I find it interesting to see how some clients portray me and my role as an Employment Counsellor. I run workshops on a variety of topics all centered on job searching for the unemployed in receipt of social assistance. Every now and then when I’m describing these workshops and inviting people to join me in one of the workshops, I get the reply, “Sure, why not? I need a good kick in the pants to get up off my …”
So now I’m to play the heavy? The enforcer? Well not really. I know that it doesn’t matter how hard I’d kick or how heavy I’d be, that strategy only has a very short-term benefit. No, the client has to want change to come about, has to want employment as much or more than I want it for them in order for them to be sufficiently motivated to put in the effort required to succeed.
I can however, offer a structured, supportive environment, free of daily distractions one would normally experience in their home when looking for work. You know what I’m talking about here; the television, computer games, music, friends calling by, household chores, the fridge, the comfy couch, the bed and the snuggly pyjamas. Even those that awake with the best of intentions can be easily wooed away from a frustrating job search with the lure of a warm sunny day, a good book, enticing leftovers in the fridge or Asian take-a-way from last night.
Of course in addition to a distraction-free environment in which to apply ones self, there are other benefits you’d find yourself if you found yourself in a class of mine – or any other job search workshop for the unemployed. The most obvious is you’d get out of your house. Just having somewhere to be, needing to be on time, dressed and groomed appropriately brings back routine to people who have lacked such basic structure. There’s the social context too; you meet, listen to and chat with others instead of maintaining your isolation and losing your interpersonal skills.
One of the best things you’d receive is ironically the one thing most clients initially are wary of, and that is receiving candid, honest feedback. It’s the only feedback I think worth giving to someone looking for employment. Telling it like it is can still be done with some empathy and some discretion. For example, letting someone know that their body odour is foul may be what they need to hear in order to address it, but doing it in confidence is respectful instead of putting it out there in front of everyone.
The best part of being part of a group where others are looking for work is that you realize you’re not looking in isolation. Other people are out of work and have some of the same barriers you do; some of the barriers you have you’re already aware of, and some of the barriers you have you may be oblivious to. I’ve helped so many people with targeting their resumes who never did so before and they all tell me how they never knew how to do that before but that it makes such good sense they wonder why they couldn’t have figured it out on their own.
The ‘kick in the pants’ request always reminds me of a scene in the movie ‘Stripes’ with Bill Murray, John Candy and others. All these misfit new army recruits are in the barracks meeting their new Sergeant who agrees to be the ‘big toe’ in reference to a Bill Murray request.
I’m not one to see myself this way. I see myself more as a support person; a guide perhaps. Honestly however, I learn from my clients in ways they don’t suspect all the time. I actually find their hardships, their challenges and how they have survived despite all the setbacks fascinating. They have developed so many skills just living on what amounts to $4.86 per hour. I mean, could you do that for a year or more?
One of the nicest compliments I get is when someone thanks me whether or not they have ultimately got a job for treating them as a person first and a client second. It’s not hard to imagine that they get looked down on and treated with less than their due on a regular basis. How much does it really take anyway to just treat them with respect anyhow? A friendly hello, a sincere, “How are you?” when they aren’t here to see me but one of my colleagues and I see them.
Yes I don’t think I’ve got the ‘right’ if you will to ‘kick’ them, but I do know what they mean when they ask me to. What they’re really saying in their way is that they need some structure, they need to get serious and apply themselves more than they have, and they can’t rely on themselves to be that disciplined so they are wise enough to seek my help. That I can give them.
This isn’t an appeal for unemployed people to ask me to help them out. You’d have to be in Durham Region Ontario and on social assistance to be in one of my groups. On the other hand, it is some insight into what you yourself might benefit from if you got into a similar workshop or job coaching group in your own area.