Supporting LMI learning in DWP: Coach Central
About the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
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.
Background to the development of Coach Central
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.
Why LMI for All?
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.
What is the aim of the Coach Central?
LMI is essential for PES staff (both work coaches and employment advisers):
- to help claimants take decisions on jobs, careers and training;
- to familiarise themselves on the structure of the labour market and on-going changes. For example, it can be used by employment advisers in understanding needs and opportunities in different sectors;
- to be used for labour market planning and for understanding the need for future training provision;
- to help plan future strategies and priorities for services for planning; and
- to help those responsible for employer liaison in understanding sectors and industries, prior to meetings with employers.
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.
Who are the target group for Coach Central?
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:
- Work Coaches – The largest group of PES practitioners are the Work Coaches (at the time of writing in 2017, approximately 15,000+) who currently provide services directly to claimants. They are located in offices throughout the UK. Since October 2013, new jobseekers have been required to account more clearly for their efforts to find work in order to receive their benefit. New claimants to Jobseeker’s Allowance now need to sign a ‘Claimant Commitment’. Claimants to Universal Credit are required to agree a ‘Commitment’, which sets out more fully what they need to do in order to receive state support – building on current support and providing clear information about the consequences of failing to meet requirements. Work coaches help claimants set out a detailed statement of what they will do to find work using a new personal work plan. Claimants will also use the plan to record what they have done and will renew their Commitment on a regular basis.
- Employer Engagement staff – DWP also employs around 1,500 PES practitioners who are dedicated employment engagement staff. They work directly with employers (e.g. for vacancy recruitment) and also with Work Coaches (to support them with knowledge and understanding of the labour market).
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.
What design and development processes were used?
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:
- Identify who needs access to LMI, for which purposes and practices and for which target groups of clients
- Identify what data each group of users ideally require
- Identify what data are publicly available and what gaps there are
- Design a data map and database structure and identify how the data is to be linked
- Develop tools and applications for querying LMI for All and the NOMIS local data through Application Programming Interfaces database
- Develop a user interface and tools for visualising the data
- Develop support materials for using and understanding the data sources
- Evaluate and iteratively improve the LMI systems
How was Coach Central designed and developed?
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:
- The description, skills and qualifications required for a specific occupation.
- The projected employment levels by geography (lowest level e.g. Local Authority level) for an occupation and/or sectors.
- The current number of vacancies in my local geographic area by occupation.
- The skills and qualifications that can be transferred to related occupations.
- A list of the current jobs available for a specific occupation (or set of skills and qualifications) by geography (lowest level e.g. Local Authority level).
- A list of jobs/occupations that someone could move into with a particular set of skills and qualifications (the transferability of skills).
- The jobs or occupations that are hard to fill in my local authority area.
- How the number of vacancies for specific occupations compares against the number of people who are seeking this work in my local authority area – a supply and demand measure to give us an indicator of the chances of getting this type of work in our area.
- A list of skills shortage vacancies (UK and/or local) with capacity to view occupational descriptions – being able to recognise when someone has specific skills that are in demand.
- How the employment and unemployment rates against specific sectors/industries/occupations change over time for my local authority area.
- What someone can expect to earn for a specific occupation in my local authority area and a description of how these earnings may change over what timescales as a career progresses (demonstrate and influence career pathways to customers).
- The main occupations that make up an industry and sector, the numbers employed in these occupations and how these are projected to change over time.
- The most popular jobs/occupations in my local area and how many people work in them. % share by industry/sector and compared to other areas/Regions/UK.
- Who are the biggest employers in my area and what jobs do they mainly recruit for.
- What are the biggest sectors/industries in my local area and how many people work in them.
- An overview of the labour market position in my Local Authority area and compared to region/UK position (labour supply, inactivity, employment by occupation/sector/industry, unemployment, employee jobs by sector/industry, self-employment rates, business counts of payee based enterprises, worklessness, business starts and closures, size of businesses).
- Levels of qualifications and numbers by local authority area.
- Survival rates of businesses in my area.
- The number, names, size band and contact details of employers based in my area, including which sector or industry they represent.
- Which employers in my area are recruiting through Universal Jobmatch.
- Sector summaries – economic position and impact, employment levels, skills gaps, future projections of employment levels and challenges to sector.
- Myth busting for certain occupations or sectors/industries.
- Entry level occupation information.
- Public transport routes across the local Travel to Work Area.
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.
How was buy-in for Coach Central secured?
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.
What made the development successful?
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.
What issues and solutions were identified during the development?
Some crucial issues were identified during the development of Coach Central and solutions were tested. For example:
- ICT privacy and security policies constrained the use of technology, which resulted in creative technological solutions (such as negotiating for a closed course where DWP staff could comment and have private forums) were piloted. Within the organisation, hosting the platform for Coach Central has been an ongoing issue because of the challenges of privacy and security policies and the restrictions placed on the use of ICT.
- Initial forecasts for the resources involved in the development of Coach Central were underestimated. While, it has been a more resource intensive process, the future benefits and efficiencies in the course have been realised.
- The lack of local data has been a major criticism of Coach Central. Even though nomis provides local Labour Market data, this is based on broad industry groupings and not on occupations. The sample size in the major surveys is not sufficient to produce meaningful data for each occupation at a local level. Two promising solutions are to: use web scrapers to augment data with other sources; and/or augment official data with data gathered from ‘the crowd’ – for instance from local PES employees.
- The problem of lack of data also applies to lack of job vacancy notifications. PES job vacancies tend to be skewed towards low paid and public sector jobs. One potential answer would seem to be to use web scrapers to gather data although this may have copyright implications.
What is the impact of LMI for All?
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:
- Gained knowledge of world of work and professional academic current thinking on several topics relevant to supporting PES customers to get them into work;
- Reminded them of good practice and techniques relating to coaching and reflection, resilience, evaluation and sharing ideas to support learning.
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.
Next steps for DWP
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.