So what is inside that black box? There's a wonderful blog post doing the rounds by Izzy Koksal. She describes the surreal experience of a "motivational course" she was sent on by A4e. A4e and others seem to think it's worth spending money on this damaging nonsense but not on genuine skills training. I contrast this with my own experience back in the early 90s. I was sent by the JC on a 2-day programme for unemployed professionals (though the guy running it had insisted on having non-professional people as well). It was practical and helpful, and he also tackled the motivational stuff. He was concerned about people who saw their identity bound up in their jobs. He told me that I would be all right because I didn't fall into that trap. I wonder what that chap would think of the bogus psychology being perpetrated by the "trainer" Izzy describes. Do read it.
I've had some more disturbing but unpublishable comments. One points out that clients are being pushed into self-employment but are not allowed to seek advice from the Jobcentre or anyone else. That means they are totally dependent on a private company which cannot be impartial.
Another highlights the problems of the power to "sanction". I couldn't publish it as a comment because it named the A4e office, but here's the edited version:"I too have had problems with letters, just recently they failed to send one out at all. Previously at A4e **** when I was last in, I asked when the next appointment was. My advisor simply said that the letter I would receive would tell me when. So naturally when I never received the letter the appointment was missed. This was the first time I had missed an appointment however and A4e chose not to sanction me this time, whether they knew they'd made a mistake or whether I was getting the benefit of the doubt, hard to say. If it was the latter, next time I might not be so lucky. What further distressed me about this though was that A4e didn't tell me I wasn't going to get sanctioned, on the phone they said 'You shouldn't be sanctioned but the jobcentre are getting funny about that recently...' implying that it was up to the job centre whether I get sanctioned or not. Fearing for my financial situation (for those who don't know, a sanction doesn't just take away your JSA but your housing/council benefits too), I rang up the Jobcentre and they informed me that not only did a sanction hinge on the private contractors say so, but the system had changed under this work programme and sanctions can now be applied without getting the claimants side of the story. Meaning, if a letter goes missing and I miss an appointment, any benefits I rely on could be cut off before I even find out about it. I can hardly complain right now, seeing as this time I didn't receive a sanction. But what about next time? What about the thousands of other people who genuinely didn't receive letters and will automatically lose benefits because of a lack of safeguard against A4e's mistakes? The government claims this work programme is different to the last one. It is in some respects, it is at least more draconian. But there's no real difference. It seems incredible to me that a work programme which failed for the last 5 years would be renewed yet again by a government that's supposed to be fiscally conservative (It'll cost the tax payer what, 5 billion over this parliament? George Osbourne wants another 10 billion out of the welfare budget, scrapping what is bound to be a totally useless work programme would get them half way there if only it was politically viable). It's even more incredible that providers who clearly failed the vast majority of their clients last time around would be given increased powers to sanction on-demand a third time around. I sincerely hope it was a one off, for my sake and everyone elses on the work programme."
Smaller organisations and charities which signed up as sub-contractors have told clients that they can't fund training courses because they can't afford it. While this may be true, it leaves the clients without help or hope, and it begs the question of why these organisations signed up in the first place.
It's becoming clear, as well, that clients who don't submit tamely to something they see as wrong are being threatened, and understandably they don't want to risk destitution or a permanent black mark against them. The government handed power to private companies which are not fit to wield it. That's what the "black box model" amounts to.
PS. This forum thread just popped up. Scroll down and read the letter and the piece about Instant Training. Their "success stories from partners" are all from A4e staff, so it's not clear whether they provide courses for anyone else. I can't find any mention of NLP.