Views from my Soapbox – Barriers to Work

barriersThe barriers people face in reaching their potential has been the critical motivation in my working life over 20 years but did I really understand them until this week?  In my head yes – I probably did but I saw such a range of challenges and determination among those attending a pre-employment course this week that it has caused me to re-evaluate our approaches.

The pre-employment course was being hosted by a housing association and delivered by a College.  The referrals to the course were from Jobcentreplus, local social housing providers, the Princes Trust, local children’s centres and by marketing and publicity by the College.  11 people began the course a week ago which will run for 60 hours over 2 weeks with guaranteed interviews with local employers for those who complete the level 1 and 2 elements.  All the students had already overcome a number of transport and other issues just to reach the venue!

I focussed on developing the CVs of the students so they would be ready to complete the application forms and start to think about interviews.  I learnt loads in just 2 hours:

  • Confidence – the students did not regard their employment history, education or wider life achievements with pride and therefore could not articulate this.  It wasn’t writing skills or the lack of achievements that held them back so much as how they viewed them – building self-esteem is critical if we are to help people access opportunity.
  • IT skills – everyone in the room could use a computer and had any number of courses on software behind them but the employability of these skills wasn’t understood – they were seen as certificates rather than enablers to work.
  • Language – both written and spoken – was good but the presentation was in many cases  lacking – not in dress or physical presentation – but in the confidence behind it.  The skills were there but the self-belief was less so.  Nearly everyone of them was a “people” person but could not see it in themselves.
  • Child-care – responsibility makes full time work and full time courses a challenge – people have all kinds of things they are trying to juggle.  The most “qualified” for the job market faced the biggest barriers in this area and may be excluded from opportunities by her availability only part time.
  • Mental health – several of the 11 confided that they had suffered from various levels of depression or other mental illness.  Clearly there is a link with confidence here but the linkage of the redevelopment of community mental health services with growing employment and employability seems significant and should change.
  • Relationship breakdown – in 2 cases relationship breakdown including 1 with violence contributed to the unemployment of the students.  Employability skills were there but the temporary but intense instability undermined the students past attempts at securing work and impacted on the current experience.
  • Mistakes – another two had left work in the sector without a reference from the last employer – how do we manage this?  Do we give another chance or can we manage through probation periods in new employment?  What about honesty to a new potential employer?

The economy is growing – if we believe George Osbourne! – but, if it is to be a more inclusive society involving more of its citizens – it needs to be more socially aware, flexible and responsible.  In particular we need to build the self esteem of those living and working within it.

I’ll get off my soapbox now….