Break free

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Peter BentleyWith many service users struggling to find meaningful paid or unpaid employment, Peter Bentley tells DDN about a new educational course that encourages individuals to make the most of the skills they already possess

Most of the barriers to employment that people feel they encounter are self-imposed beliefs – the endless negative attitudes of, ‘People like me never get a break,’ ‘There are no jobs anyway,’ or ‘I have a right to benefits’. These attitudes often become the excuse for inaction, leaving the individual further and further isolated and distanced from their real aspirations.

Skills-Tu Employment is an educational course aimed at skilling people who are distant from the labour market by exploring all of these commonly held beliefs and encouraging learners to adopt a more positive outlook.

We initially developed the course after we were approached by Working Links Wales in 2012 – they realised that their clients who had been through the Intuitive Recovery abstinence programme were doing well employability-wise, and had a much more positive outlook than some other clients.

The programme is aimed specifically at ETE (education, training, employment) and getting people into work. It is an accredited classroom-based course that is delivered by peers who have themselves overcome considerable challenges in their lives and gone on to forge meaningful careers.

Many of our learners have considerable challenges to gaining employment and volunteering opportunities. The programme aims to change their outlook, so that they see these challenges as opportunities to demonstrate problem-solving skills, which will impress potential employers.

Learners are encouraged to take control by accepting responsibility. The course introduces a rational, problem-solving process to learners, while challenging the negative self-imposed barriers often present in the mindsets of people who have experienced problems and disappointments in their lives.

Once learners start to look closely at their belief systems, they begin to recognise that they support inactivity over action, unemployment over employment, and continued dependence on the state over personal independence and responsibility. These individuals have amazing skills, often learned while dealing with very considerable life problems, and yet they rarely see those skills as valuable assets.

Writing endless CVs and filling out application forms can be a discouraging exercise for many learners. When presented on a CV, a history of offending will always make an employer less likely to hire an individual, which in turn reinforces a negative mindset.

We focus our learners on using their natural assets in a positive, constructive way. There are very few employers who would not be impressed by an individual who has turned their life around – it’s all about how to communicate this in the right way.

It’s also important to recognise that the vast majority of jobs are not advertised and therefore require a different route to approaching the employer. A big part of it is getting good intelligence of who is the real decision maker and then making a plan of action on how best to approach this individual and be remembered. The Skills-Tu course teaches learners to look at all of the channels of communication when job hunting, and addresses everything from body language to personal hygiene – anything that could pose a barrier to getting the job.

Since launching the course in August 2012, we now deliver the programme across Wales, the South East, London and our traditional home ground in the North West. We have also developed our relationships with the Work Programme providers and have a customer list that includes Working Links, G4S, A4e and Rehab Job Fit.

Our background in, and promotion of, abstinence, delivered by peers, means that we have also been able to identify new presentations and support them into treatment services. What we have found as we have developed the course within the Work Programme and at Job Centres is that we are able to open up drug and alcohol treatment to learners.

As a peer-led organisation, recruitment for programme tutors is done through the graduate base. That means that the programme is delivered by people who have been through the process themselves, and this makes all the difference – they have ‘been there, done that’, and create a positive model for learners at the beginning of the process. All tutors are paid, so they are living, breathing examples of the process working and of what can be achieved.

Peter Bentley is founder and managing director of Intuitive Recovery.