The work programme is a government initiative launched in June 2011 providing a coordinated package of support to individuals experiencing long-term unemployment, regardless of the benefits they claim.
Year five of the work programme (April 2015 - March 2016) saw a work and pensions select committee report, which recognised that this programme has performed as well as previous ones, but at a greatly reduced cost. Statistics released in March 2016 show that the work programme has helped over half a million people into sustained work.
Serco has been delivering this payment-by-results initiative on behalf of the Department for Work & Pensions in the West Midlands and South Yorkshire, through a network of expert providers from the private, public and voluntary sectors. It is part-funded by the European Social Fund.
Serco new jobs
The employment market has changed dramatically since the programme began. As the economy takes an upward trend, those closer to the labour market move into work quicker than before, and so people experiencing more complex barriers to work, often coupled with mental and physical health conditions, take up a much greater proportion of our work programme customers.
For the work programme extension year (April 2016 - March 2017) we took the opportunity to refresh our delivery model, following extensive consultation with both our providers and customers, in order to better respond to the evolving market. This included using a smaller delivery network comprising our best performing providers, provision for occupational health support where needed, and a move from a three-phase model to a single phase; customers now remain with one provider throughout their two-year programme journey.
Serco number of employers
Supporting people with health conditions
Serco’s work programme customer mix has dramatically changed since its launch in 2011. A vast proportion of customers face complex barriers to work including mental and/or physical health concerns. To respond to our customers’ needs we continuously invest in upskilling our advisers and commissioning new initiatives and pilots.
Occupational health service
In 2016 Serco commissioned occupational health services from Health2Employment, part of Inspire 2 Independence (i2i), one of our work programme providers. This service has been made available for all providers in our supply chain to use to support customers with advice and guidance on managing health conditions.
Simon Astbury’s story
Simon serco i2i
My name is Simon Astbury and I’ve been unemployed for three years. I’ve started Serco’s Work Programme in January 2014 with i2i after losing my job as a Quality Inspector at Amazon. A botched operation left me fighting for my life due to the effects of septicaemia. I also lost my home and was living on ESA*. The experience had a huge impact on my life and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I came to i2i very angry and upset but my advisers Deborah and Sharon showed a lot of understanding. I realised a career change was the only way forward. I completed several courses through i2i and gained recognised qualifications. I particularly enjoyed the NVQ Level 2 in Adult Health and Social Care. It made me reflect on what I really wanted to do - work in the mental health field.
Deborah and I worked together to update my CV, job search and prepare for interviews. She also supported me emotionally and gave me a lot of confidence. There were a couple of times when I dipped, and she showed me a lot of empathy; she didn’t judge me, she went along the journey with me.
I started volunteering with Mind which I absolutely loved; I’m still attending now. They’ve asked me to be a trustee member on their board, which I feel really honoured about! I’d recommend volunteering to anybody. It’s about helping people and giving something back. It’s also given me relevant experience to put on my CV.
Amazingly I was offered an interview with the NHS as a mental health support worker. Sadly I didn’t get the job, but I received valuable constructive feedback.
I then applied for and secured an interview for a mental health employment adviser position with charity ‘Making Space’, after meeting them at a job fair i2i had organised. I was the 17th person to be interviewed and I was given the job on the spot. I was shocked, grinning like a Cheshire cat, and I couldn’t wait to tell Deborah and Sharon. It was amazing; the beginning of a new journey.
The recipe for success
Serco’s success rests in large part on our focus on upskilling our advisers and promoting best practice, and in investing in cutting-edge research.
Our partnership with DWP work psychologists provided our advisers the opportunity to benefit from practical workshops on effective communication with customers, concentrating on positive language and supporting people move forward.
The ‘solutions-focused interviewing’ workshop supported advisers on challenging perceptions and supporting customers with mental health conditions, encouraging people make practical improvements in their everyday life and realise their potential.
Other upskilling workshops included health condition awareness like learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders, anxiety and depression.
Our partnership with a number of Jobcentre Plus continues to flourish. The aim is to improve working relationships, encourage a more joined-up approach and improve outcomes for customers with health conditions in particular for both parties.
This collaboration has resulted in a comprehensive programme of shadowing in certain areas, with work programme advisers spending time with Jobcentre Plus advisers and vice versa, improving customer engagement as a result.
Serco new businesses
We’ve also worked with academic institutions to improve our service and look for ways that new technology can help our customers.
Serco collaborated with Birmingham City University’s student-run marketing agency, The Link, on a project looking into optimising the use of digital technology to drive efficiencies and improve the experience of our customers, especially those with health concerns.
With no prior experience in the field, the students were able to demonstrate with practical examples how embracing new technologies could help us improve customers’ experience - especially those with mental health concerns - while keeping costs down.
In 2015, we worked with Serco’s ExperienceLab, a user experience design agency, to build a detailed customer journey of our existing customers.
For more than 40 years ExperienceLab has been helping brands like Google, the BBC and American Express to drive innovation and shape new customer-centric products and services.
The aim of this project was to enhance our understanding of our customers’ needs and inform the continuing development of our services. The in depth investigation highlighted the elements of our service that customers really value including their relationship with their adviser, tailored advice, and support in the early days of starting a new job. The research also set out a number of ways we can enhance our service moving forward, to best serve the changing customer groups, including those experiencing long-term unemployment and health conditions.
We have recently teamed up with Warwick Medical School to explore the possibility of collaborating on a project aiming to trial a new tool supporting customers who suffer with chronic pain to return to work and improve their quality of life. The proposed two-year project will begin in 2017.