In all the debate about welfare ‘reform’ the small matter of the Jobcentre network’s original primary function has got a bit lost. That function being to create a local labour market for jobseekers, both the employed and the workless and, crucially employers. Jobcentres used to provide a fairly efficient public employment service, free at the point of delivery.
In fact, before the privatisation of Professional and Executive Recruitment the Jobcentre network even addressed the needs of the whole labour market. PER charged for its services and competed with the private sector for business. Naturally, it had to go under the Tories and was sold off to Captain Bob Maxwell, who ran it down after asset stripping its client records.
Today, the Jobcentre’s labour market operation is known for its farcical, almost fully automated vacancy handling system and Universal Jobsmatch. The former seems to be designed to make the case for dropping any decent service for employers whilst the latter seems to have been built around the sanctions regime. And only having one CV on UJ flies in the face of advice about the best ways in which to find and secure a job.
The current debate also focuses around the supply side of the labour market whilst ignoring the demand side. Employers, in my opinion have too easy a ride when it comes to the whole issue of reducing unemployment. I present Exhibit A in evidence.
The Ageist Employer
This particular incident arose during my second spell in the Jobcentre at Washwood Heath. We took a call from an employer seeking to fill a position in his engineering firm. He wanted, if memory serves me correctly to recruit a setter/machine operator. Such men, they usually were men then were as rare as hens’ teeth. They were the elite of their industry.
The employer not only wanted to recruit such a person, but they had to have had 30 years of experience in engineering and be aged under 50. A hard to fill job with a restricted age range was bad enough, but I think there was an issue about how much he wanted to pay too. He would not, therefore, be likely to attract anyone in secure employment at that time.
We were heavily into Total Quality Management at this time. Hence, we, rather than telling the employer he was wasting his time gathered the evidence to prove our point. The number of people meeting his minimum requirements, aged between 46 and 49 years and 11 months or thereabouts was minimal. And of those we found we doubted that they would be suitable for interview. However, we had around 12 people, aged over 50 who met his criteria and seemed suitable for interview. We usually looked for a field of between 10 and 15 when making submissions to one job so we were well within that range.
The employer refused to see them. We pointed out that they met most of his criteria, were unemployed so he did not have to lure them away from another employer and we emphasised the benefits of employing an older person. There are many, in fact. Still he refused to give them an interview, even with the attendant offer of a Work Trial where appropriate.
We then read in the Evening Mail, our local newspaper that this employer had gone to them with a story about the waster’s down at the Jobcentre, the staff as well as the unemployed. Civil Service policy is not to discuss individual cases without the permission of the other party so we were unable to provide a credible rebuttal. Someone at the Mail sold the story to the Daily Star. Thankfully, as now the Daily Star is not a newspaper likely to cause one to lose much sleep!
In a nutshell, employers are not as perfect as so many would like us to think. They often discriminate, even against their own interests. They also stigmatise the workless, further reinforcing the negative attitude that wider society displays towards those out of work. And just to clarify, the UK public employment service may not refuse to handle a vacancy, unless a law is being broken and, at the time of this incident age discrimination was legal and there was no National Minimum Wage to create a wage floor in the labour market.