Case Management and Professionalization of Job Counselors

“Case management” - where well-trained counselors are assigned a set of job seekers/clients to support and advise through multiple services - is becoming the norm within the advanced nations but is much rarer in the developing world. One can see how, with so many factors needed to work together for someone to get, keep, and grow in a job, focusing on individual cases would help those who need it get the right complement of services, while those who don’t need it would not be channeled into unnecessary and costly other interventions.

Case management is not new. Some trace it back to the early settler movement in the United States. It was more universally applied first in health care, but more consistently to employment promotion beginning in Sweden in 1935, New Zealand in 1995 and the United Kingdom in 1997.36 Case management for employment typically encompasses a diagnosis of needs/skills, individualized job search assistance and strategy, coordination with complementary training or education, and career development. Case management requires going well beyond placement (the objective of basic employment services) to a complementary range of employment-related services, the heart of Stage 2 for labor intermediation services.

Quite a number of things need to be in place before moving to case management delivery: a good information system, counselors trained and knowledgeable about the services and local employment, and, not minor in developing countries, a set of tools/programs that can be employed to offer a client. In terms of sequencing, tools for diagnosing worker/job seeker needs should not come before either the information system or the ability to assign/refer workers to programs. Sounds logical, but mostly I have seen it the other way! Countries buy off-the-shelf diagnostic tools or testing, and yet have not worked out how or even whether the information can be put to good use and whether counselors have the ability to keep track of the case. This is one of many examples in this book when borrowing off-the-shelf developed country techniques can be misapplied or sequenced too early, undermining the goal of improved outcomes.

A number of middle- to high-income developing countries have advanced to employing case management in the delivery of social services. Future developing country models may be able to join case management in labor intermediation services through a social service door, as examined in Chapter 5 which looks to the near future. Lower-income developing countries will not likely have the resources or set of programs to evolve to an extensive case management system, but there is no doubt that current service provision could be reorganized to permit more clients to be served better with the same level of resources - that is, employing the principles of case management to improve outcomes and performance.

A first principle of case management relevant to employment search is the apportionment of services based on individual need. A common perverse incentive in developing countries is that more expensive services, such as training or microenterprise support, may be apportioned to those who don’t need them to get a job or the training/microenterprise support does not fit the individual’s profile or the market’s need and is, in fact, a wasted service. One way to begin to address this is by tighter eligibility criteria. A second is to permit the job counselor to assign/refer job seekers to programs based on an assessment of whether they can benefit. This is often not done in countries where different ministries (and sometimes different political parties) control discrete employment-related programs. Even in the same intermediation service office, in the same ministry, you can have different individuals responsible for filling only the rosters of their respective programs, creaming off either the best candidates or just the ones who walk through the door. In such cases, permitting more open registration of programs on which trained job counselors could register applicants would be a step forward in efficiency and tailoring program use to its utility for the individual.

A second case management principle to apply, even before and while case management is being adopted, is upgrading the role of a job counselor. This includes reducing administrative burdens, upgrading job tasks, and improving their training and qualifications. The job counselor registers both jobs and job seekers and advises on job search and training; knowledge of local employment and human resource development is needed to do the job well. In a fair number of labor intermediation services, there can be a separate specialized role working just with the private sector to unearth and register jobs, termed a job broker or private sector counselor. Inputting profile data is still often done by overworked job counselors in developing countries but, for the many job seekers who cannot access computers, this job can be devolved to a receptionist or a technical assistant overseeing self-registration on a bank of computers or to a telephone receptionist. In addition, increasing self-services, or other quicker services for less complicated cases, such as telephone inquiries and online services, is important, so that, over time, the job counselor is able to concentrate more person-to-person services on the more difficult-to- employ. A 2014 survey of public employment services worldwide found substantial regional variation in the use of quicker access services: online services were used extensively in Asia and the Pacific region, including China and Singapore (over 90%) in comparison to Africa (15%), telephone call centers were much less widely used in Asia (62%), and used in over 45% of the 13 African services surveyed.37 There is still much room for systematizing the core employment service instruments in most developing economies as a necessary step to move progressively to case management. Even for developing countries well into Stage 2, job counselors still routinely meet with clients only to enter their basic profile data and match them to a public or private job register.

As job tasks and management systems are upgraded, the management overhaul must be accompanied with a similar zest for training and career development for job counselors and other professionals of an intermediation service. This includes both specific training for the use of information systems and programs managed by the service, as well as seminars to improve staff knowledge of the local labor market. As the job counselor is able to concentrate more and more on serving individuals, this is when analytical tools can be phased in as relevant to the pool seeking employment.

Thus a sequence of improved management processes and staff upgrading lays the foundation for a case management system. Only through case management can providers (public or private) develop and effectively monitor the job search plan of an individual job seeker. Estonia now manages individual job search plans within a comprehensive case management system linking social benefits, unemployment insurance and labor intermediation.38

Systematic evidence on the improvements brought about by case management comes largely from developed country systems which have had years of implementation experience. US experimental welfare-to-work evaluations have investigated the differential impacts of traditional case management, where income support and employment assistance were given separately, and integrated case management, where both functions were brought together. The results found that integrated case managers provided more personalized attention, engaged more people in welfare-to-work activities, and more closely monitored participation in program activities. Both approaches reduced welfare receipt and payments, but the effects of the integrated program were somewhat larger.39 In a subsequent analysis, summarizing findings from experimental studies on service strategies in 59 different employment offices across the USA, researchers reported higher employment and earnings impacts in those offices where case managers delivered a personalized service and placed an emphasis on quick job entry.40 A study of Denmark found also that intensive job search assistance and frequent caseworker meetings were highly cost-effective in shortening spells of unemployment.41 A case management approach - or even employing case management principles - is aided by the consolidated delivery of services from one office, named for the US variant “the one stop shop.”

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