Question to Joan Burton on JobBridge Payments

A very long post but some interesting/galling reading all the same if you can slog through it.

Clare Daly put Paul Bonars question (who passed this on to us, many thanks Paul!) to Joan Burton: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her if she views that a JobBridge payment of €50, on top of a person’s social welfare payment, for nine months as a waiter or waitress constitutes appropriate training and development experience.

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton replied: JobBridge has made significant progress since its inception in July 2011. As of 19th March 2015, over 38,269 interns had commenced on the scheme, while there are 6,033 interns currently participating on the programme. There are currently 1,086 internships advertised on JobsIreland.ie. The Department does not routinely maintain separate records of an intern’s rate of Social Welfare payments prior to commencing and during the internship.

As noted there are currently 6,033 individuals on JobBridge. The cost of paying those interns an extra €50 per week would amount to circa €11.76m over a nine month period of an internship. A total of 11,606 internships commenced between 30th December, 2013 and 18th December, 2014. A contribution of €500 in respect of each of these internships would amount to €5,803,000 in respect of 2014. The €50 weekly top-up paid to interns is in acknowledgement of extra expenses that may be incurred over and above those of the normal job search. It is not related to training and development expenses. There is nothing to prevent a Host Organisations reimbursing an Intern for expenses incurred as part of the internship. However, expenses should not be provided for normal activities such as travel to and from the main location of the internship.

The purpose of JobBridge is to help unemployed jobseekers break the cycle whereby they cannot find a job without appropriate experience but cannot find appropriate experience without a job. To date it has been very successful in delivering on this objective with this success being partly attributable to the wide variety of internship opportunities that it supports. Given that unemployed jobseekers are drawn from many walks of life and have varying levels of work experience and educational qualifications it is essential that Internship opportunities cover many occupations/disciplines from high skill specialist placements to lower skilled general placements. Therefore JobBridge opportunities are not confined to the type internships that were, and continue to be a feature of, some ‘white collar’ professions.

Pathways to Work 2015 includes a commitment to evaluate a range of activation processes and programmes, including JobBridge. A high level evaluation work plan has been agreed and endorsed by the Labour Market Council. The Department is currently in the process of implementing the work plan, which will consist of a number of separate evaluations across a number of programmes including JobBridge. These evaluations will assess the impacts of programmes in terms of employment outcomes for participants. It is expected that the evaluation of JobBridge will commence later in 2015 with results anticipated by Q1 2016.

I have no plans at present to restrict internships in sectors with low levels of progression into employment. JobBridge interns gain marketable skills and work experience that can take them into employment in organisations and sectors other than those with which they participate in JobBridge.

Independent evaluation of JobBridge found only minimal levels of displacement. The Department takes any complaints of abuse of the JobBridge Scheme seriously. All such complaints are investigated thoroughly, and necessary action is taken, if required. The Department also operates a monitoring system to ensure that all internships are of a high quality.

If any individual knows of specific instances of abuse of JobBridge details should be provided to the Department for investigation. Host Organisations are also subject to conditions, including cooling-off periods, to limit any abuse of the scheme. If an internship finishes and the Intern concerned is unsuccessful in gaining employment the Host Organisation is subject to a six month cooling off period before they can re-advertise an internship in the same filed of work. In circumstances where an intern moves into employment with either the host organisation or another organisation the cooling off period of six months is waived. The Department does not routinely keep records of the number of times the cooling-off period is waived.

With regard to levels of dissatisfaction interns and host organisation can contact the dedicated JobBridge team, the established Departmental complaints system and the staff at the local Intreo centres to register any concerns that they might have. A charter is already in place in the form of a standard agreement that must be signed by the intern and the host organisation. It is not in the form of a statutory obligation as JobBridge is an administrative (i.e., non-statutory) scheme.

Each host organisation are required to nominate an individual to support and/or mentor the Intern during the placement. This person will have responsibility to ensure that the Intern receives a proper induction, ensure that the work experience as described in the standard agreement is progressing, and that monthly compliance checks are being completed (to ensure the Internship allowance continues to be paid by DSP). If an organisation has a formal mentoring programme, they include the Intern in this programme. The Department provides a range of resources and toolkits to support the mentoring of interns. Host organisations are instructed to read these carefully before offering an internship.

First Steps is a new under scheme which employers are being asked to sponsor work experience places of four days duration per week for very disadvantaged young people. All participants will be selected by the Department of Social Protection (not as under JobBridge by the host organisation), will be allocated a dedicated case officer throughout their placement and will receive pre-placement training. The Department of Social Protection will only select clients who are available for, and whom it believes will benefit from, a First Steps placement. In such circumstances the Department believes clients should have a very strong reason not to participate and in the absence of such a reason participation should be mandatory.

The short preparation course for participants will be provided by Education and Training Boards and will consist of basic workplace skills and etiquette, timekeeping and communication skills and will last approximately one week. A total of €57.111m has been allocated for First Steps up to the end of 2017. As of 19th March, 89 places have been committed by host organisations for the First Steps programme.

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