Work coaches, who will decide whether claimants are fit for work-related activities under DWP plans, need not have even a single GCSE it has been revealed. In addition, job interviews are conducted without the DWP ever meeting the candidate and the questions asked, as well as suggested answers, are available online for under a tenner.
Disability News Service revealed last week that that the DWP had admitted that there are no minimum academic qualifications required to become a work coach in a jobcentre.
Yet under DWP plans, the work capability assessment (WCA) is to be abolished and it will be unqualified work coaches who will decide whether a universal credit claimant must undertake work-related activities.
This is a decision which is currently made by registered health professionals and the fact that it is to be handed over to work coaches with no medical knowledge whatsoever is causing alarm amongst claimants and many voluntary sector organisations.
Benefits and Work can reveal that not only do work coaches not need qualifications, but that the DWP never meet them before offering them a job and that there are websites that claim to offer a full list of questions and suggested answers for passing the online work coach interviews.
In 2020, the government announced it was going to double the number of work coaches in jobcentres by hiring an extra 13,500 people.
It wanted the first 4,500 new recruits in place within just three months of the announcement
Civils Service World explained how the DWP tackled this mass hiring challenge by using an outside company to create an entirely online, prerecorded recruitment process.
The high-speed, remote interview system that was devised at that stage is still in use today to recruit work coaches, with details of the process available on the DWP workcoach microsite.
After completing an application form, candidates are asked to undertake an online situational judgement test in which they have 40 minutes to consider 20 hypothetical scenarios. For each scenario there is a list of possible responses which candidates have to rank on a five-point scale from ‘extremely desirable’ to ‘extremely undesirable’.
Applicants who pass this test are then invited to take part in an online “interview”. A pre-recorded interviewer asks six questions, two each on: communicating and influencing; managing a quality service; and making effective decisions.
After each question, the candidate gets a minute’s thinking time and then automatic video recording begins and the candidate has three minutes to give their answer.
The video recording is then evaluated by DWP staff and successful candidates are offered a job at a local jobcentre.
A small industry has grown up to help people complete the application process successfully.
One website offers a “DWP Work Coach Mock Interview” with 30 interview questions and answer examples. A subscription to the site costs £6 for a week with anytime cancellation.
Other sites have forums where people who have been through the interview process share their experiences and lists of questions they were asked, such as:
“How do you explain something complex taking into account the end-users' needs.”
“Tell me about a time you had to manage a complex issue to bring about great service.”
A forum poster on one site explained that some jobcentres even run groups where you can discuss the application process and talk to other people who are going through it.
All of this may be fine for people whose aim is to get a job where they can support other people into employment.
Buts as DNS pointed out, decisions about whether a disabled person must carry out work-related activity are “life-changing – and potentially life-ending – decisions”.
To have a recruitment and selection process where candidates don’t need any qualifications whatsoever and where you appoint people before you meet them seems ill-conceived and dangerous.
Under the DWP plans, entirely unqualified work coaches will decide whether someone with a complex mental health condition or a serious physical health issue is able to undertake work-related activities. They will then then decide precisely what those activities should be, without the claimant having any right of appeal. And they will then have the power to recommend that the claimant is sanctioned and suffers a catastrophic loss of income if they are unable to carry out those activities.
Abolishing the WCA and replacing it with the decisions of unqualified work coaches selected according to their ability to answer multiple choice questions and perform in front of a web cam is not progress, it’s irresponsible and potentially deadly cost-cutting.