I’ve changed my answer to the question people ask me regarding my strengths. In the past I shared my enthusiasm for innovation and creativity; pushing myself to always look for new ways of presenting material. I love morphing what exists into better versions and by better I mean bringing content into a fuller understanding and buy-in for and by those receiving the content.
I like to believe that my peers still see me as innovative and creative so it’s not that I’ve plateaued and stopped innovating, it’s just that I’ve found something I’d rather share as a personal strength. What I offer in response to this question now is an unwavering, complete commitment when it comes to investing in others. Honestly, I don’t think I personally could choose anything more rewarding to do, and I’d hope that participants of my workshops, coworkers and supervisors would back up my words if/when called upon to attest to my actions.
As an Employment Counsellor, my role brings me into contact with the unemployed and the underemployed every single day. As I work during the day with a population exclusively in receipt of social assistance, I also have the great privilege of coming into contact with people when they are most vulnerable; a low point if you will in their lives. Their lack of financial independence is far from being the only problem they have when their lives and mine intersect. Believe me, those in this population would love to believe that finding a job was their only problem.
By the time I meet them, many are dealing with homelessness, abusive relationships, dysfunctional families, marital and custody battles, poor landlords, interaction with several other social service agencies, loss of self-esteem, self-confidence and rising debt. Some have poor education, under-developed social skills, poor self-awareness, weak problem-solving skills, poor role models, questionable decision-making abilities, limited vocabularies, and others have legal issues to contend with. The lack of a job is just one problem, and not often is it the number one concern.
My coworkers and I understand that to be effective, we have to address more than just the lack of employment to give those we serve the best opportunity to move forward and keep the jobs they land. I suppose this is one of the key factors that defines us, (and others who work in similar roles with this population) from organizations which exclusively address unemployment as a stand alone issue.
Not all people understand this; nor do all people in decision-making levels of government. The mantra of “Just get them a job and move on to the next person”, is short-sighted and doomed to fail more than succeed. Those fortunate to get employment will often lose it quickly and return to the safety net provided by social services if they don’t have the multiple barriers to employment addressed and the required skills learned to work through these other presenting barriers.
So herein comes the need to invest in others; completely. I don’t believe you can be effective if you only invest partially in people. Well I for one can’t at any rate. To be truly effective, it takes a complete investment. I’ve also learned over time that this investment is simultaneously both energizing and draining. For it’s not just investing in one or two people here and there. Fully investing in my work environment means there are only seconds between people asking for and needing aid.
When someone comes to see you as trustworthy and helpful, you move in their estimation into a place where you’re the go-to person when problems arise; which they do with regularity with this fragile population. Some folks are very considerate of our capacity to hear their stories and help with arriving at potential solutions, while others dump all their problems out expecting us to own them and fix them because it’s what we’re paid to do. “It’s your job to solve my problems.”
I love this role. I embrace all that being an Employment Counsellor means and it continues to be a privilege and honour to hold this position. I’m not always successful in connecting and forging a deep connection; no one of us is for that matter. This is one key thing new staff in the field must come to appreciate; you’ll not succeed, not connect, fail to help and you’ll be questioned openly about your suitability in the role from time-to-time; the volume of people we see daily, weekly, monthly and yearly guarantees we won’t always be successful. Investing nonetheless and doing so fully to the extent we are able is still to be strived for.
Yesterday a woman dropped by unannounced and I was called to reception. She literally ran to me, wrapped her arms around me and jumped up and down with the excitement of sharing her news of landing a full-time job with her employer of choice. It’s taken her about 5 month’s and two jobs to get to her landing this plum job. In that embrace, I soaked up all the energy, gratitude, joy, exhilaration and emotional relief I could. That hug and her smile was her simple way of expressing her sincere appreciation for my small help along her journey.
I implore you to consider upping your own investment in the people you serve. Whether those are customers, junior staff, volunteers or the vulnerable; invest without reservation. It. Makes. All. The. Difference.