SMEs and job centres must work closer together

  • 18 Jul 2022

Written by:
Dr Calum Carson, postdoctoral researcher at the Decent Work and Productivity Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University

The relationship between small or local businesses and the job centres that serve the areas in which they operate has long been complicated, as employers’ priorities and requirements have evolved in an ever-changing labour market alongside changing policy directions.

This relationship has grown more complex as digitalisation of employment support has drawn businesses towards private sector recruitment services. The establishment of Universal Credit (UC) as a means of support for both in-work and out-of-work individuals and households has added a further layer of complexity.

The UC system’s rationale – in which individual jobseekers are expected to continuously search for new employment opportunities and evidence this – also has consequences for employers, particularly in terms of the way they view and interact with job centres. Many complain about the extra resources consumed when faced with an enormous pile of applicants who are simply not right (or qualified) for a role but have put themselves forward in order to satisfy UC requirements.

This raises a number of questions: do such situations inspire employers to look away from public employment services and towards commercial operators? If job centres are not proving a credible and engaging partner, what changes need to be made? Can a better relationship be found, and what would this look like?

These are the sorts of questions being explored as part of a project on employer experiences of UC and related employment support across Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. Previous research has generally focused on the perspectives and experiences of individual jobseekers, with the role of employers in this system largely ignored.

Such invisibility has also been reflected in a lack of employer engagement by policymakers in the design and launch of recent job creation programmes such as Kickstart, which need to work for and with employer practices in mind.



In interviews for this project, employers have put forward a number of suggestions for job centres. These include a greater emphasis on understanding the needs of small businesses, and the intricacies and differences of the sectors they are operating within, alongside a corresponding rise in the suitability of the potential candidates put forward for consideration to employers by job centres.

Such discussions have also led to new questions over the role businesses have in helping to support unemployed people back into work. Many organisations are keen to emphasise that the employer-job centre relationship is a ‘two-way street’, and are keen to meet them halfway in building a more effective system.

There have been encouraging signs that policymakers have taken notice of how these relationships could improve public employment services across the UK. With the announcement of the new ‘Way to Work’ programme, job centres will place emphasis on working with employers to better understand their recruitment needs.

While it remains to be seen how effective this will be, it seems clear from this policy move and employers’ enthusiasm for change that there is a renewed appetite for a paradigm shift in the current relationship between employers and job centres.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FSB

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