It’s a good job I like being thrown into the deep end, because that’s what happened today when I made good on a New Year pledge to volunteer for a good cause by spending a couple of hours helping the jobless folk in my local area with their CV, covering letters, applying for jobs, and associated activities.
It was a busy session at the public library, and though everyone was as nice as they could be it was a case of needing to roll up sleeves and get stuck in – too many people needing help and too few volunteers.
My first session was with a Turkish immigrant who had been in the UK for over 12 years, quite legally and properly. They had completed studies here, worked here for some time, and eventually got to the position of running a company. It was a small shop set in older buildings. One day the mutual who owns the land and buildings decided to build a nice new shopping centre there instead. They duly invited the existing shop owners to move in when it was ready – at SEVEN times the rate they were paying before. That put the shop out of business, and so life became tough for the person sitting in front of me. They were bright, articulate, motivated and had a very good set of skills and work experience, but was just not able to get companies to call them back and through to the interview stage. I offered some layout, grammar and punctuation suggestions for their CV and suggested we talk again next week.
My second session was with someone who was looking for part-time low-skilled work to fit around childcare commitments. I searched the database for jobs and found one. But before you think this is a happy ending, sadly it wasn’t appropriate – not because the client was being fussy, it just wasn’t offering the right shift pattern. That was it. One inappropriate job in the whole database for an area stretching 10 miles. We looked for other types of work with similar skills. Nothing. It was at this point they asked me to write down in their benefits book about our activities, so I had a flick through the previous pages. It was stuffed with week upon week of job searching activity, meticulously detailing the job title, area and/or company that had been applied to. They were certainly not suffering from a lack of effort. The only silver lining for this client was another library user nearby overhead us and suggested she try a charity down the road who might be able to offer short-term work on an adhoc basis. That was very kind, and a heartwarming moment of one stranger helping another in an act of simple kindness.
My third and final session was with someone who was also after low-skilled labour, but had managed to find a vacancy and was in need of some computer assistance to complete the process. This experience really hammered home to me how some people really struggle with the IT equipment I take for granted. I mean really struggle. Then, they come up against systems that don’t work – as readers of this blog will know, that’s a pet hate of mine. It’s not so much that they’re broken because of a fault; it’s because their broken by design and implementation. Here was someone whose typing speed was around 1 letter every 5 seconds being confronted with numerous login screens, security processes, dialog boxes, inputs and controls. It’s annoying for me, but for him it was an intimidating torture for which there was no other way around.
I left the experience with mixed feelings. It felt good to help, and I enjoyed it. But it also felt so frustrating at the same time.