Rosie Gloster, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies

Using behavioural insights to examine benefit claimants' approaches to training opportunities

New research has identified the key influences on whether benefit claimants attend training, including the effect of being ordered to undertake it. Skills Conditionality was introduced in 2011 and individuals receiving certain types of benefits can be required to train. The Institute for Employment Studies undertook the study on behalf of the Department for Education, and the report makes recommendations to help increase training attendance.

The research examined what benefit claimants considered when they decided whether or not to train. Researchers carried out interviews with sixty benefit claimants, and twenty Jobcentre Plus staff and providers across four Jobcentre Plus districts. Half the claimants were interviewed because they had recently attended training, and the other half because they had not. Half the respondents in each set had been mandated to training as part of their benefits claim.

The study found that considerations included claimants’ previous skills, qualifications and experience of training, the potential contribution of training to their achievement of career goals, and whether they had been instructed to participate in the training (see Figure 1). Claimants weighed up various influences, both positive and negative, and could often be conflicted. For example, a claimant could decide that the disadvantage of a long journey to training was outweighed by the potential benefits of furthering their employment goals.

Matching a claimant to training opportunities and generating motivation requires an in-depth understanding of the individual’s skills, experiences, and work goals, as well as an understanding of the local labour market. This process takes time. Some claimants could assess this for themselves and opt to undertake training. Others lacked sufficient understanding of the training opportunities, which prevented them from choosing to take part.

To increase the take-up of training and attendance, the report recommends that providers and advisers should:

  • Make the training offer clear to all claimants: Claimants have varied awareness and understanding of training opportunities. While some claimants were proactive, others received information about training as part of their benefit claim from Jobcentre Plus advisers. Consider how best to increase awareness among all claimants about available training and encourage them to ask questions and discuss training with their advisers. This could be a menu of options, for example, or creating and publicising online resources. There should be a clear, consistent offer. Increasing the awareness of all claimants about available training opportunities would help those claimants:
  • who can self-serve most effectively to identify relevant training opportunities within the rules of claiming JSA;
  • who do not discuss training options with their adviser to have an increased awareness of the training opportunities available;
  • who are presented with a limited range of options to understand why some have been eliminated and others prioritised.
  • Provide tasters: Give claimants the opportunity to try different courses in order to test whether a course is relevant and to become familiar with an adult learning environment. This latter is particularly important for claimants who may have had negative educational experiences in the past.
  • Help claimants to think about their capabilities and build their capability and understanding: Claimants’ abilities to articulate their skills and skills gaps were varied and some needed support to think about what they could offer an employer. How can claimants be encouraged to develop career management skills over the medium-term? For example, can services that offer CV writing support help claimants to draft a CV themselves rather than (re)draft it for them? Services should encourage claimants to take ownership and develop skills for the future so, for example, they can refresh and update their CV themselves.
  • Clearly make links between training and employment/personal goals: Claimants had a range of motivations for training, but most commonly advancing their employment prospects was their priority. Providers should try to make clear links between the training being offered and the claimant’s work or personal goals and ensure that the claimant understands the potential benefits, especially if they are not immediately clear. For example, explaining the need for IT skills in a variety of sectors.
  • Only mandate to training where it is necessary to change training behaviour rather than across the board: The motivations for training are complex and personal. Claimants react to mandation to training differently. For some, it does not affect their planned behaviour and they continue to train. For others, it can create a sense of anxiety that overshadows their learning experience. Mandation changes the nature of the interaction, and it made some claimants more defensive or dismissive of the training opportunity. Interviewees generally felt unable to question a training referral as they were aware that attending can be a condition of receiving benefits and that they could face the risk of sanctions if they do not comply. Claimants tended to be motivated by choice and a sense of ownership so consideration could be given to wider use of adviser discretion to target mandation to training appropriately and sensitively, as several claimants did not feel they had been offered a choice.
  • Inform claimants about the financial cost and value of training: Many claimants automatically viewed training as an investment in order to make them more attractive to employers. Consider giving claimants details of the monetary value of any training they are referred to in order to increase their perception that it is an investment being made to strengthen their ability to gain employment.

Rosie Gloster, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies

The full report is available here:

   Figure 1: What affects training behaviour?

Benefits fig One

Source: IES adapted from Michie S et al. (2011), ‘The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions’, Implementation Science, 6:42

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