DWP is the biggest public service delivery department in the UK that is responsible for welfare and pension policy. It employs approximately 84,300 staff based across seven groups, with approximately 20,000 practitioners working across approximately 750 Jobcentres. There are also about 1,500 employer engagement staff, specialising in work with employers. It is part of a network of 28 Public Employment Services (PES) across Europe.
Due to recent changes and new strategies, the role and function of Public Employment Services (PES) have changed. It is argued that the social function of PES is transforming into work focused gateways to welfare systems, providing a more tailored service delivery. PES practitioners, therefore, need to operate differently, in roles and capacities that require them to adopt, and adapt to, a new professional identity formation. To assist with this process, DWP has developed an LMI for All application for the business that was rolled out as a resource for various staff groups in May 2017. This case study describes the process of developing and piloting this application, Coach Central, over a three year period (2014 – 2017) through the support of a European funded EmployID project. Coach Central is based on LMI for All and local data from the Office for National Statistics.
An overall aim of DWP is to develop and maximise the potential of each of its employees by giving them the knowledge, skills, experience and behaviours to do their job and build their career with the department. The Learning and Development unit in DWP coordinates and delivers training according to business requirements. It offers a range of online tools to support staff with a programme of flexible, blended learning covers operational, technical and professional learning. Accessing labour market information (LMI) is seen as a key development activity and LMI for All provided an opportunity to develop an application to enhance and support this process. The application was designed to enable data to be accessed easily that could not only support learning as part of the wider project, but also be a useful resource in working with employers and claimants.
At an organisational level, access to LMI is needed to enhance co-operation between PES employees in different roles.
The key to unlocking the transformational potential of Coach Central by PES organisations is based on how it is integrated within the individual and organisational practices. Both require an understanding of the meanings of data for future labour market structures and for jobs and careers for claimants.
The overall aim of Coach Central was to develop a customised LMI application and embed this within an online course to foster learning about LMI, but also to provide it as a resource to DWP staff.
A range of consultations and workshops were held with members of the Learning and Development team and managers, who were the key link within DWP throughout the development of the Coach Central application. Coach Central uses LMI for All data merged with data from the Office of National Statistics. As a result of these consultations, two groups of DWP PES practitioners were identified as requiring on-going training support. They were:
As a result of an initial series of events focused on the training support needs of Work Coaches, the needs of employer engagement staff emerged as the more urgent priority. In response, training support to the employer engagement team on labour market information was identified as the priority.
After management ‘buy in’ had been secured, the design and development of Coach Central was a complex, time consuming process. There were a series of design and development processes and technical steps, which are common for the design of a single instance of an LMI system including:
Development and piloting phases
Development of the DWP application, Coach Central, started in 2014, based on LMI for All and local data from nomis, official local labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics database. Initial work with DWP resulted in the production of a ‘wish list’ for access to LMI. Responding to the requirements, the first iteration of Coach Central was developed and tested in the first pilot of the MOOC (or massive open online course), The Changing World of Work: Working with Employers in a Dynamic Labour Market developed by DWP Learning and Development Staff together with partners form the Employ-ID European project. This focused on the work of Employer Advisors and ran in early 2015 as an internal, bespoke online learning course. Despite considerable technical issues with accessing the application, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from the Employer Advisors.
Understanding data requirements
Based on the positive evaluation, a survey was then undertaken of the data Work Coaches wished to access. Specifically, they wanted access to:
Redesigns and user feedback
Based on the feedback from the first iteration and the survey findings, Coach Central was re-designed and piloted again in late 2015 to a different group of staff (Work Coaches). The redesign included more data and refined data presentation. The evaluation was once more positive. As a result of the positive feedback, a third, wider trial and evaluation with Work Coaches using Coach Central as part of their daily work with clients was undertaken.
Most participants found some parts of the system useful. However, concerns were raised over the accuracy of the information. Additionally, there was a desire to broaden the search capabilities, e.g. to include Travel to Work Areas and also for links to be added to help users obtain a greater understanding of the industries featured. Not all participants felt the system made a difference to their work, but those who felt it had were very complimentary, especially around the areas of improved labour market knowledge, having everything in one place, improved job search and better information available to customers.
Around 53% said they are likely to recommend Coach Central to colleagues and 58% said they are likely to use it to search for labour market information in the future.
Following the evaluation, the DWP has decided it would be beneficial for Work Coaches, Employment Advisers and a number of other Jobcentre Plus roles to have access to Coach Central to assist them in their day to day roles. The wider roll out was undertaken in May 2017.
An essentially ‘top-down, bottom-up’ process was used to secure buy-in for the online course and LMI for All application. Key members of the Learning and Development unit and senior members of staff were involved at all stages of the process of identifying, then designing learning needs. Internal papers and a series of presentations and meetings were held to ensure everyone were kept fully informed of the project progress.
Workshops were also organised involving both Work coaches and Employer engagement staff as part of the process of user engagement. The first pilot was to explore the appetite of LMI training support for Employer Engagement staff. The second and third pilots, with Work coaches, were to provide project team members insight into the roles and responsibilities of Work coaches.
The design and development of Coach Central required close collaboration between the PES organisation and potential users, researchers and developers. It also required collaboration between different teams within DWP. It was necessary to bring together knowledge and skills about labour markets, careers counselling and guidance, education and training systems, skills development, statistics, data and database development and computer interface design.
Some crucial issues were identified during the development of Coach Central and solutions were tested. For example:
As yet, there is limited evidence of changing practices. However, for work coaches, the trials within DWP in the UK, suggest that the systems may assist with claimants during interviews, as well as supporting Employment Advisers in their work with employers.
From the perspective of a PES organisation and the PES staff using the online learning courses and the Coach Central, the project has been a success. They reported on a number of ways that the project had had an impact on their service delivery:
The wider project in which the LMI for All application was developed has had a positive impact on networking and sharing best practice, expanding knowledge and providing an opportunity to explore a more cost effective, flexible learning approach.
The success of the development was the result of collaborative working, which has maintained momentum and has effectively kept to agreed timescales.
The pilot MOOCs within DWP have shown promising results. The Coach Central application has now been rolled out across the entire business. It is being provided as a resource for anyone in DWP (not just practitioners), but its usage is not compulsory. The principle of providing DWP practitioners with some guidance and support regarding the interpretation and usage of LMI in their work with claimants is currently being discussed.