Implementing for change: A turn of the tide in job counselling

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Jeppe Ostersen

Managing Consultant
T: +45 5161 7921

David Graff

Managing Consultant
T: +45 5161 7628
How can we improve the counselling in the Danish jobcentres to give more unemployed citizens a better chance for a job? With this question the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment began a journey towards new ways of counselling. By now, it has proven to be a clever move, says job centre managers.     

By 2015, the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment realised that it was time for a change: The temporarily or long-term unemployed who turned to the job centres for help increasingly doomed the job counselling insufficient. In some cases, useless even. Many job seekers reported loss of influence on their future on the job market as the main take-away from their encounter with the job centre professionals.

A change was needed

The new approach that the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment set out to realise marked a fundamental change. Ramboll assisted in a number of ways to help the agency drive the change.

The ambition was to introduce a type of counselling where the job seekers are to take responsibility for their job search and to engage them in determining the content, focus, and structure of the counselling as an equal partner to the counsellor. By delegating these tasks to the job seekers, the job seekers should experience a higher degree of influence on the job search and, thereby, a considerably improved motivation.

This is no easy re-thinking of the counselling, though, says manager Daniel Bomholt from the municipality of Skanderborg:

“As soon as you accept the possibility that the unemployed citizens themselves takes responsibility for the content and timing of the counselling, it immediately instantiates a feeling of loss of control in the counsellor. It requires a lot of time and effort to get there because a lot of us in the job centres are trained to take control of the citizens’ situation.”

Immense positive difference

According to implementation theory, an implementation project like this demands for considerable amounts of individual learning and sense-making, leadership as well as organisational support. In the case of the job focused counselling Daniel Bomholt, and other managers with him, witnessed first-hand what immense positive difference it made when the counsellors participated in structured training with elements of action learning such as supervision and coaching as integrated parts. This notion is backed by manager Anette Nexø Christensen from the municipality of Kalundborg:

“Our participation in the project and the training by Ramboll led to a remarkable change among our counsellors. Today, they are much more focused on finding ways to direct the counselling to focus on what the job seekers are able to do, rather than on the things which caused their unemployment in the first place. And it is clear to us now that this kind of counselling work.”

Daniel Bomholt has reached a similar conclusion: “The job focused counselling works: The target group has halved since we participated in the project and it cannot solely be explained by general favourable business development as we have developed more positively than comparable municipalities,” he says.

A combination of methods

The role that Ramboll Management Consulting undertook in the project, was to plan and conduct training of the municipalities’ representatives together with Mannaz, support the representatives throughout the entire process of more than a year, and setup and maintain data monitoring. This combination of methods was necessary due to the complexity of the implementation project, explains Jeppe Ostersen, Business Manager in Ramboll:

“To create buy-in during such a complex project, it is necessary to discuss and negotiate the benefits and underlying values of the new practice at all levels. In addition, we found it equally vital to create an infrastructure and supportive culture for change. Also, there must be activities to support the implementation that address all levels from individual learning and sense-making, to leadership and organisational support, and perhaps even redesign of policies.”

Reaching front-line employees

In retrospect, Jeppe Ostersen points to the efforts made to help the implementation emerge among municipal representatives as the key. This comes as no surprise to the project owner, the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment:

“It is not enough just to legislate. In our view, implementation is about change of practices in the municipalities. Therefore, we must get to a point where front-line staff changes behaviour, and to get there, we must support municipalities so that they are properly equipped to implement e.g. the job focused counselling”, says Ditte Ehrenreich, Head of the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitments’ Implementation Unit.

FACT: High Impact job hunt though empowerment and self determination

The job focused counselling is inspired by the principles in motivational interviewing and aims to foster more ownership and empowerment among job seekers. The jobseekers represent only one of many players in a complex implementation chain, though, and fulfilment of the objectives require well-prepared and accomplished changes at different levels, e.g.:

  • Job-seekers who to a lesser extent are to act as clients and to a greater extent as participants in their own job hunt.

  • Staff at the job centres expect to find a new balance between acting as an authority and as coach.

  • Management of job centres expect to lead the way in creating a culture prioritizing involvement, co-operation and dialogue.

  • The Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment want to extend the responsibility even more than before, so the new way of working with focus on empowerment can gain acceptance, also among job centre staff.

Ramboll Group A/S

Ramboll Group A/S
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DK-2300 Copenhagen S
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Mail: info@ramboll.com

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