How DWP hired 13,500 new work coaches – without meeting a single one.

Acknowledgement: Lydia/CC BY 2.0

There had to be a degree of reimagining how this might work,” says Nick Heckscher of Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL).

This seems something of understatement.

The ‘this’ in question is the delivery of a programme announced by government in July 2020 to double the number of work coaches employed by the Department of Work and Pensions by recruiting an additional 13,500 people.

The ‘reimagining’, meanwhile, was required as a result of the need to run centrally and on a nationwide scale a process that is normally managed by individual Jobcentres. Another, not insignificant, challenge was the need to do so without meeting a single candidate in person.

The timeframe also offered little margin for error, with the government expecting that the first tranche of 4,500 new starters would be in post within three months of its announcement of the recruitment drive. 

To fulfil this huge hiring programme, the DWP appointed SSCL to support its delivery; the supplier is a joint venture created by the Cabinet Office alongside consultancy Sopra Steria, with a remit to deliver tech and operational services to government departments and the wider public sector.

According to Heckscher, director of the company’s resourcing unit, an initial imperative of the programme – given the massive number of recruits required – was to broaden the pool of candidates and attract applications from those who might not previously have considered such a role. 

Number of new work coaches DWP needed to hire – doubling the total number employed around the UK

Seven weeks
Amount of time between the launch of the microsite for work coach roles and the appointment of the first tranche of 4,500 coaches

2.8 million
New claims for Universal Credit between March and November 2020

Number of Jobcentres across England, Wales and Scotland – including 80 temporary locations launched to cope with growth in demand as a result of the pandemic

He says that work coach positions had traditionally “attracted a lot of applicants from other government departments”. 

“We built a new and different microsite for [the DWP], selling the work coach role in a fresh, vibrant and colourful way,” Heckscher adds.

The application and hiring process needed to be put together in a way that could be run centrally, while serving the recruitment needs of more than 600 Jobcentres around the country. It also had to be able to scale up in size to cope with potentially hundreds of thousands of applications, while strictly adhering to civil service recruitment principles.

“The process needed to be very fair, and there could not be any adverse impact on against any protected characteristic or part of the community,” Heckscher says. “Accessibility of work is at the heart of everything the DWP are trying to do.”

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The massive increase in the work coach workforce came following a similarly huge spike in the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits during the early months of the coronavirus crisis.

Between March and May 2020, claims for Universal Credit expanded from 3 million to 5.2 million; by November this had increased to 5.8 million.

Work coaches provide support – in person, online, and over the phone – to UC claimants, as well as recipients of Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, and Income Support.

Their primary role is to offer advice and help with citizens’ job searches.

As part of the online application process, candidates needed to complete a situational judgement test. This 40-minute exercise included 20 hypothetical scenarios alongside possible response options which candidates could rank on a five-point scale from ‘extremely desirable’ to ‘extremely undesirable’.

Those who passed this assessment – which Heckscher says was “tested and validated with the work coach community” – and whose application met required standards were then asked to participate in a video interview.

Christopher Macgowan @chrismacgowan

SOURCE: Sam Trendall. Public Technology Net.

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