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Ministerial optimism over the early results of the Work Programme could be short-lived as the initial data does not reveal the full picture, employment experts have warned.Official figures published in July, a year after the flagship welfare-to-work programme was launched, appear to show it has helped significant numbers of unemployed people off benefits. Nearly half (48 per cent) of the participants who started in June 2011 have had a break in their benefit claim, while 24 per cent have spent a continuous 13-week period off benefits. However, it is not yet clear how many people have actually found work through the programme.Kirsty McHugh, chief executive at the Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work sector, said: “They are very early figures, which come from a very narrow release of data. We should look at them with caution because we don’t know how many of those who have come off benefits have gone into work. In terms of analysing results, one year is not long enough to know how well providers are doing, especially in terms of getting people into sustainable employment.” She said that providers have up to two years to work with benefit claimants, some of whom will be “a long way from the labour market”.To put the figures into perspective, the National Audit Office estimated earlier this year that 28 per cent of jobseekers on the programme would have found work without intervention. However, McHugh welcomed the government’s “transparency” in publishing the data.CIPD labour market policy adviser Gerwyn Davies is currently examining the early performance of the Work Programme for a CIPD report due at the end of September. He said the true measure of the scheme’s success would be the proportion of jobseekers who stay in jobs for more than six months. Providers receive an “outcome” payment when participants reach this milestone, although the bulk of their reward or “sustainment payment” is paid out if the person stays in the job beyond six months. Then providers can collect more money for every four weeks an individual stays in that post.However, Davies said: “The evidence to date suggests that welfare-to-work providers have improved the presentation and interviewing skills of job applicants, but where they’ve maybe had less success is in technical skills and job-specific skills. So we might see a relatively high proportion who have started work but few who go on to more sustainable employment.”Economic conditions will also affect the scheme, Davies added. “A lot of organisations are simply holding on to existing staff rather than taking on new ones. People who are being hired will have to perform to justify staying in the job because there is a vast pool of labour ready to step in.”Figures for the number of outcome payments made, to be released this autumn, will give a more robust portrayal of whether the incentive mechanism is working. But Davies warned there was still work to be done to persuade employers to use the scheme. CIPD figures from 2006 – during the economic boom – suggested that a third of employers would not consider long-term unemployed candidates for any role. “And we’re in a very different position now so those challenges have become greater,” he said. One employer who is very happy with the jobseekers his organisation has recruited from the Work Programme is Gary Robinson, head of ops support at TNT Post, with responsibility for staffing the growing business.His firm has a four-year business plan to create 25,000 jobs. Robinson told PM that he’d taken on about 90 staff through the scheme since April this year.“We have a contract with provider Ingeus who looks after my recruits. Individuals come to us from the job centre after 12 months on the Work Programme, or the Youth Contract. We’ve found that they have developed a work ethic because they have attended the welfare-to-work courses to get them to a job-ready state.”Development continues once they are in post because the Ingeus “work adviser” – who sits within TNT’s recruitment team – maintains the personal relationship. “She supports each person throughout their training and continues to have one-to-ones with them once they have got the job. It’s like a life-coaching service for that person,” said Robinson. “Our level of retaining recruits is phenomenally high compared with what I had expected, because it’s a very demanding role.”
48% have had a break in claim? 24% had a continuous break in claim? Does this number include the people who have been sanctioned, changed benefits, were on appeal, contribution payments ending - it would be interesting to know? Most WP customers get their own job and providers are only notified by Change of Circs forms. Providers may state they 'found' the vacancy - where in reality the postions are advertised elsewhere, direct gov, newspapers, agencies etc.