experience and proper training they need to compete in the labour market.
This has been raised since June in the Dail and I have attached some Dáil parliamentary questions on the subject for further reading.