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Does unpaid work experience have value?

Posted on 19 December 2012 .
Tags: Community Action Programme, unemployment, very long-term unemployed

As my colleague Nilufer has already blogged, at NatCen we’ve recently been investigating ways of supporting the very long-term unemployed – those who’ve completed the government’s work programme and remain unemployed – and uncovered some interesting findings.

In our evaluation of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Support for the Very Long-Term Unemployed Trailblazer, we looked at two types of support: giving people more intense personalised Job Centre Plus support, and the Community Action Programme (CAP), where claimants do a six month work placement and are given job search support by providers.

The CAP attracted negative press some months ago for the unpaid work placement aspect, with some claimants objecting on the grounds that it was ‘slave labour’. What we found, though, was that these people were in the minority - less than one in ten. Our research found that the majority of CAP claimants welcomed the opportunity to gain work experience, feeling that it may help them find work and after placements, over two-thirds felt it had been helpful. Even some who had initially been opposed to the idea later reported that it had been worthwhile. This may come as a surprise given that over half of Brits think that most unemployed people could find a job if they wanted one.

The placement was shown to be of real value. Those who had been on a placement were the most likely to agree that the programme had increased their motivation to find work and had raised their long-term work ambitions. On average, this group of claimants also reported lower levels of anxiety than claimants receiving other forms of support, so for some CAP may have had a positive effect on wellbeing. 

One of CAP’s aims was to simulate a real job, so claimants could add recent work experience and up-to-date references to their CVs. And in many ways it seems this aim was achieved; three in four claimants reported a sense of satisfaction in the routine of their placement and over two-thirds said it improved their self-confidence and gave them a sense of job-satisfaction and achievement. 

Our findings did not point to CAP being any more successful than the other back to work support programmes being tested, but it’s too soon to judge the programme on hard outcomes like the number of people getting into work. While our research showed that CAP is not suitable for everyone, for those who need a confidence boost and motivation it’s an effective tool. As Sally explains, wellbeing is key to getting JSA claimants back into work, so I look forward to seeing the longer term DWP data (out in a few months). Only then will we know whether less these tangible ‘soft outcomes’ will translate into sustained jobs for the very long term unemployed.

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