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I have dealt with Job Centre Plus on three separate levels and thought I'd discuss two levels here, the third level being inappropriate as I worked with them as in a partner business so morally I feel it might be unfair to disclose information gained about their practices here.
So the two areas I'm going to look at are about my experiences:
1. As a job seeker claiming benefits and trying to find work 2. As an employer trying to source potential employees
AS A JOB SEEKER
I signed on with the Job Centre many years ago (mid 80s) before it was called Job Centre Plus and it was literally for a month or so between full time education and starting full time work. It was in Chiswick in West London and I remember you had to turn up at your allotted time, stand in a queue, get to the counter, the job centre employee would pull out a card which had your signature on and you would sign on for the date that you attended and then leave. No questions asked, no support offered (well never to me anyway). Back then I thought it was just a horrid place that people had to go to once a fortnight to receive a giro cheque once a fortnight. I never even considered what that money meant to people who had been out of work for a while or were in receipt of housing benefit - to me as an enthusiastic teenager wanting to get out in the big bad world and earn my own money this was a stop gap to give me some pocket money till I got a job and it wasn't long before I had no further need to that lovely (un)welcoming place.
Move forward about 18 years and I was made redundant without any notice (around 2002). My employer was going bust and we had no idea if any of the staff were going to get paid. I was in shock. I had been made redundant before (or rather my job was) and had been aware it was a possibility so had gone out and looked for jobs to pre-empt the redundancy so I had another job to walk straight into. This time I was in shock and had to go to the Job Centre (now called Job Centre Plus) to sign on and get help with my mortgage. The first time I went in I thought how different it looked to how I remembered it all those years ago (well for starters it was in Ealing where I went to sign as opposed to Chiswick). The staff were now called Personal Advisors! And as a job seeker I was now called a client. The form you took along with you every week as ID was now called a JSAG (job seekers agreement) as opposed to a UB40 (unemployment benefit form 40). It was felt that calling it unemployment as opposed to job seeking was rather negative hence it was changed.
I had to sit in a queue to pick up some forms to claim benefit, I asked if I could complete them there and then and see someone once I'd finished, I was told in no uncertain terms and not very politely that I had to make an appointment to come back with my completed forms. I asked if that would take long and was given a date and told that as I wasn't working it wasn't exactly an issue how long it would take. I was suitably put in my place and left with the forms. Nice complicated forms - I have no idea how someone with learning difficulties would even start to complete these forms, they were rather daunting. It took the best part of an hour to compete the forms and continued to register with agencies and check various internet job sites I was registered with to find suitable work. The day before I was supposed to go back with my forms to the job centre I received a call from an agency asking me to go for an interview the following day, which was going to take the best part of the day and no way was I going to be able to make my appointment. I called the job centre first thing in the morning hours before I was due to come in and said I had an interview lined up and would need to reschedule my appointment. I was asked to bring in evidence of my interview to my next appointment which was given to me for 2 weeks ahead of the original date.
Having not got the job I went for, I continued looking and kept records of what I was applying for (I'm a bit too organised that way) and when I went along to the job centre with my forms, they advised me my claim was only going to start from this date. When I said that I had called in specifically to cancel my appointment rather than just not turn up they said they had no record of it. I explained that I had called in and was told to bring in evidence of the interview which I did as well as the rejection email I had received from the agency and evidence of what I had been doing in the last few weeks. My protests were to no avail so I dropped the matter. I was advised that my salary expectations were rather high, I said that I had actually been earning several thousands a year more for the last 5 years or so and had already dropped my expectations to be more realistic. I was told that I would have to lower my expectations if I didn't get a job within 6 months. I was horrified. The thought of having to come here every fortnight and be talked down to like this really scared me and I hoped that I would not even have to come back in a fortnight!Unfortunately it took me 5 months to get a job, but in this time, I would have to say that every trip to the job centre to sign on was a horrid experience. They provided seating
Pictures of Job Centre
Screenshot of the job search site
for people to wait till they got called to sign. I have no idea why they bother to give you a signing time as:
if you turn up on time you have to wait an hour,
if you turn up early you have to wait an hour and
if you turn up late, you have to wait an hour and you get told off (not that I was even late once but heard others being "scolded"). You had to sign a sheet to say you'd arrived and the time you arrived and what your signing time was. I had no idea why they even bothered as people would turn up at 11.00 when they were supposed to be signing at 2.00 and vice versa and they still just called people from the list in the order they signed in. It was ridiculous and not once did I go there without having to wait an hour - they said it was a trial system. Well they were "trialling it for an awfully long time without figuring out that it was a stupid idea and didn't work. Well I guess when you're a job seeker your time is not at all important…
At the end of the first 3 months of signing I was told I had to bring in evidence of my job search efforts, so I took along my A4 lever arch file which was bursting at the seams and weighed almost a ton! Carried it all the way to the job centre and waited my turn. When I was seen I was asked to sign and told that I had now been signing for 3 months (as if I didn't know that) and this was my review. I was asked how my efforts were going and I said I was rather disappointed but was looking into doing an evening class in HR to improve my chances of getting the kind of work I'd been doing for years without a formal qualification. The advisor seemed happy with that and said I could leave. I glared at him and told him that I had carried this folder all the way from home and the least he could do was have a look at it! He looked a bit daunted by the idea and literally open the first section, flicked through without even reading anything and said "Well done, keep up the good work." I could have bashed him over the head with my lever arch file, but I smiled politely and left. During the times I went to sign on I was offered various positions to apply for - not one single position that I was offered fell within my skills area - I was told to apply for a retail manager's role once, another time - accounts manager, transport manager, call centre manager - none of these roles had any significance to me and I didn't even have the experience required for those roles, but because they had "manager" in the title they were being forced on me. When I pointed out clearly that I did not have retail experience, I was not qualified in any aspect of accounting, I had never worked in a transport department, they backed down after initially threatening me with my benefits being sanctioned if I refused to apply for these jobs!
When I did eventually sign off I sent the relevant forms back to the job centre with the date I was starting work and the employer name, etc. I started my job and pretty much tried to forget about my experience as a job seeker, UNTIL I received a letter telling me that I hadn't turned up for my signing date and was therefore not going to get my benefit. When I picked myself off the floor from a laughing fit and calmed myself down, I sat down and called the job centre to ask for the manager's name and drafted him a letter with my issues with the service I had received. A few days later I received a letter of apology from the centre manager for the service I had received and was told that I would be receiving any overdue benefits into my bank account. Funnily enough, they sent me 4 separate payments of different amounts which I'm sure was more than I was entitled to, but maybe it was some sort of compensation - although this was never actually made clear. I think in total they paid me about £100 more than I had worked out that I was entitled to.
BACK TO WORK BONUS AND OTHER BONUSES
I thought I'd add in a bit about the "back to work bonus". This is an amount paid to some jobseekers when they start full time employment after a period of signing on. Contrary to popular belief this bonus is only paid if you have been working part time and declaring this income during your period of claiming benefit. It's a tax free lump sum paid to you as sort of a congratulatory reward for getting back into full time work and signing off from benefits.
There are other grants available to certain jobseekers such as the ADF (Advisor Discretionary Fund) which is a sum of up to about £100 I think (it used to be much more but was reduced recently). This is a fund from which you can receive funds to purchase clothes for interviews or to start work if you don't have suitable attire. You don't get the money to go off and buy what you want. You need to check with your Job Centre Plus advisor first that this fund is available to you and they will then advise you what you need to do, e.g. go to the local Top Shop or Burtons and get the items you want priced up and then your advisor will give you a voucher to use for that exact sum and for those exact items. This scheme is discretionary and I have found from experience of working with the Job Centre that the amount given varies depending on how sympathetic your advisor is to your case. Some advisors refuse to dip into this fund at all.
So, to summarise this section, the pros and cons of attending the Job Centre Plus as a jobseeker:
Not sure - apart from receiving a sum of money which is supposed to tide you over until you find a new job - not to be confused with some people's idea that jobseekers allowance can be claimed for life…
Receiving your benefits into your bank account on a fortnightly basis as opposed to receiving a "giro cheque" which you have to take to a post office to cash!
Staff are not trained in recruitment methods so really have no real idea how to match a jobseeker to a job
Being treated quite poorly by the staff at the job centre in general as they seem to put all jobseekers in one category - a nuisance that they have to deal with as part of their job (not taking into account that some people do actually want to work and will do anything to get a job rather than visit these horrid rude and demotivating people once a fortnight
Having to avoid the temptation to stamp your feet and have a tantrum - as this seems to be the only way to get some action out of the staff - apart from the jobseekers who get a bit too carried away and get escorted off the premises by security staff (not recommended)! Advice:
If you don't get the service levels you expect as a jobseeker, it doesn't hurt to complain - but do it nicely. A polite letter stating the issues you've had addressed to the section or general office manager should get a good response within a reasonable amount of time and is dealt with more favourably than abusive behaviour or letters full of bad language.
Try and use the computerised job points when you're waiting to sign, it can kill time and also you might just find a job that you can apply for. They're very easy to operate (with on screen instructions). You can also look for jobs if you have internet access via their website: http://www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/index.html and then clicking the "Looking for a job?" link. It's not the best designed website in the world but it does what it needs to.
AS AN EMPLOYER
Job Centre Plus has a facility whereby employers can advertise their jobs for free and get suitable candidates' CVs sent to them. There is no cost for this service - but there is a catch and this is a big catch (I'll come back to that in a bit).
It should be easy enough, if you've worked as a recruiter in any capacity you know that you submit the job details to the relevant agency they send you details of candidates who fit the minimum requirements for the role. I'll give you an idea of the sort of roles I've recruited for over the years: admin assistant, receptionists, sales or lettings negotiators, branch manager, ESOL tutor, trainers, etc. When you supply a job spec you state some minimum requirements, such as proficient MS Word user for an admin assistant or clear speaking professional telephone manner for a receptionist, or 12 months management experience for a branch manager, or sales experience for a sales person or an English language teaching qualification for an ESOL tutor. Also by asking a third party to help with your recruitments needs it usually means you don't have the time to go through 100's of CVs as you would do had you advertised say in the local paper and then have to deal with all the CVs of people without enough experience or qualifications.
The first few times I used the job centre for sourcing candidates I gave them the benefit of the doubt as I understood that there might be glitches occasionally. I was being sent CVs of candidates who could barely speak English for receptionist roles, I was sent school leavers with no work experience for managers roles, people whose English on their CV was so poor themselves that they needed ESOL classes themselves never mind applying for a job to teach English. I was sent someone once who wanted another member of staff to accompany them on all of their external sales appointments for the sake of security (that sort of defeats the object don't you think?)! The most annoying ones were (as this is the position I recruited most often for) were admin assistants who couldn't use a computer let alone type a letter in Word. Even after we had specified that we needed people with admin experience and Word skills were an essential requirement for the role. If I had advertised for a trainee then I would have understood…
I never hired a single person sent to me via the job centre, they were just never suitable.
To add insult to injury, when you use a recruitment agency, they generally "screen" the candidates and don't give the candidates your details such as phone number, address, etc, till you choose to call them for interview. With the job centre, having learnt from previous experiences, I had specifically stated that our company name or address was not to be given to the candidate unless the CV had been screened and the candidate selected for interview and in any case, we would do that ourselves as we would have the candidate's details to contact them directly. You would not believe that more than 50% of candidates would turn up at the office in person demanding to be interviewed there and then "…cos I saw the job advertised in the job centre!" Some people even got rather abusive having travelled to my company and demanding travel fare reimbursement. I had to politely tell them to take it up with their job centre!
The big catch I mentioned at the start of this section is that you have to provide details to the job centre about each and every candidate that they have submitted for the role. Once I was sent a 5 page list of names asking for feedback on each and every one even though only 2 out of the 100 plus people on the list had even formally been called for interview. Maybe another dozen had actually sent their CV in but the rest I'd never even heard of. The way the job centre works is that they may tell their clients to apply for a job and the client tells them they have but they don't bother so the job centre logs the clients' names against the job record on their system and then generates a list for the potential employer to give feedback on. Who has the time for all that?
Needless to say, having tried out this service several times whilst working for several different employers, I have given up the ghost and don't bother with this "free" service anymore. Who has the time to fill in pages and pages of a checklist when only a handful of people have bothered to apply and there weren't even remotely suitable for the role anyway? And I certainly don't need over-keen jobseekers turning up at my office demanding an interview there and then!
Another real issue I had with this service was that once the position had been filled and you had advised the job centre to take the job off their system, you would continue to get applications from people weeks and months afterwards and then have to deal with people getting upset or irate because they'd wasted their time. Again, I'd have to tell them to take it up with the job centre as we had advised them straight away that the job had been filled, often several times.
PRO: * A free service any employer can use to source potential candidates to fill vacant positionsCONS:
Staff are not trained in recruitment so really have no idea how to match a jobseeker to a job so they submit any jobseeker who remotely shows an interest in the job description
Having to fill out paperwork relating to dozens of people you haven't even heard of to give feedback on their interviews/applications which you haven't even received
Having applications and CVs (and in some cases candidates) turn up weeks or even months after you've advised the job centre to close the vacancy because it's been filled Advice:
Avoid using this service unless you have lots of time on your hands to sift through unnecessary applications and the need to fill out copious forms about people who've never even applied to your company.
I know some people will say that it's not an enviable job working at the job centre and it's difficult having to put up with various clients to shout and swear and threaten physical abuse - as far as I'm concerned and I'm sure many will agree with me - if you're working as a civil servant in a customer service environment, you need to have at least a minimum of customer service skills or you should be working somewhere else! A LITTLE STORY
I'll never forget how I came to be in contact with a long lost cousin years ago - she was signing at my local job centre after having finished university and was sitting in front of an advisor (who happened to be someone I knew). My cousin sat there patiently for over 20 minutes whilst the advisor carried out a personal phone call during which she mentioned my name to someone else I knew asking if I would be attending an event at the weekend. My cousin having overheard this 20 minute conversation asked the advisor at the end if she was talking about me, giving her my full name and the advisor was quite disgruntled that my cousin had "eavesdropped" on her phone call although she said yes, it was me she had been referring to. My cousin very calmly said that it was difficult not to overhear the conversation seeing as she had been waiting at the table sitting in front of her for 20 minutes whilst she carried on with her personal phone call. An example of good customer service? I think not! An example of how to meet up with a long lost cousin? Yes!
THE ALL IMPORTANT RATINGS!
How do I rate Job Centre Plus on the above 2 counts?
As a jobseeker, I rate the overall service received as 3 out of 10 - it's an experience I hope I never have to use again!
As an employer, I rate the service as 1 out of 10 - it IS an experience I will NOT go through again, until someone who's used the service has told me it has improved dramatically.
So overall I'd have to give them a 2 out of 10 and hope that for the sake of jobseekers the overall service provided by Job Centre Plus is improved.
If you've managed to read this far and haven't figured out yet what my title means, UB40 (a popular reggae band) released a song years ago called 1 in 10 and it was about unemployment statistics! The song words included the words: "I am a one in ten, a statistical reminder of a world that doesn't care!" Maybe that should be revised to "... a statistical reminder of a bunch of staff who are just too complacent in their own jobs and don't really care about providing decent customer service" - oh but that probably wouldn't have the same ring to it!