Like many other charities, BHT made a decision very early on not to become directly involved in the Work Programme. Our decision was based on our assessment that it would not work, for participants and for charities like us. The experience of many of our partner organisations, most of whom have now withdrawn from direct involvement with the Work Programme, appears to have vindicated our decision. An honourable exception, and one doing excellent work on bahalf of its clients is the Newhaven Community Development Association.
We co-operate with some Work Programme providers such as Avanta. It is not that we oppose the objectives of the Work Programme. On the contrary, it is our commitment to providing real opportunities to our clients that drives our work regarding employment and what was behind our decision to set up the BHT Intern Programme.
BHT has committed a significant sum of its own charitable funds in our programme. We are extremely grateful to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for its three year investment in the programme.
This week I heard more about the personal development and action planning undertaken by our Interns, and how we didn’t get it right at the outset. I was surprised by what I learned.
All participants in the Intern Programme were prepared to do job searches and applications. However, the majority initially shied away from actually doing them. This isn’t because they were workshy or not interested in getting employment. On the contrary, they are highly motivated and keen to develop and use their skills.
Common feedback, when asked why they hadn’t done a job search, was being intimidated and bewildered by the array of choice when doing job searches. The more they look, the more reluctant they were to apply. To overcome this we arranged one-to-one sessions where our Intern Coordinator, Rob Robinson, provided an encouraging helping hand. It is a time-consuming process, but time that Rob feels is well spent. By doing it with the Interns, confidence is built along with the necessary IT skills, and their fear is overcome. Rob says that he helps reframe in their minds what they can do as opposed to what they can’t do.
There was a similar experience when it came to doing actual job applications. Rob initially took them through a mock application process . He was aware that they were not happy with this exercise and several became distressed. One said the sight of an application form made him feel physically sick.
Several Interns expressed a fear of the empty boxes on most application forms, and the fear that they would never be considered for the post. As a result when it came to doing an actual application, they put it after the last minute and then it was rushed. One individual said that such was his past experience of failure that, to get the necessary courage to proceed, he first needed to get drunk, with predictable consequences.
As a result, Rob evolved a new bespoke approach, delivered on a one-to-one basis which drew on the rich, diverse experience of people who had for various reasons become very disempowered. He said that many did not know what they were good at even though it was obvious to him.
Rob described an approach with 13 steps which included spreading out application forms on the floor and into different sections, first dealing with the standard questions around employment history, references, etc, and then underlining in the remainder of the form precisely what was being asked for. And so it goes on, breaking it down into smaller, bite-size chunks. This approach has been successful and of the first 16 who have been supported by Rob in this way, within six months, six had already got into paid employment. This compares favourably with the achievements of the Work Programme.
Rob, who knows a lot more about this than I do, says that if we are serious in helping people into employment they need small, bespoke employment schemes. He says that groups, even small ones, are limited in their effectiveness. Participants don’t want to reveal their lack of knowledge or their fear in front of others.
I wonder how anyone in a group of up to 30 individuals have any hope of doing anything meaningful, no matter how committed the Work Programme provider might be.
One thing that Rob did not say was that jobseekers need someone on their side, someone who will champion their cause, and sensitively nurtured them. In Rob, those on the BHT Intern Programme have such a champion and cheerleader to boot!