The long term unemployed – an untapped workforce

October 14, 2009

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- Chris Melvin is Chief Executive of Reed in Partnership. Any views expressed are his own -

The latest employment figures from the Government today confirm analyst predictions that despite the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance beginning to level out, pay is down and the number of people recently out of work has increased.

In a climate such as this, with an ongoing influx of the newly unemployed into the market, it’s vital that we maintain help for the long-term unemployed to ensure they are not left behind, with an increased focus on getting them back into work.

There is a danger that people on benefits who have been out of work for some time, could end up being ‘parked’ in favour of those who are closer to the labour market and considered more ‘work ready’. We need to make a concerted effort to ensure that support services, such as re-skilling, confidence-building and training courses are widely available to the long-term unemployed so that when the economy does improve, this group of people will be in a good position to move into work.

A recent report from our ‘Keep Britain Working’ campaign called Meeting the People Challenge showed that when the upturn comes, employers will be looking to replace the staff they have made redundant, and also taking on more skilled staff once recovery begins. This shows a need to maintain the re-skilling and, more importantly, the up-skilling of the long-term unemployed to ensure we are not left with a huge skills gap once more jobs become available again.

The untapped potential of the long-term unemployed is too often overlooked, especially during an economic downturn. This is compounded by the influx of white-collar workers entering the job market for the first time, after finding themselves the victims of mass redundancies.

This group is up against a different set of challenges to those faced by the long-term unemployed. Many professionals have been working in their chosen industry for many years and find themselves stranded when jobs are no longer available in their sector. They are frequently pigeon-holed as their CVs and skills are often specific to their profession and are less transferrable to other industries.

Our experience suggests that this group can become disillusioned by the job market as they are inexperienced with modern recruitment and assessment methods. They also have limited knowledge of what other types of work might be available to them. However, we have found that with the right guidance and support, many are able to retrain and find work in other industries such as the retail, care and hospitality sectors.

For both white-collar workers and the long-term unemployed, the priority is moving them back into sustainable employment as quickly as possible. There needs to be a policy balance between getting the newly unemployed back into the labour market, whilst also providing the intensive support required to help the long-term unemployed move off benefits and back into employment.

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