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Committee told man on JobPath scheme had his CV amended against his wishes to conceal his ethnicity

Private companies operating JobPath get over €3k for every jobseeker that makes it through the scheme

Image: Wanderley Massafelli/Photocall Ireland

A MAN ON the JobPath employment activation scheme had his CV amended against his wishes to conceal his ethnicity, an Oireachtas Committee was told today. 

Researchers from the Waterford Employment Research Collaborative (WUERC) – a research initiative set out to develop large-scale datasets around the experience of unemployment, was highly critical of the JobPath scheme – told the committee members that “a traveller was enrolled on a course that required reasonable levels of literacy despite having low levels of literacy and also had his CV amended against his wishes to conceal his ethnicity”. 

Dr Ray Griffin and Dr Tom Boland who conducted the research said the JobPath scheme should be “discontinued immediately”. 

JobPath is an employment activation service provided to people who have been on the live register for more than 12 months and are trying to secure and sustain full-time paid employment or self-employment.

TheJournal.ie revealed last year that the private companies contracted by the State to run the scheme, are entitled to €3,718 for every jobseeker that gains sustained employment for one year through the JobPath scheme. 

The two private companies employed by the State, Turas Nua and Seetec, to operate the scheme have received €75.7 million and €73.3 million respectively to carry out its work.

In response to the assertion that a person on the JobPath programme had been asked “to change their name in order to disguise their ethnicity”, the Department of Social Protection said:

The Department has no awareness of such an allegation nor has any complaint to that effect been made. Had the Department received a complaint of this nature, it would have been fully investigated.
The contracted service providers, Turas Nua and Seetec have also confirmed that they do not have an awareness of such an allegation and that they have not received any complaints to that effect.

No positive experiences of JobPath

Dr Ray Griffin and Dr Tom Boland told the committee about the work they have carried out, in which they interviewed 121 unemployed individuals.

None of the interviewees reported positive experiences, with the researchers clarifying to the committee that they did not seek positive or negative experiences, rather just authentic accounts. 

Their interviewees recalled being forced to “undertake futile bureaucratic routines such as mandated and monitored job search activity such as sitting at a computer for a prescribed period of time”. 

They said their CV’s were rewritten in order to orient to existing job openings. 

Interviewees told the researchers they were forced to undertake coaching, personal effectiveness and confidence training. 

Giving further examples the committee was told: 

An aspiring architect had her job-search micro-managed in a way that undermined her standing with local employers and was then directed to reduce her expectations and accept other work, and a pregnant woman was directed, under threat of sanctions to accept work at a call centre in a location some distance away which had no suitable transport options.

The researchers said their data clearly captures a shift towards a “less supportive, more conditional, less empathetic, more pressurising, welfare system, where the threat of sanctions was constant and individuals felt forced to perform as directed by case officers in Intreo or JobPath providers, often against their better judgement and usually without any positive outcome”.

Under the JobPath scheme many respondents told the researchers that they felt “actively and capriciously patronised, cajoled, threatened, manipulated and bullied”.

All respondents detailed the continual threat of sanctions, which made engagement and compliance with various tasks compulsory.

Our data demonstrates that beyond the actual application of sanctions, that the process of activation under threat of sanction is in and of itself a negative experience; the process is the punishment, as it were.

‘Poor practice’

Catherine Greene of the Kildare and Wicklow Education Training Board, but speaking on behalf of all training boards nationwide, said their organisations should have been tasked with the job that JobPath have been doing for the last number of years. 

She told the committee it was “poor practice” to lift the JobPath model from the UK without making any changes or adaptations for working with the Irish public”. 

She said the Job Path model was based on the model being used by the G4S recruitment company in the UK, which was criticised by the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.  

“We have no difficulty with recruitment agencies as a model of accessing employment, but to use these services people must be highly skilled, workplace ready,” she said. 

jobpath Catherine Greene of the Kildare and Wicklow Education Training Board appeared before the committee today.

In terms of personal client testimony, she said to be referred to Turas Nua or Seetec – the private companies who are paid to run the scheme “is to be placed in a very vulnerable position and denied access to further education and training”.

There appears to have been a lack of recognition by Turas Nua of the trauma for people being at a major crossroads in their lives, in addition to a lack of understanding of their need to manage challenging barriers in terms of childcare, transport, disability, illness, bereavement, addiction issues and mental health issues post redundancy and financial stress.

She also gave the committee a number of examples of the Turas and Seetec experience. 

She outlined one example of “inappropriate” behaviour in a case which a Department of Social Protection officer referred to the agency.

Man taken off education training 

A JobPath operator in dealing with a 62-year-old man who had left school aged 10, and who had labouring jobs prior to spending over 20 years of his life in prison who was receiving Jobseekers Allowance after exiting the probation service, and experiencing anxiety.

The association said his only outing was to walk to his mother’s grave in darkness. His basic skills led the association to recommend a part-time literacy/ communications, computers and woodworking workshop in the local Adult Education Centre.

“He agreed to engage with the programme and I put counselling supports and made tutors aware of his anxiety issues. After six weeks into the programme he was called up by Turas Nua and removed from his Education programme, two weeks later he came to me in an extremely agitated state asking me to make a CV as he had been ordered to return to Turas Nua by the end of the week with evidence of 15 job applications submitted,” the committee was told.

“In this three-week period while he was engaging with Turas Nua, three different Turas Nua advisors had contacted me for a copy of his CV. Our client did a full year with Turas Nua without getting any work and we have recently learnt that he has returned to Turas Nua and he will be with them until Sept 2019. At present he is not engaged in any education/training or employment, but he is required to attend on a monthly basis,” said Greene.

Had her organisation, the Adult Educational Guidance Association (AEGA), been invested in during the years of austerity, rather than JobPath, unemployment statistics  would have been so much better, she said. 

She said the “forced march pattern” of this recruitment model has been unsuccessful with only 9% of participants securing longer term employment.

The committee was told there are serious questions to be asked in terms of the delivery model, given that it has been awarded a budget of €140 million since 2015.

“Only 9% of participants have progressed into full-time employment and 11,000 participants who previously used Turas Nua and Seetec are returning for a second year of participation. By comparison, in that same period i.e. the four years 2015- 2018 inclusively, the Guidance Services have met with and progressed more than 208,000 beneficiaries on an annual budget of just 6.55 million with a cost to the state of €125 per beneficiary,” it said. 

Scrap JobPath

WUERC suggests investing in training and the Back-to-Education scheme, and to scrap JobPath. 

“Policies which emphasise welfare conditionality and sanctions are short-sighted: requiring compliance under threat of being put below the minimum level of income has mainly negative consequences,” it said. 

It added that the payment-by-results and short-term orientation of the JobPath contract are “unsuitable policy instruments”.

“The impact of JobPath on individual lives is decidedly negative, even where sanctions were not imposed. We envisage a long-term impact on overall social cohesion as a result of the experience and throughput of citizens through the initiative.”

Speaking in December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated that the JobPath scheme might not be needed in the future. The contract for Seetec and Turas Nua is due to expire this year. 

“We are entering a different phase in our economy where we are heading towards full employment so obviously services such as JobPath may not be needed in the future but that is an assessment that the Minister, Deputy Doherty, will have to make,” said the Taoiseach. 

Sinn Féin John Brady said Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty remains in “complete denial” about the failure of the scheme. 

TD Bríd Smith said the “vicious ways” to force people into unsuitable employment is totally unsuitable.  

Fianna Fáil TD John Curran, chairman of the committee, said the issue of JobPath has been something it has been investigating for some time now. Due to the contract for the service being possibly up for renewal shortly, the committee’s report is “timely” and will make recommendations to government. 

The Department of Social Protection also said:

“It should be noted that each contractor has a comprehensive complaints process which contains various levels of escalation, allowing complaints to be dealt with at a level appropriate to the concern.

To the end of December 2018, 201,792 clients had commenced on JobPath with a total of 836 complaints recorded. Of these 29 are currently open, the rest having been finalised. 10 reviews have been requested by customers and are complete.

“At this time we are not aware of any complaints which have been forwarded to the Ombudsman for review.”

The Department is due to publish the results of the 2018 JobPath Customer Satisfaction Survey in the next few weeks.

“The results show continuing high levels of customer satisfaction with an overall satisfaction score of 4.15 on a five point scale.”

Seetec and Turas Nua were contacted for comment, but nothing was received by the time of publication.

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