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Employment Services

Is it time to get real about unauthentic actors?

Talk to anyone in employment or apprentice services, and they’ll know an ‘unauthentic actor’ or two.


Though they may not use the behavioural science jargon, they’ll know job seekers or apprentices who (though appearing to do all the right things in searching for work or a new pathway) are hiding their true motivations.


Though they often go through the motions of searching for new employment to meet mandatory requirements, or say they want to be an apprentice, they may have no real intention of following through with either of these.


This phenomenon is less common but still evident in education.


Students may go through the steps of enrolling in a course with no authentic intention of going through with the course of study, completing it and finding work in that particular industry.


Perhaps under pressure from parents, peer groups or the culture, they may be doing what the world wants of them rather than what they really want - and are at high risk of non-completion.


Understanding unauthentic actors


Esher House has dubbed these candidates ‘unauthentic actors’.


Sitting somewhere in the midst of the other stages of the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change (which moves through five stages, from ‘pre-contemplators’ through to ‘action’-oriented individuals – read more on this here), unauthentic actors are tricky to identify and support.


Though they may look like an action-oriented person in their work or study journey, their mindset might more closely resemble that of a pre-contemplator; secretly avoiding work or study and not being ready (from a motivational and behavioural standpoint) to ‘get with the program’.


This unauthentic behaviour has an impact. These job seekers could inadvertently cannibalise relationships with employment partners if they turn up for an interview but drop out on the first day. If they are students or apprentices, they may be the early drop-outs that impact completion rates.


The rise and rise of unauthentic actors


Unauthentic actors are a perennial cohort in employment services specifically. Before COVID-19 struck in 2020, data from Esher House’s attitudinal Assessment of Work Readiness Survey suggested that about 7% of candidates were unauthentic actors, out of the 79% who were proactively jobseeking.


COVID-19 caused unauthentic jobseeking behaviour to spike dramatically. Creeping up to 12% in July 2020 in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic (and boosted unemployment support), it more than doubled to 26% in April 2021, when things were back on more of an even keel.


This could reflect a significant level of psychological scarring among jobseekers who, after being thrown into the unknown of COVID-19 workplace change, will be experiencing more anxiety and depression. They may look like they are jobseeking, but are very uncertain about the future.


How can you support unauthentic actors?


The best way to support unauthentic actors is, first of all, to identify them effectively. Through Esher House’s fast 12 question mobile AWR survey, an algorithm processing over 240 million possible responses is able to immediately uncover the underlying motivational state of a job seeker, apprentice or student.


This could reveal they are far from committed to employment or enrolment in a new course. Instead of being action-oriented, they could instead be in the ‘pre-contemplation’ or ‘contemplation’ phases of behavioural change, and actively covering up their state due to coercion and social pressure.


This gives employment services, apprenticeships or education providers the power to deliver targeted in-person and digital support to build the resilience of unauthentic actors on their journey towards an outcome. For example, Esher House’s Digital Activation Modules support job seekers with short, science-backed videos.


The important thing is not to demonise unauthentic actors. With the right support, these participants in employment and education are able to be engaged with on a deeper level, to encourage their resilience in the face of changes like Covid-19 in order to build their commitment to a new stage of their life journey.


Interested in finding out how Esher House can improve jobseeker, apprentice and student support with behavioural science? Learn more here.