16/04/2013 07:12 BST | Updated 14/06/2013 06:12 BST

Job Seekers Aren't Commodities

The government claims that the new cap on benefits has already encouraged 8,000 of those expected to be affected to find jobs. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research says there is no evidence for that claim. Meanwhile the companies delivering the Work Programme are saying that the initiative is failing because too many people need help. Others say they are just underperforming.

People have always played politics with unemployment, that won't change. But what could, and should, change is the way that job search support is delivered.

Job seekers are treated as commodities. We look at how many there are, and how many got jobs last month. We don't look at who they are, and the quality of the jobs they got. But if we are to have a successful economy, and a well skilled, motivated work force, getting people into work must be more than just ticking boxes. We need to get people into the right jobs, where they will perform well, and benefit themselves, their employers and the economy.

Everybody would agree that matching the right people to the right jobs is a good idea. The problems are how to do it, and the cost. But these aren't problems at all. There is plenty of technology to help people assess their skills and interests and to identify the right career paths. There are training and apprenticeship programmes for those who need, or want, to develop new skills. There is job matching technology, and there are skilled advisers out there to help people write good job applications.

What's missing is the money. But to say that a holistic, person-centred approach to job seeking is too expensive is a false economy. A well designed, properly funded programme to encourage people onto the right career paths would save billions in benefit payments, fees to failing providers and all the associated social and medical costs of unemployment.

For too long we have mindlessly drifted along in a reactive, commoditised approach to solving unemployment. What we need is a little initiative, and political bravery. The real question is, do the politicians and mandarins have the will to change?