A couple of years ago a good friend of mine decided on a career change having spent well over 25 years in the same branch of the retail industry. They had good interpersonal skills and eventually found themselves on a 2 year fixed term contract with the Department of Work and Pensions and on the front line of a busy Job Centre.
Moving from the private to the public sector provided a very favourable contrast in pay, pension and working conditions generally, but many of the permanent staff were found to be lazy, lacking in motivation, unsympathetic to 'customers' and morale was low generally. Despite the temporary influx of 'fixed-termers' serving to highlight the negative attributes amongst many of the time-served civil servants, and excelling in 'service delivery', there was no scope to add the best of the temporary staff to the permanent payroll.
So, having decided that working with the problematic long-term unemployed was extremely rewarding, my friend had no alternative but to seek employment with one of the many private contractors delivering firstly New Deal and latterly the Work Programme for the DWP. As a consequence this person has returned to an environment of considerably less pay, as yet no pension and a bullying-style of management that is utterly target-driven. Interestingly, significant numbers of the staff were found to have exactly the same negative characteristics as at the DWP.
Despite this, my friend remains resolutely focused on the needs of the individual. Many are former or current probation clients with multiple welfare needs both emotional and practical that must be addressed before there is any hope of them being even remotely employable. As I have discussed on numerous previous occasions, probation doesn't 'do' welfare any more, and these issues don't figure highly by target-driven private companies paid only by results.
But, as a dedicated work coach, this person has discovered these are real people with real needs and they respond to patient, focused support and guidance as they are gently edged towards having the confidence to firstly think about getting a job and then practical help with the wherewithal to actually get a job. It takes many months of patient work, social work in many cases, but surprise, surprise, it pays off.
But effectively it has to be done covertly because clearly there's no money and hence time allowance for what this person is doing under the current Payment by Results regime. They have to work doubly hard, driven by a very old-fashioned vocational ethos so reminiscent of probation when I started. Confirmation of this came recently when it was announced that several charity Work Programme providers have gone bust for precisely this reason.
Every good story has a moral. Some things are simply best done by the public sector, but that sector must be well trained, well managed, paid fairly and motivated.