Changing Perceptions

Over the last 5 weeks I have had the pleasure of working with a group of 20 people seeking to upskill and return to the work place. They have joined a FÁS traineeship programme that will see them undergo 22 weeks of intensive Supply Chain training which will be followed up with 16 weeks work placement. The participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and ages.


The start of the programme, like any other, was a time of fear and trepidation. However, all shared the same concerns; (1) that this would not be “just another FÁS programme” and, (2) that the programme will lead to full time jobs at the end.


Despite having formally lectured at various levels of Supply Chain Management for a number of years, I too came to the programme with some fears and trepidation, namely, this would be my first time facilitating training on a full time basis (20 weeks, Monday to Friday). It would also be my first time working with a group of unemployed people as well as my first time brining ALL my Training, Coaching and NLP skills to a live process.


From the outset, I saw one major issue that had to be dealt with; the perception that these people had that they were attending “just another course”. Speaking with them, it was easy to feel the sense of doom and absence of hope that many in our society (as well as societies around the world) are experiencing, i.e. “what’s the point?”, “there’s nothing [jobs] out there”.


What was needed was a serious change in perception. This was my first FÁS course and I too was aware of how FÁS training courses were perceived. However, I was also able to point out that “this was my first FÁS course” so by default, it would have to be better, i.e. if I hadn’t facilitated one before, the course would be different. My challenge was to make it a ‘good’ different for each participant.


I was also faced with the challenge that, at the start of the process, the participants held a view that there is no work available for them. Some have been unemployed for a number of years. All have been using a ‘scatter gun’ approach to job hunting by applying for everything they saw. That approach lead to continuous rejection which fed their belief of no hope, no jobs, etc, etc.


So what happened?


The first week of any FÁS course is ‘red-tape’ week, i.e. induction, where all the Health & Safety, Means of Assessment, Course information, etc. is gone through. It was an ideal opportunity to begin the process of creating an integrated group who are sharing a journey. It was my first opportunity to demonstrate that this course would be different, not in a good way, but in a GREAT way. We spent part of that time working on both the participant’s course and personal perspectives. It was challenging breaking down the obstacles of (sometimes, years) of negativity to let the participants see, that they actually have got options.


Week two of the process focussed on CV prep and personal development. It was fun challenging their perceptions and watching the lights go on as they came to realise that they were actually going about things the wrong way for them. Virtually all admitted to using the ‘scatter gun’ approach to finding work. As time went on, this approach became more desparate and even less focused, which further fuelled the “nothing out there” belief. Experiencing this phenomenon first had was a real eye opener for me. Here was a group of intelligent, hard working people who want to work, but feel that at every turn, society, the government, life has turned against them. Things had to change!!! But How??


The first hint, came when the participants began working on their CVs. Not one person highlighted their skills, achievements or what they could bring to a job on their CV. I had seen this before when working with a client who was trying to become an Assistant Director of their organisation. They had listed their roles and previous companies, but not a single point about what they had achieved, i.e. NOTHING that would encourage a prospective employer to say “wow! we need to meet this person”.


It may be an ‘Irish thing’, but we really seem to have a problem stating our accomplishments. It might be out of a sense of ‘fear of being found out’. It may also be as a result of the, sometimes misguided rule that a CV must not exceed two pages.


Working with the 20 people in the group, we re-wrote their CVs, everyone listed their duties and achievements for each role they had worked in and then added a Profile paragraph at the start of their CV. The key for each person after that was to take time and actually READ their own CV.


The effect was dramatic.


People actually began to realise what they could bring to a prospective employer. For many it was the first time they actually SAW their abilities in black and white. As one person put it “I have never before considered what makes me shine for an employer”.


The times, they were a changin’. The participants became engaged. They developed a Learning Agreement between themselves (which included a rule “Ban Negativity!!”).


There was even an encounter with the Center’s Training Manager. When he came to address them and started speaking of how difficult things were, one of the quieter members of the group, raised his hand and told the Manager, “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept negativity in this room”.


Next up was the approach to employers. Each participant must find his/her own work placement. Armed with the new CVs and determination, they began contacting companies. After only 5 weeks of their 22 week programme, over half of the group either has secured, or is in discussions with prospective employers (which they don’t actually need until February 2013). One amazing aspect is that some of them are lining up possible work placement companies with a view to deciding which will be the best option for them for both experience and/or permanent employment. There’s a turn around.


In fact, since the course began, two of the participants have received offers of some temporary work and after discussing the matter with the companies in question, they have decided to stay on and complete the course first.


The first 5 weeks have been a journey into the unknown for us all. Together we will journey another 15 weeks before parting ways. The new-found determination and focus of these people has been an inspiration to me as well as the fact that I can see the results of working with people in adverse situations, changing perceptions and challenging existing and unhelpful belief patterns.


The next stage of the process will be the first of a rigourous assessment period (in the space of 4 months, the participants will undergo 7 written tests AND will have to complete 4 written assignments). Time to deal with the nerves and fear associated with examinations.


Bring it on!!!