Technology alone can’t fix state unemployment systems

Author: Scott Jensen

When unprecedented demands led to the failure of government unemployment programs during the pandemic, it was easy to blame technology.

Yes, outdated systems have been a big part of the problem, but many states have been able to quickly replace their call centers and use cloud technology to scale and meet growing demand. And while upgrading systems and moving to the cloud prevents system failures, the next challenge is to review applications, assign benefits, and support millions of job seekers.

As the economy continues to recover and companies try to attract talent, we should stop and think about how we can do it better. But if all we’re doing is upgrading old systems without solving fundamental strategies and challenges, we’re missing an important piece of the puzzle.

Unemployment insurance administration is the application of opinion to the facts in each case. States must determine who is entitled to what benefits by guarding against fraud and upholding the law. It’s not easy and it’s not easy.

Artificial intelligence, applied diligently, promises to streamline some of the work of sentencing and to detect cases suspected of fraud. However, this does little to allay the concerns of the unemployed who turn to the phones to find out what happened to their statements. As a result, case officers, who must use their judgment to resolve claims, instead answer calls to alleviate anxiety or help with passwords.

We need an unemployment insurance system that caters to applicants and leaves UI professionals for work that only they can perform. Such a system actively informs and updates applicants to ensure that they always know the exact status of their claim – where it is in progress and in what time frame. This gives applicants opportunities, leading to less need to turn to call centers for updates. In addition, the system should clearly, concisely and precisely explain the process to the applicant to eliminate confusion and concerns. If information is missing from the application, applicants should be informed – by text or email – so that applicants can easily fill in these gaps.

Like Domino’s Pizza Tracker, this innovation solves customer problems. We can all agree that cooking pizza takes some time, but it is very helpful to know when your pizza will show up at your door. If the recipient of unemployment insurance can know when to wait for a response to his application, he can start making plans and answer the main questions: Can I pay the rent next week? How about paying for childcare while I’m looking for a job? If you apply for unemployment, you already have a bad day. Get you the information you need to regain control – this is something that technology – cloud computing, secure data transmission and smart applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning – can do extremely well right now.

The most important thing that government agencies can do for the unemployed is to help them get a well-paid job where they can succeed and pursue a career. Unemployment insurance is a termination – an emergency solution to an immediate problem. Long-term need is not just money to live on, but money to make a living.

The Research Improving People’s Lifes organization, which I lead, has developed a solution that uses ML, AI and cloud technologies from Amazon Web Services to unlock previously disparate government administrative data and turn it into recommendations for retraining into a new profession. The Solution for Oversized Qualifications “Data Opportunities in Occupations”, or DOORS, combines state data on wages, unemployment insurance and training and converts them into personalized career guidance, job selection and connection to vocational training programs – all in one user-friendly interface.

This is the difference between giving a person a fish so he can eat during the day, and teaching him to fish so he can eat all his life.

We all know people who didn’t get unemployment insurance, people whose already horrible situations got worse when they needed help. Put the bar higher and try to surpass.

The first step is to strive to treat each applicant as the best customer. The use of technology to achieve this goal is the second. The third and most difficult thing is to help the unemployed return to work. Technology can also help here. We need intelligent tools to help assess existing skills and dexterity to learn new ones. We also need matchmaking tools to help guide job seekers to a new career with long-term potential.

Technology can get us there. But for that, we need to prefer an obsessive commitment to the best user experience. Similarly, our work must always be aimed at achieving the ultimate goal – to help the unemployed successfully return to the workforce.

Scott Jensen is the CEO of the nonprofit Research Improving People’s Lifes, which works with governments to help them use data, science and technology to improve people’s policies and lives.

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