The DWP’s upskilling approach involved improving processes in order to achieve front-end success
Unemployment rates in the UK are at their lowest for 40 years. This is great news for the economy, but means those attending Jobcentre Plus facilities now have some of the most specific needs.
“They are sometimes the least capable, the least able to get into work, so the level of local support needs to change,” says John Hatton, CCO at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
To make this change happen, DWP has rolled out an award-winning dynamic purchasing system (DPS) that has slashed the time it takes staff at job centres to buy specialised training for the people they’re supporting. Since the new system went live in October 2016, 1,166 accredited suppliers – 75% of which are SMEs – have been added to the system and almost 23,000 training programmes have been bought. DWP estimates its first-year headcount and efficiency savings were more than £1m.
DWP spends around £35m a year on suppliers that provide training and coaching to help people back into work. This can cover anything from CV writing and interview coaching to career-changing retraining. But the old contracting model was too slow, says senior category manager Lindsay Maguire. Frontline workers at the job centres needed to build a picture of their client’s needs, which was then turned into a specification at a district level. By the time an OJEU tender competition had been run, up to 16-weeks later, the client may have moved on.
With the new DPS in place, staff can track clients on their employability journey – a set of eight broad categories developed to follow a person’s path to employment in lieu of constantly writing and updating specifications. “We’ve cut out the specification development and made it much more about what the market can deliver,” says Maguire.
Using a DPS has other advantages, says Hatton. Traditional frameworks become long in the tooth quickly as markets change, but a DPS can onboard or remove providers on a rolling basis based on performance. The new system is also easier for suppliers, who need only upload their offer once onto the system and can then simply update it.
This has the added benefit of opening up opportunities for SMEs that may not have the time or the commercial bid-writing skills of the larger organisations.
Judges at the CIPS SM Europe Awards – where DWP won overall on top of the Most Innovative Use of Technology prize – described it as an “innovative and impressive project with massive benefits”.
To engage job centre staff, Hatton and Maguire invested time internally selling how the DPS can help their colleagues. “We’ve encouraged commercial upskilling within the organisation, where individuals have learned a lot about how to buy successfully,” says Maguire. While the system –developed with tech providers Basware –is owned and controlled centrally, DWP works closely with a network of representatives across the country to ensure changes to the provider list reach local job centres, who can then pass back their upcoming requirements and notify of any gaps in the provision. When a contract is agreed, contract management becomes a collaboration between DWP centrally and local operational staff, and DWP is part of the civil service-wide Contract Management Capability Programme (CMCP).