Unemployment figures in Fife show welcome drop

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The role and name have changed over the years, but job centres remain at the forefront of getting folk back into work ... now the way they operate is also changing, as the Press finds out

The number of Fifers out of work has fallen by nearly 26 per cent over the last year, according to new figures.

Kirkcaldy job centre. Pics: FPA

Kirkcaldy job centre. Pics: FPA

The local statistics have been welcomed by the man in charge of the region’s job centres who believes the drop is due to a number of factors - including an all-round improvement in the economy.

Jim Mulholland, Fife customer services operations manager, told The Press there was a 25.7 per cent fall in the number of people in the Kingdom claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) between December 2013 and December 2014.

And at a local level, in Kirkcaldy, there was a fall of 23 per cent in those claiming JSA for the same period.

Jim (pictured) said: “I think the fall in unemployment has happened largely because there has been a general improvement in the labour market.

“Everyone has been through the difficult times of 2008-09, but even then we still helped around 50 per cent of people get back into work within three months of them claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. The labour market has improved a lot since then and businesses are more confident.

“We are also getting better at finding out how we can best support people who are out of work. Our staff were previously known as advisers who would tell people what to do to get a job.

“But from November 2012 our advisers became known as coaches who would talk to the claimant about what they were going to do to get a job and the onus would be on the claimant to work out how they were going to do it.

“It has been a culture change with our staff talking and listening to the claimant and providing support, rather than directing them and expecting them to do it. It means that people are more in charge of finding work themselves rather than just being told what to do.”

Another way the job centre has responded to people’s needs is to offer enhanced digital support.

Jim said the biggest change in recent times has been to upskill staff to help claimants search and apply for jobs online.

He said: “We have 12 additional computers here in Kirkcaldy that people looking for work can use and we have 57 computers available across our seven offices.

“The future is online and we are trying to get more people using the internet. The job centre can offer 25-30 per cent of the jobs available but there is another 70 per cent that we don’t have and many of them are only available online so if we can show people how to search for work online they can find those jobs themselves and apply for them.”

He said the use of digital will become more important, particularly when new welfare reforms kick in.

Jim explained: “With new universal credit legislation on the horizon it’s going to affect a lot of people who need to be prepared for it.

“Universal credit will simplify the benefits system by replacing six existing benefits with a single monthly payment.

“The majority of the claims will be made online so claimants will have to know how to use the internet to be able to compete on a level playing field.”

Jim said partnership working with other organisations is also very important.

He said the job centre works with Fife Council and Skills Development Scotland, as well as Social Enterprises and other training providers, to support those who are unemployed.

As well as offering help through CV and confidence building sessions and working with employers, he said work experience has been a main factor in helping people to secure work.

“The one thing we get asked for a lot is to provide more work experience,” he said.

“It is a great way for people to add to their skillset while they are looking for a job. We can actually offer work experience at our offices and we have had a really good success rate.”

Jim added: “Providing good customer service is what it’s all about. We want to see unemployment continuing to drop as we get more people back into work.”