Legco Panel On Welfare Services
The Active Employment Assistance Programme
Under The Support For Self-Reliance Scheme
At the meeting of 12 April 1999, the LegCo Welfare Panel requested submission of a progress report on the Active Employment Assistance (AEA) programme by September 1999.
2. The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has implemented the AEA programme under the Support for Self-reliance (SFS) Scheme on 1 June 1999, starting with all new/ re-activated cases, and existing cases where the able-bodied unemployed adults have received the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) for a longer period. The entire unemployed caseload will be phased in by 31 March 2000.
3. The SFS Scheme represents a major change of philosophy in the concept of social security - with its emphasis on self-reliance and encouraging and assisting able-bodied unemployed CSSA recipients back to work.
A New Strategy for Service Delivery
4. SWD has re-structured its service delivery strategy to implement the employment initiatives set out in the Report on Review of the CSSA Scheme.
Personalized service intervention
5. The AEA programme highlights the need to adopt a one-to-one service relationship in the helping process. Once enrolled, an able-bodied unemployed adult would attain the status of job seeker and receive personalized service from an Active Employment (AE) Co-ordinator, who would look after his needs and offer him the necessary information and guidance in relation to job search. This may include:
- helping the job seeker to-
- identify barriers to employment;
- gain up-to-date labour market information and wage statistics;
- realize what suitable job/ training opportunities are available;
- develop a tailor-made Workplan and follow through; as well as
- referral of cases in need of counselling service to professional social workers.
6. To ensure service effectiveness, SWD has deployed and trained up about seventy experienced staff as AE Co-ordinators and put in place the necessary management arrangement to support the new programme. A departmental help desk service has also been set up to provide the frontline with adequate back-up support.
7. While personalized service is still in its early days, it has been getting positive feedback from active job seekers. They appreciate being better informed about entitlements, having one person to turn to for advice, gaining easier access to job search information, and obtaining a clearer understanding of the CSSA Scheme as it affects them.
8. The AE Co-ordinators support the AEA programme by, among other things, spending more time meeting one-to-one with job seekers to understand the latter's situation better, and to develop a more productive customer/ worker relationship.
9. An able-bodied unemployed adult must demonstrate substantial efforts to get paid work or improve his employability in order to be eligible for CSSA. Signing a Job Seeker's Undertaking means that he would:
- apply for at least two jobs per fortnight;
- accept any reasonable offer of a full-time / part-time / casual job;
- attend the Workplan progress interview on a fortnightly basis;
- participate in Community Work as and when arranged by SWD.
10. Experience shows that while able-bodied job seekers do not want to be nagged or nannied by the Administration, they do need advice and support to be available when they need it. Such advice and support include a co-ordinated programme of counselling, employment and retraining services by Labour Department (LD), Employees Retraining Board (ERB), and SWD. The fortnightly Workplan progress interview is also an effective means to see how job seekers are getting on with their job search and what other help they need.
11. The implementation of the AEA programme is intended to be customer-focused taking into account individual circumstances. To this end, the frontline staff is empowered to approve full or partial exemption from job search activities for a particular fortnight or longer under any special circumstances (such as certified ill health) which they agree would prevent participation.
Enhanced disregarded earnings
12. The provision of totally disregarding the first month's income from a full-time job has been extended to able-bodied unemployed adults, on condition that this benefit would be allowed not more than once during a two-year-period. The effectiveness of this enhancement measure in strengthening work incentives will be assessed carefully.
Database on job seekers
13. Since 1 June 1999, SWD has enrolled altogether more than two thousand able-bodied unemployed CSSA adults in the AEA programme. To facilitate future planning, monitoring and operation of the AEA programme, SWD has established a database on job seekers, including key characteristics like sex, educational level, skills possessed, and length of time on CSSA and on AEA.
Termination of CSSA benefit in case of non-compliance
14. Refusal to comply with the job search or community work obligation without any good and sufficient reason carries a penalty, which in extreme cases may be termination of CSSA benefit.
15. The principle of using sanction is not new, and is essential to have as an effective prompt. Penalty, however, is intended to be used as a last resort. Other means to work through a problem, such as negotiation or discussion, would be tried out first. In addition, an appeal process is in place to ensure fair treatment.
16. In line with expectations, the penalties for non-compliance have been rarely used. Only five job seekers had their CSSA terminated as at end of July 1999. Four of them subsequently re-complied and therefore had their benefits resumed.
17. The service partnership amongst SWD, the Local Employment Service of LD(LES/LD), ERB, and the HK Council of Social Services (HKCSS) has been nurtured and strengthened. The results are most encouraging.
18. LD continues to strengthen its employment services to job seekers, including existing CSSA recipients and those who have joined the AEA programme. Their new initiatives include:
- launching of the Interactive Employment Service (iES) since March 1999;
- setting up of an 'Immediate Vacancies Corner' in LES offices; and
- publishing a 'Profile of Top-10 Vacancies' on a weekly basis since May 1999.
19. As with other job seekers, AEA participants are entitled to the full range of LES services. They can make use of the Telephone Employment Service
, and participate in job search activities like careers seminars
and job bazaars
to obtain latest labour market information which would facilitate their search for employment.
20. With the iES, which is linked up with the Online Active Employment Information System (OAEIS) of SWD as well as some 80 computer stations open for public use under the Interactive Government Services Directory, AEA participants are provided with direct access to LES vacancy information. They can make use of iES to arrange job interviews with employers directly.
21. Since the inception of the AEA Programme on 1 June 1999, 269 AEA registrants had registered with the LES. More than 300 job referrals were made for these job seekers. LES would also provide them with additional employment assistance, such as enrolment in the Job Matching Programme (JMP), as and when necessary, as in the case for non-AEA job seekers.
22. During the six-month period ending July 1999, LES has registered 32,427 CSSA recipients, made 8 211 job referrals for them and secured 371 placements. The figures represented an increase of 18.6%, 83.8% and 23.7% respectively when comparison was drawn against corresponding figures for the six-month period ending July 1998.
23. The progress of work of ERB in the area of active employment assistance can be summarized as follows:
HKCSS Employment Service
- Setting up a 'One-stop Service' to strengthen the retraining services, including two telephone hotlines at 2311 6696 (for employees) and at 2311 8381 (for employers) since mid-1998.
- With effect from 1 April 1998, the admission age of 30 has been relaxed to allow those aged below 30 to enroll in full-time retraining courses in case they meet with employment difficulties. Since the relaxation, the total number of retrainee applicants has increased by some 7%. This also helps those CSSA recipients below the age of 30 to benefit from the retraining scheme.
- At present, ERB is offering a total of over 150 full-time or part-time market-driven retraining courses through 56 active training bodies. Placement assistance is offered by training bodies to retrainee graduates of full-time courses catering for the unemployed. Some job specific skills retraining courses, such as domestic helpers training, security guards/ property attendants training as well as personal care workers training etc., achieve very encouraging placement outcomes, with average placement rates reaching over 70%. CSSA recipients who are eligible for such courses are most welcome to apply for enrolment, as well as other suitable tailor-made programmes, such as property maintenance technicians training, assistant hair stylists training, car-park attendants and real estate agents training etc., which achieve even higher placement rate of 83% in average.
- ERB has increased the ratio of full-time courses to part-time courses in order to meet the rising needs of unemployed persons, including the unemployed CSSA recipients. In 1998-99, the ratio was some 4 : 6. In the first quarter of 99-2000, the ratio has been increased to 5 : 5.
- Efforts are being made to standardise and modularise ERB training courses which will comprise core modules like soft skills, basic computer techniques and vocational languages. The move aims to enhance the employability of the retrainees through strengthening training on generic skills required in the workplace.
- CSSA recipients are accorded priority in enrolment in retraining courses so as to help them acquire the necessary skills to re-enter the labour market as soon as possible. Since 1 June 1999 and up to end of July 1999, the number of applicants who disclosed his status as CSSA recipients is 1023, representing an increase of 11% over the same period of last year.
- To maximize the effectiveness of ERB's retraining courses in helping CSSA recipients to rejoin the workforce, SWD would keep conducting regular sharing sessions with their training bodies, as well as collecting direct feedback from job seekers on how they can benefit more from retraining.
24. There has been a steady increase of about 68% in the number of referrals (37 in July 1999 Vs 22 in June 1999) from SWD to HKCSS Employment Service which offers individualized counseling, employee retraining, and job matching services for socially handicapped unemployed adults, new arrivals, and single parents.
25. In addition, SWD keeps monitoring the progress of two employment-related Lotteries-fund projects of HKCSS: the District-based Employment Support Network and the Job Matching Programme through regular meetings and discussions.
Information technology support
26. OAEIS, as described in paragraph 20 above, has been in operation at Social Security Field Units (SSFU) since 28 April 1999. It provides both AE Co-ordinators and job seekers with up-to-date information about job/ retraining opportunities through the web sites of LES/LD, ERB, HKCSS, and the Construction Industry Training Authority. It is also part of the future direction of SWD - helping job seekers to help themselves and to become more self-reliant.
27. This is another welcome addition to the range of employment-related services. It means job seekers no longer have to go into a LES office to find out what vacancies are available. They also show appreciation to the usefulness of on-line information on job search skills.
Customer interaction driven approach
28. Customer feedback is collected for making further business process improvements, and is the main route for customers to register compliments and complaints that cannot be resolved at working level.
29. Like many other government programmes and services, there is an increasing emphasis on customer interaction. An important component of this approach is active consultation. In addition to regular discussions with local communities and other service stakeholders, SWD has redirected more than twenty CSSA Customer Liaison Groups to focus on the AEA programme.
30. This customer interaction driven approach has received favorable response from job seekers, providing them with a suitable opportunity to share feelings and experiences. In future, delivery of talks by successful job seekers would be arranged to help sustain momentum and confidence.
31. We consider frank and thorough evaluation an integral component of the Scheme. Effectiveness of the SFS Scheme as a whole will be assessed based on aspects like helping job seekers regain confidence, building up a more positive attitude towards work possess greater initiatives to look for paid job and improvement in skill levels. Quantitative information such as number of recipients who leave the CSSA net to re-join the workforce or at least move from the "Unemployed " to "Low Earnings" category will also be included in the evaluation.
32. With technical assistance from a research team of Chinese University of Hong Kong, SWD commenced a Longitudinal Study of CSSA Unemployed Recipients on 12 July 1999. The Study would cover:
- unemployed CSSA recipients before 1 June 1999, and
- job seekers enrolled in AEA in the period June to July/ August 1999.
33. There will be five waves of data collection, such that selected respondents will be interviewed five times during the 1-year survey period should they remain on CSSA as unemployed recipients throughout.
34. To supplement the Longitudinal Study which mainly focuses on the qualitative changes in participants, SWD will compile statistics on a regular basis on unemployed CSSA recipients securing employment.
35. SWD will produce an interim evaluation report in mid-2000, and then a final report by end-2000.
36. It is still too early to evaluate the effectiveness of the AEA programme. However, we believe it is already having a positive impact on society - creating a stronger link between benefit receipt, reciprocal obligations to look for work, and taking steps to improve the prospects for moving into self-reliance.
Health and Welfare Bureau