More than a year after the introduction of the government’s ambitious Work Programme, the CIPD warns today that it needs to build on the scheme’s early progress by increasing awareness and understanding of the scheme amongst employers.

In a survey of more than 1,000 employers, drawn from all three main sectors of the economy, the CIPD found that the majority (79%) of employers that have used the Work Programme say recruits met or exceeded their expectations and more than half (58%) said candidates were better prepared for interviews and demonstrated better presentation skills as a result of the programme. It also found that the number of organisations that plan to participate in the Work Programme will increase moderately during the next 3 years.

However, the Labour Market Outlook Focus report also revealed relatively low awareness among employers, with less than half of respondents (49%) saying they are unaware of the Work Programme, and a high proportion of employers who feel it is not relevant for their organisation (48% of those employers who do not plan to recruit via the programme). In addition, amongst those employers that have recruited via the Work Programme, only half plan to hold on to the new hires for longer than six months and 48% felt that participants lack certain job-specific or technical skills.

Gerwyn Davies, CIPD Labour Market Adviser at the CIPD, comments: “The results suggest that there are two key areas of concern that will determine whether the early success of the programme will be sustained. Firstly, the Government needs to put as much clout behind improving awareness and understanding of the Work Programme amongst employers in all sectors as it has with pensions auto-enrolment*. Our survey results suggest that the scheme could be targeted at those sectors, such as retail and the hotels, catering and leisure sectors, which are more likely to hire unemployed people and/or employ unskilled or low-skilled workers.

Secondly, the high rate of churn after the six month mark suggests that there may be a mismatch between participants and the employment opportunities that are being given to them, and that some employers may have unrealistically high expectations regarding the technical skills of individuals who have been out of work for a long time. Instead of expecting the system to churn out work-ready individuals, employers need to play their part too by focusing more effort on training and developing new hires, in order to build their future workforces and have a lasting impact on helping the long term unemployed back into work.

“Previous CIPD research has found a clear business case for this investment, supported by numerous high profile employers who have a long track record of bringing the long-term unemployed into their workforces. The CIPD is committed to working with government and employers through our Learning to Work campaign and other work to promote this business case in order to improve access routes into work for the young, long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups.”

*CIPD research released in December 2011 found that 75% of employers were already aware of auto-enrolment.