Universal Jobmatch – “the system is hopelessly broken”

Universal Jobmatch is “badly designed, badly implemented and a complete shambles”.
(Image c/o Department for Work and Pensions on Flickr.)

A further update on one person’s experience using Universal Jobmatch hosted here anonymously…

In early March this year I was very suddenly made redundant (i.e with 2 days notice), and cast into the gentle arms of the benefits system for the first time in my life. As my employer had entered administration this meant that their financial liabilities had transferred to the State, and to get the statutory redundancy and notice pay that I was owed I needed to register as a Jobseeker. Being a Jobseeker also meant that I would get Jobseekers Allowance: an amount so small that if I had to live on it (rather than doing as I did and using my emergency savings) would rapidly have seen me becoming homeless due to unpayable debts. I was shocked at how little support there was for Jobseekers, both in the Job Centres, and through the Government online jobs portal Universal Jobmatch.

During this period of unemployment, I wrote both an initial post and also a follow up post on this blog, which detailed the many inadequacies that I had encountered when first using Universal Jobmatch. I described its extreme slowness; its inability to understand localities smaller than a whole country; it being incapable of refining job alert results to only the required sector or location; and the jobs advertised on it being outdated, spam or potentially illegal. The many comments following the initial post have outlined the various problems that other Jobseekers are also having using it, many of which are leading to unfair sanctions and hardships for those individuals.

We’re now 7 months on from those original posts, which feels like a long enough time to have given the UJ site a full test. So, what have my experiences with it been in that time, and did it proven to be a useful job-hunting tool in the end?

To begin with, a quick update since my initial tests – I gained new employment in mid-May, but the job was utterly awful*, so I returned to job searching, working full-time in the day and spending 2-3 hours every night looking for and applying to vacancies. I have applied for 100 skilled professional posts since March 2013 (although I have taken a temporary break over the past month), and I have multiple email alerts and RSS feeds set up to ensure that I am able to find relevant vacancies as soon as they become available. I think it’s safe to say that I am very aware of what potential roles there are being advertised in my sector and location.

In the 7 months since I originally registered with UJ, I have not logged in to the UJ system. Not once. There was no need for me to do so, because I had set up email alerts for my areas of experience/skills which would send relevant vacancies direct to my inbox. This is the same method of disseminating information that commercial job sites and professional recruitment agencies use. However, reading the comments on my first post it appears that if I was currently registered as a Jobseeker, not logging in at some level of frequency would lead to sanctions and loss of Jobseekers Allowance for a period. Why is the action of logging in to a site seen as more important than the action of productively looking for jobs, wherever they may be? Luckily, as I was in full-time employment after May I was not subject to monitoring by a Jobseekers advisor of my use of the site, but I find this a worrying approach for current claimants.

OK then, even without logging in, has Universal Jobmatch done what it’s allegedly designed to do, and been successful at connecting me with vacancies? During the last 7 months of receiving daily email alerts sent by the system, there have been approximately 12 jobs sent that are relevant for my stated skills areas, and which I could apply for with a realistic prospect of actually being considered for the role. On clicking through to view the adverts on UJ, all of those jobs were actually previously advertised on one or more of the job sites that I had alerts set up for, and all of them were on those sites long before they were send from UJ. As an added bonus, some of those jobs were being advertised for the first time on UJ after their closing date had passed. As most vacancies have an application period that’s open for at least 2 weeks, if not a month, I cannot understand what UJ is doing so wrong that it’s displaying these vacancies many weeks after they were initially advertised. This delay in notifying users of available roles is minimising the time which people have to apply, and reducing their chances of success…or removing them entirely if they were relying on UJ to identify current vacancies for them. If I had been relying solely on UJ for my job search, I would have missed the rare opportunities that arise to apply for professional posts in my sector.

Of course, there’s also the additional problem of vacancies being advertised without the information that allows you to actually apply for them. For example, one advert recently stated “To apply and to access more information relating to the vacancy scroll down to Job Packs and click on the link.” But there was no Job Pack area on the page, and no link to apply via on the page, purely because this is a direct lift from the employer’s website, with no check if it was actually coherent and useable when placed on UJ. The advert on UJ gives an individual’s email address under the “application methods” section, but the body of text gives a different, corporate email address to contact to request application forms: this is confusing. On the employers website there are indeed Job Packs, and further information about the vacancy on the page, again showing the corporate email address and with no mention of the person with the individual’s email address. I had to locate that recruitment website and vacancy information for myself, using my own, previously gained knowledge of how that specific employer advertises vacancies, and my belief that there would be Job Packs available on their site for immediate download. A site which advertises vacancies which aren’t actually available unless you do your own search outside it, or which advertises closed vacancies is not being successful in its core requirement of enabling Jobseekers to apply for jobs.

Another aspect of those UJ email alerts that I set up is the sheer volume of completely inappropriate job adverts that I’m being sent, rather than notifications of relevant roles being advertised. When my UJ profile has been created with settings meaning it should only send information on roles within 25 miles of my location, in Library and Information Science or Social Media, the massive amounts of irrelevant vacancies I get emailed to me is ridiculous: MOT tester. Sous chef. Mobile care assistant. Pensions consultant. Personal carer. Recruiter. Tax manager. Dodgy “work from home” roles. Engineer. Customer service adviser. Parts inspector for the oil industry. Jobs 50 miles away. Jobs 100 miles away. Jobs in Germany and Spain.

The UJ emails contain between 5-12 vacancies per email, every day. As I’ve been registered for around 230 days, this means that if I average the irrelevant alerts to be coming in at the rate of 8 a day, I’ve had a minimum of 1840 entirely useless vacancies identified and sent to me so far. As stated above, approximately 12 of those roles were actually ones I’d signed up to be alerted about, which means that only around 1 in 153 vacancies emailed to me by UJ may actually be one I’d requested. That’s not an inspiring statistic, especially in comparison to the accurate and targeted alerts I get from “proper” job websites like indeed.co.uk.

Luckily, I am actually an experienced information specialist. I have the skills that enable me to quickly sift through information and discard irrelevant material, yet the fact that I am forced to do this daily with UJ email alerts is hugely frustrating. Why can the system not actually use the settings I established? The ability to restrict job searches to location, and sector is one of the most basic functions this site should be able to perform, and which all commercial job search sites provide, yet it simply cannot do it. I am being bombarded with hundreds of useless emails, which I must sift for any hidden, relevant jobs. I am being sent notifications of vacancies after the application deadline has passed. I am gaining nothing of use from this website, and it has played absolutely no part in the fact that I have been able to find and apply for so many jobs over the last 7 months. To me, it is of no practical use at all.

Yet I am lucky. All of this is only an inconvenience for me: I currently have employment so I’m not required to use UJ, I can use other websites to monitor vacancies, I have reliable internet access, and I have the skills to sift through those emails for the occasional useful bits. I don’t need to use the site to apply directly for jobs to prove that I’m actively trying to find employment. What if I didn’t have internet access? What if I was being forced to travel every day, just to get internet access, to prove that I had logged in to a system that doesn’t even hold any jobs I can apply for, and doesn’t even send out my CV to employers when I do use it to apply for a role? What if I didn’t have the IT skills to use a computer, the knowledge of where to look online for reliable job adverts, or a literacy level that meant I could skim those emailed job titles and know not to waste my time, as they weren’t the jobs I was looking for? What if I didn’t have the experience to know that I could do some research and go directly to the source site for adverts to get immediate access to required application forms, rather than have to request that they be emailed to me, and lose valuable time that could be spent filling out the application? What if I have a visual impairment and have problems using online resources? None of these reasons constitute an attempt to avoid looking for employment, yet due to the system being incompetently implemented, they are being regarded as such, and Jobseekers are being sanctioned and punished as a result.

What would my advice be if you were “encouraged” to use Universal Jobmatch? Refuse. The system is hopelessly broken, yet as shown by the comments on my previous posts, the only ones who are suffering are not the people who designed an unusable system, but the often vulnerable people who are forced to use it. This is not an example of a core government service being provided using a system which is fair and equitable. This is a badly designed, badly implemented and completely unsupported shambles of a website. Frankly, the designers and those faceless government bodies who approved it and are forcing vulnerable claimants to use it should have their membership cards for the human race revoked.

Or even better – force THEM to have to use it in order to claim their salaries.

*No matter how awful a job is (and in this case it involved mismanagement and bullying) you cannot leave a role, as this is classed as making yourself voluntarily unemployed. That means you’re not entitled to Jobseekers Allowance. It also means that individuals are forced to stay in work situations so bad that it affects their mental and physical health.

The experiences of one jobseeker in using Universal Jobmatch – a worrying sign for Universal Credit?

I recently wrote an article for The Guardian exploring some of the ramifications of Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to make the Universal Credit system online-only.  As I have demonstrated here many times, there remains a very real digital divide for many millions of people; a divide not simply in terms of a lack of access, but also in a lack of skills to make full use of the technology. Unsurprisingly, many of those of working age caught on the wrong side of the divide tend to be the poorest in our society.  As a result, the intention to push the social security system online led to some very serious concerns, which in turn led to my article for The Guardian.

Since writing that article, I have spoken to a number of jobseekers who have personally experienced this drive to force them to use government web portals in order to seek out employment.  Their experiences are worrying and underline the fears raised by so many about the impact of forcing jobseekers online.  So I thought, rather than just repeat my concerns borne out of my understanding of the impact of this system, I should just ask one of them if they would be willing to write about their experiences for this blog.  They agreed. The following underlines, in my view, that neither Universal Jobmatch, nor the Universal Credit System, is fit for purpose.  The government needs an urgent rethink of its policies towards jobseekers because the danger is that government policy will trap them in poverty, not help them back into employment.  I only hope that the Opposition wake-up and challenge the poverty trap being created by the Coalition.

Anyway, here is one jobseeker’s experience of the new systems introduced by the coalition government…

Do you want to know how easy it is to become unemployed, and fall into that delightful category so beloved of this government of “skiver”, and be tagged with all the implications of laziness and fecklessness that it implies? It’s simple: all it takes is for your employer to make some bad business decisions, and there you go – you and everyone you work with can become instantly unemployed. In my case, this was done within 2 days, and we were all out the (securely locked behind us, hope you carried out everything you needed already) door, with the joyous additional factor of being given no notice or redundancy pay. What do you mean, you have financial commitments dependent on that pay packet you were expecting this month? Well: tough luck, you’re a Skiver now. A New Skiver.

Trying to struggle through the numbing shock in order to leap into action to fill out endless forms and kick off various processes was horrendous, but the good thing is that I’m pretty well educated, and I have the skills that mean that although the whole experience has been traumatic, I’m fairly confident that I’ve given the right information to the right people, at the right time, and I have the skills to find the right places to look and apply for jobs.

Now, I registered as a Jobseeker using my laptop, and my home internet connection, and I printed out confirmation materials and other documents that I needed using my own printer/scanner. I was lucky: I could do this comfortably at home, but it was a demanding process in many ways, asking me for information I either had to dig out of my household file folders, or that I had to log on to other sites to get, like the details of my bank savings and current accounts. It’s not something I would have wanted to do with strangers around, or in a public space. But what are your options, when you aren’t lucky enough to have these facilities at home? You go to a library, and make use of the facilities there…if you have a library…and if they have public computers…and if you can get time on them…and if you can input the information needed within that time…and if you have the computer skills to be able to understand what’s being asked of you by the forms, and how to respond appropriately. That’s a lot of elements that need to come together, in order for you to be able to get online.

What about the people who don’t have computer skills?

There is a current assumption in government that absolutely everyone has a computer, an internet connection, and the skills to use these together to gain access to information. This year, Universal Credit will replace various benefits, and there’s an expectation that recipients will manage their information online. But from my experience of government websites, it’s just going to be a horrible, painful mess, and the people who’ll suffer are the ones who’re least able to cope: those without internet access, and those without computer skills. Like the man I overheard while in the Job Centre, telling his advisor that he can only get internet access at his girlfriend’s house. What happens if that relationship breaks down? What about the people who don’t have computer skills?

As for the government websites that are meant to be getting people into employment…oh my!  Universal Jobmatch is the official government website for Jobseekers. It’s useless. Utterly, utterly useless. To start with, you have to be able to log in. As I’m writing this, it’s spent 25 minutes NOT logging me in, and I’ve had to give up and leave it. Ok, that’s not a huge problem for me, sitting at home, but what if you’re using a computer that you only have limited time on? That’s 25 minutes that could have been put to better use, but instead has been wasted waiting for a clunky website to decide to let you log in.

…jobs are still advertised long after their closing date…

The biggest problems that I’ve found with the jobs being advertised on Universal Jobmatch is that jobs are still advertised (and the system is allowing you to use it to apply for them) long after their closing date, and the fact that the system is inviting Jobseekers to apply for jobs in an utterly inappropriate manner. For example, I found a relevant post, and did as it requested, and used the site to send the employers my CV. I heard nothing further, and when I checked the progress of the application a few days later, the job was marked mysteriously as “closed”. Soon after this, I found the same position newly advertised on the site of the employer, where it specifically stated that CVs would not be accepted, and their own application process must be completed. Universal Jobmatch was giving the completely wrong information, and if I hadn’t known to follow this up at the source, I’d have lost the chance to apply for that position.

The site also insists on sending me alerts for jobs that haven’t even a tenuous link with the categories I have marked as my interests (the suggestions of a telesales role or a care home assistant are my personal favourites, when I’m looking for information professional or social media work), yet when I log in to look at them, and it asks me why I’m not applying for them, there’s no option to say “because this is utterly irrelevant to my requirements, your system is awful”. I’m waiting to see how long it is before I get told off for not trying hard enough in their systems. It’s actually so bad that I refuse to use it if I don’t have to, but that’s because I have other, better job sites available to me to use. What about the people who’ve been told that they MUST use the site, and don’t have the skills to know where else to look, or how else to do things? The site is so bad it’s almost certainly losing people the chance of employment, rather than helping them to find it.

So, what’s the future for us New Skivers? Apparently, one where we’re fighting for space in a library, wedded to a computer, spending frustrating and pointless hours wrestling with the Universal Jobmatch site, wasting time trying to get into a site that we can use to apply for jobs that closed weeks ago, using a format that the potential employer won’t accept. That’s definitely going to help people move from Skivers to Strivers….right? And anyone who doesn’t think the Universal Credit and Universal Jobmatch are amazing must just be happy being a skiver, and they’re loving the decadent lifestyle that their £71.70 a week Jobseekers Allowance enables them to live on.

Update

I have also been sent the following which I felt should be attached to the bottom of this post. It’s taken from a booklet called “Jobseekers Allowance: your responsibilities” and appears to be rather authoritarian in tone:

jobseeker

Note: you must tell us if you leave your home, even if only for a day.  Seems rather unnecessary to report on your whereabouts if out for the day…