These really are unprecedented times, says @AndyLMilton. Nowhere will this be felt more acutely than in our sector as unemployment in 2021 is anticipated to rise to maybe 4 million (9%)… possibly even more.
As we face that very daunting prospect we need to ensure we are ready to meet this huge challenge and the impact it will have on the lives of individuals, their families and communities up and down the country.
We know only too well the negative impact unemployment can have and we also know well how the impact of the right support can be so positive in turning things round again… employment can and does transform lives.
17 years ago I was standing outside an Employment Zone delivery office situated in a shopping centre in an area with high levels of very long-term unemployment. It was one of those centres where the security guards wore stabproof vests and the main high street names steered well clear.
As I went to go back inside a tall, well-built man in his late thirties came striding towards me shouting: “Oi - hold on a minute!”
With some trepidation I awaited his arrival not entirely sure what to expect next.
“So are you something to do with this lot in here then” he said pointing to our office.
My suit and tie was something of a giveaway given the place I was in! I said yes and explained I was visiting for the day to see how things were going, spend time with the team and to get some feedback on our service from some of the people we are supporting.
“I was one of those” he said and then proceeded to tell me his story.
He had been unemployed for over 7 years although admitted to doing “a bit on the side here and there”. He had given up hope of finding a job and lived on benefits and some “ducking and diving”…I didn’t explore what that involved but without doubt it would have included things that were the wrong side of the law.
He got referred to us and only came in because he would have lost his benefits otherwise. In his words he was a “bolshie, aggressive nightmare” for the first few weeks he did all he could to make life difficult for our team.
Then he said one day something just ‘clicked’ and the Adviser who had been supporting him and trying, despite his behaviour, using every angle to move him forward suddenly achieved a breakthrough.
After that he said they got him focussed, sorted his CV, found him some work experience, sorted help for his drink and drugs problems and even got him on some anger management support sessions with a local organisation.
Eight months after he started he finally got a job – “nothing special” but it was a start and the wages meant he could afford to come off benefits. Wind on just over 12 months and he had since been promoted twice and now managed a sales team of 10.
Having shared his story he then said to me: “It is fair to say that you lot did a lot more than just get me a job. I changed as a bloke and found some pride and self-respect that I hadn’t accepted I had lost. My missus said I was a changed man and she had got back the one she married and my kids were no longer scared of me anymore and instead had a proper dad”
At this point tears rolled down the face of this tough, slightly scary looking guy and I am not too proud to admit they ran down my face too.
He then gave me the biggest hug, bellowed: “Thanks mate, thanks a million” in my ear and with that headed off.
Took me 10 minutes to compose myself before I went back into our office.
Although I knew it long before it was this experience that showed me loudly and very clearly the simple truth that what we do really does have the power to transform lives. Awesome stuff and the question is what is it about what we do that is so powerfully transformational.
For me it all boils down to 3 pretty simple things:
1. The power of relationships.
Building a strong, trusting, honest, professional and supportive relationship with each individual is key. Everyone is different so what will ‘click’ for one person will be something very different for someone else. The very best performing advisers/consultants/coaches, call them what you will, are able to do this and find jobs for even the most challenging of jobseekers. Building effective 1-1 relationships with each individual jobseeker still remains critical for success – a truth that has definitely stood the test of time.
2. The power of leadership.
I have seen some amazing leaders over the years who inspire, focus, drive and enable teams to maximise impact and potential. I have also seen some terrible leaders and the huge damage they can cause. As we look to meet the coming challenges it will be essential to ensure we have great leadership right across the sector – nothing less will do.
3. The power of information.
In my experience the very best organisations harness the power of information to ensure they can deliver the best possible service to each individual and the best possible results.
Everyone needs to know clearly and accurately how they are doing, why, what is working and what isn’t and why, who is the best performer and why, where are the challenges and why, how do we continuously improve, what is the best practice, what can I learn – the list is endless but having a strong, clear, accurate focus on data of all kinds and using that to inform and drive what we do is essential for maximum success.
So, as we move forward and start to deliver programmes and services to meet an unemployment challenge like no other we have faced we simply must ensure we fully harness these 3 powers.
Underpinning all 3 is the other essential for working in our sector…..passion.
What we do is far more than just a job - we deliver services and support to people often at their lowest ebb, feeling on life’s scrap heap with hope gone and scepticism rife. Passion for what we do is essential for enabling us to have the drive, determination and unrelenting focus to maximise the impact we can have on the lives of others.
After 38 years in the sector my own passion remains undimmed along with real pride in what we have done and can continue to do regardless of how big the challenge might be. I see that same passion in so many other people across our sector and for me it is the engine that needs to drive all we do.
As I said at the start…..employment transforms lives. Never has the need for us to do that for so many people been greater than now – so let’s all ensure we rise to the challenge like never before!
Andy Milton FIEP is the Managing Director of Rostrum Search.
Andy has been involved in the employment and skills sectors for 38 years and is a recognised employment Subject Matter Expert. He has extensive successful experience of bidding for and delivering publicly funded employment support programmes and has worked in the public, private, third sectors and for a groundbreaking PPP.