Mark Cosens is Business Development Manager at i2i, which serves 33,000 people as a subcontractor, delivering employability and skills services under four prime contractors in five regions.

From its inception to the current day, the Work Programme has had to deal with negative perceptions and unfair criticism, much of which has been made without a full view of the challenges facing those striving to deliver it.  In our experience, there are two primary sets of challenges that providers face:

• The very real and multiple, long standing personal and social disadvantages and barriers to working that long term jobseekers need to overcome.

• The system itself; in other words, the financial, political, commercial and operating conditions which providers experience under The Work Programme.

In our recently published report ‘How to improve on The Work Programme’ we highlight the importance of the welfare to work sector (not always appreciated) and  suggest some positive ways in which the future programme following the current Work Programme might support a performance improvement.

While several of the report’s recommendations have resonance with other studies (and recent Govt commissioning moves) we hope that its main themes will persist beyond the short-term and continue to influence those planning for the end of the current Work Programme.

Some of the report’s key recommendations are:

– Improve some features and aspects of The Work Programme – but don’t scrap it altogether
– Place more emphasis on service quality (shifting the balance away from price discounting)
– Redesign the classification mechanism (to better identify and respond to jobseeker needs)
– Improve accuracy in predicting referral volumes
– Refer more jobseekers to third-party provision and earlier
– Improve the role and fulfil the partnership potential of Jobcentre plus
– Retain attachment fees and strengthen the payment model
– Better integrate employment and skills funding (and provision)
– Consider the number and size of CPAs and re-commission only some CPAs
– Strengthen the Merlin Standard
– Develop a progressive and complementary system for bringing innovation pilots to market
– Extend employer wage incentives to three categories of long-term unemployed claimants
– Carry out a national employer engagement campaign

The report offers a first-hand set of observations and suggestions, from a private provider’s perspective, presented with the aim of contributing positively to the public debate over what should happen to employability services, just at the time when their future is being planned and decided.

You can read the report in full on the i2i website and please feel free to respond by email to

The views held within this blog are not necessarily those of ERSA. ERSA makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any link on this blog.