ACA PES: A Collaborative Approach to building a Public Employment Service

The ACA PES project focuses on the provision of Public Employment Service (PES) in Ireland and its capacity to support a range of service users and in turn impact positively on developing a strong and skilled labour force capable of accessing sustainable opportunities. The National Strategic Objective (5) focus on a Strong Economy, supported by Enterprise, Innovation and Skills, requires a public service infrastructure to support and develop the domestic labour force and ensure that job seekers receive the required supports to enable them to access these opportunities, this is particularly the case at times of labour and skills shortages. PES is a critical piece of the combined national effort to reach this objective and must be capable of offering support across the board to the citizens of Ireland, both skilled job seekers and job changers, and those most distant from the labour market.
With unemployment almost five percent, the conventional wisdom is that Ireland is approaching full employment. However other labour force measurements draw attention to the potential labour force. While not everyone can work, many do want to access paid employment. This is clearly an economic concern representing the opportunity cost of wages and revenue forgone and the cost of social welfare supports. There are also real challenges enabling people to adapt to labour market changes and the future of work. Crucially lack of access to decent work also represents a huge loss of human potential and capacity and limits opportunity to maximise economic and social inclusion as well as individual, family and community well-being.
In Ireland the challenge is to create decent jobs and strong labour market institutions that enable everyone who wants to work access to paid employment. To date our public employment services have focused primarily on the live register and guided people toward a work first employment outcome. This research focuses on a collaborative approach to building a national public employment system which has the capacity to support the development of a strong labour force with a particular focus on the needs of diverse cohorts of job seekers, particularly those most distant from the labour market.
The research comprises three separate inter-related studies which will be conducted within a mixed methods framework: (1) a critical examination of the PES architecture in terms of public, private and NGO actors, their collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, and the identification of gaps in provision specifically for those most distant from the labour market; (2) a detailed description of the guidance models used by the various parts of the PES with particular focus on the model most appropriate for those most distant from the labour market; and (3) the identification and pilot of an appropriate social impact model with related outcome measurements, for example using a social return on investment model.
Across five work packages the research will in year one a) map the key institutional architecture, and b) outline the employment guidance model for those most distant from the labour market; and in year 2, c) design an employment focused guidance specification, tools to measure social value, and an evaluation toolkit. Two work packages, d) management and e) dissemination and impact, will traverse the project, using collaboration, innovation, and knowledge translation as key approaches. The research will be informed by reviews of current services and will draw on the advice of an experienced national and international steering committee.
Our research is funded by the Irish Research Council and is developing in collaboration with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, the Local Employment Service Network and the Irish Local Development Network, and in association with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Principal Investigator: Dr Mary Murphy (
Post-Doctoral Researcher: Dr Nuala Whelan (