Student Placements Work

One of the inevitable truths for every business in every employment sector is that there will be changes in personnel. Over time, people come and go, and if you’re fortunate, the people you bring onboard will make a positive impact on both the others they work with and the customers/clients which receive the end products or services they deliver.

Changes in personnel is undoubtedly the biggest area of concern for any organization. When you bring the right people onboard and they turn out to be invested and committed to the company, an organization can succeed and flourish as the owners or stewards envision. However, the opposite is also true, as discovering the people you’ve invested in are liabilities rather than assets can set an organization back, in some cases even tarnish an organization so severely it ceases to exist.

Hiring therefore, becomes the single most important factor in the success of an organization. Employer’s do what they can to ensure those doing the interviewing and making personnel decisions understand this, and they in turn do their best to ensure those hired understand and share similar values, beliefs, and goals. The more someone aligns with these on a personal level, the greater the likelihood that they’ll add to an organization, meeting the employer’s expectations.

The reality is however that businesses must evolve over time in response to societal needs and end user preferences, and that evolution may require new thinking, fresh ideas and if done right, these allow businesses to flourish. It’s a delicate balance to maintain core values and beliefs upon which an organization was built, yet respond to changes in the market which keep traditional customers while attracting new ones to it.

When it goes wrong, you hear comments like, “People just don’t care anymore”, Things aren’t like they used to be”, or, “Where did customer service go?” These comments and others like them, are indicators of regret for what’s changed and a longing for what was.” Given choice, customers may depart from their unwavering loyalty to a brand or organization and seek to have their needs met elsewhere; the biggest concern for a business. And these days, every business has many competitors working hard to grow their own customer base.

So it comes down to having the right people; not only on the front line, but also in middle and upper management. Hire the right people, and they in turn develop the culture, add to the overall value of an organization; safeguarding a businesses integrity and assuring both employees and the public that things are in good hands.

Where I work, my colleagues and I have the good fortune to host university placement students throughout the year. As we’re in the Social Services field, the students we bring on board are from this discipline. They themselves may have personal goals to work in specific areas such as Addictions, Poverty Reduction, Mental Health Counselling, Child Welfare, etc., and they may or may not be considering remaining in school beyond getting their degrees to obtain their Masters.

I really enjoy having these students around. They bring enthusiasm, energy and optimism with them as they are eager to learn and want to make the most of their experience while with us. I think it’s incumbent upon us who act as hosts to do what we can to mentor and support these students as they transition into the workforce fulltime in the near future. Sharing what we do is one thing but of greater importance is sharing the philosophy behind what we do and how we are unique. When they learn and hopefully value the similar values we hold, they have a greater appreciation for those values and are far less likely to innocently act in some way which lessens the user experience.

Now on any team, you’ll find that while everyone is working towards common organizational goals, individuals have unique strengths, areas of expertise and it’s these differences which add to the overall team identity. Hence it only makes sense that staff will provide varying levels of direction to students; some taking on formal responsibilities to guide, train and support a student, others providing encouragement, expressing thanks and having less direct involvement in their individual learning goals.

My trust that the future is in good hands is pretty high when I look at the quality of students about to enter the field. Academic intelligence is highly valued of course, but honestly, what I look for most is personal suitability. Are they caring? Do they demonstrate a receptiveness to growing empathy for the population we serve? Are they compassionate, responsive and willing to seize opportunities to assist and support those who need support and understanding more than anything?

Like I said, I’m feeling pretty good about our students and hopefully my colleagues and I have done enough to train them and expose them to our work in such a way that they benefit from the experiences we share with them. I suppose one thing as placements draw to their inevitable conclusion is whether or not we’ve fed their desire to work in the field; possibly even with us not as a student but as a full-time colleague.

Wherever they end up, playing a small part in shaping their thoughts and actions by sharing our own, hopefully puts the future in good hands.



Leaving Your Mark In The Workplace

Eventually we all leave the employer we’re working with now, be it retiring, quitting outright, taking a leave of absence that turns into moving on, getting laid off or yes, even terminated. What if anything, will you leave behind that would mark your contribution?

I suppose one key question is whether or not leaving behind anything of a lasting nature is even important to you. It’s kind of like when you and I – all of us – pass away in life really. Well it is isn’t it? I mean, do we want to leave behind some sign of our passing? The big difference here is that we’re not actually dead and so yes, we can look around us while we’re still in our workplace and point to things we’ve had a hand in creating. Conversely, we can just walk away, never look back and not give it a moment’s thought.

Consider though the number of hours, days, weeks, months and years you give to an organization. When it all adds up, you’ve invested a great deal of your life sitting at that desk, standing on that line, traveling in that vehicle etc. You’ll have a lot of mixed memories no doubt when you move on, perhaps all the way from great ones to ones you’d rather forget. Those memories are important not just now but in the years to come because they mark the time you put in and they’ve had a hand in shaping who you are.

Not unlike the impact the experiences have in shaping you, your time in an organization contributes to it. Maybe you’ve affected a policy or procedural change. Perhaps you mentored some others who in turn went about their business differently because of your influence. Perchance there are things you’ve created like manuals, filing systems, software designs, physical spaces, programs etc.

Here’s something to think about. If you were to go back now and visit the places where you put in time in your past, what would you find? Depending on how large the organizations are that you worked for and how long ago we’re talking, they may or may not even remember you. Maybe your co-workers and the management of the day have all moved on themselves. No one even recalls your name. It’s different I suppose if your name adorns some oil painting in a hall of founders.

So how would it make you feel to go back and discover its as if all your years working for an organization never even occurred? That no one remembers you? If you couldn’t point to a single thing you’ve done that had any lasting impact, would you care? I’m not suggesting you should of course, but it’s an interesting thing to contemplate. Again, you may or may not be concerned one way or the other; comfortable in the knowledge that you contributed while there and the only lasting memories you want could be the day you walked out the door.

Still, you were there for a chunk of time weren’t you? Yes when you add up the time you worked for this place and that place and oh yes, that place too, you’ve put in a significant amount of energy. Hopefully those places appreciated your contributions. Then again perhaps the organizations themselves have ceased to even exist; they went under, relocated, disbanded or dissolved. No wondering then if you’re remembered!

Maybe – just perhaps – the real key then for some of us is not to put much energy and time into making a mark on an organization; the physical bricks and mortar. Maybe the real key for at least some of us is to make our mark on the people we worked with. While they too will eventually pass and move on, if we influence others by the way we work, the things we say, the actions we take, the training and advice we pass on, maybe what happens is they are shaped by us in part no matter where they go. So it’s not a physical building, a policy manual or a plaque on a wall that we seek to leave behind to mark our time, but rather the interaction we had with those we worked with.

So, can you look around where you work now and honestly see any influence you’ve had on others? What of yourself? Can you see how what you do  is because someone in your past or present passed on something to you? Maybe you work smarter, act kinder, put in more effort, smile more etc. because somebody you admire passed on something that affected you.

Here’s the thing reader. Unlike when we die, you’re still alive and have the time if you choose, to make your mark. Whether you use the time you’ve got to positively or negatively impact on others, your workplace itself or not, you’ve got the luxury of having the choice. You can therefore choose to consciously contribute to your workplace in such a way that you do make your mark, or you can opt just to do the minimum, take your pay and move on.

Where you work now, I bet you can think of at least a few people who have retired or moved on in some other way. Do you recall their faces and names as well as their legacy or do you struggle to even recall what’s-his-name?

Either way, it’s a life.


Supervisor Change

We experience change in our work environments both when we ourselves initiate it and when others around us make changes in their own lives. Sometimes the impact on us personally is small and at other times, the ripple effect has a significant impact on how we go about our jobs.

Last Friday afternoon it was announced that my immediate Supervisor has accepted a three-month promotional assignment; she’ll be assuming an acting role of Manager at an office in an adjacent city. Now I’ve been fortunate to have the benefit of her leadership and guidance for the last 8 years. That’s a fair stretch where I’ve come to know what she expects from myself and my teammates.

Today is her final day with us until one day in January of 2016 when the assignment is over and she returns. Big deal or not? Well, yes it is. Now first and foremost I have to say that I am thrilled for her and truly happy she has been given this opportunity and seized upon it. What a great way to try out the position and see if it is something she would like to aspire to in a permanent role.

I’m also glad for those at the other office location because they are going to benefit from her mentorship and guidance. She’s what I call an employees boss; her focus is always centered on how she can best improve service to our clients by improving how we the staff deliver it. She puts me and my teammates in positions to succeed; gives us the necessary tools to do our work, listens to our wants and needs, and gives us all the benefit of her experience. She really is going to be missed over that three-month period.

Now the second reaction I had, and almost just as immediate was, “Wow, how is this going to affect me? Who will replace her?” Is that a selfish thought? Absolutely, but not in a negative way. When someone in a role directly above you on the organizational chart changes, there has to be a corresponding change upon those within that new persons realm of authority. So sure, it’s natural to think about whether the incoming replacement will go about things much the same or not.

Where you work, if you have had a change in Supervisor, did you have someone come in and manage your team with the same leadership philosophy? Often that’s a good thing if the people on your team are productive, happy and work well together. If the general perception is that the team needs a shakeup or wakeup call, sometimes the incoming Supervisor might be chosen specifically because they will move the team in another direction, expectations will change, how the work will be delivered will change. Staff might be roped back in if they’ve exceeded their authority, or given greater latitude in some cases if they’ve been stifled.

With such a relatively short assignment it is unlikely the person arriving in my case is going to change much. In fact, my Supervisor has made her wishes clear calling upon us as a team to mentor her incoming replacement. It’s up to us to show her why we are such a great team, how we deliver our services with care for the betterment of our clients experience. In short, she wants the incoming Supervisor to really get a first-hand glimpse of the team and be impressed. After three months, when the new Supervisor returns to her job at another office, she’ll not just have good memories of the time, but she’ll encourage others to refer their clients down to us in greater numbers because of the positive outcomes we achieve with those in our mutual care.

I have had enough Supervisor’s over my work life to appreciate my current one for the wonderful person she is. We both employ a Servant Leadership model on a daily basis. She’s good for me, and I hope I’m good for her. I am satisfied that she knows how I feel about her because over the years I’ve made it a point to tell her face-to-face how much I appreciate her as the best I’ve had. After all, when you have someone in your work life who truly makes you a better employee and improves your skills and broadens your way of thinking, why wouldn’t you thank them and acknowledge how much you appreciate them?

Now ironically, it’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Ironic because I’m reminded to be thankful for what I’ve received at a very time I’m losing something. Yet thankful I am. You see she instructed, mentored, entrusted and believed in me while my direct Supervisor, and now she continues to mentor me and my teammates by showing us that we too have to evolve, consider other opportunities and grow.

Why not look at your own boss and tell them now while you have the opportunity just how much you appreciate them. Find something to be thankful for and let them know. Don’t wait until it’s their exit party to write, “you’ll be missed!” on their card. Telling someone how much you appreciate their support and guidance is a skill like any other and it’s just a nice thing to do for someone else.

Feeling happy for her today and really wishing her the best.

Be The One

Have you had the benefit of someone in your past who really made a positive impression on you? Someone perhaps who you admired because of how they went about their life, the actions they took, the things they believed in? And furthermore is it possible that one of the things they believed in was you?

Some people you know never get that experience. They don’t have the benefit of nurturing parents who create a caring and loving home and pass along the early lessons which are the building blocks for positive growth. No instead of placing value on inclusion, giving back, leading by example, sharing and education, they teach looking out for number one, taking what you can get and the school of hard knocks.

To be fair, most parents do believe they love their kids. Some are overwhelmed with the responsibility, lack the skills required to really be positive role models because they never had the benefit of positive ones in their own upbringing. They pass on what they know because it’s all they know, and they lack the resources to learn anything different.

By the time many young people are conscious of themselves, society at large and where they fit in, they’ve already been largely identified as having potential or not, from good homes or not, and the labels for good or not are being affixed. The future for such a young person is largely influenced by which social class they are born into, their location of birth, the opportunities they are afforded and their genetics.

One key factor as well in affecting someone’s potential is the appearance in their lives of someone who truly cares enough to provide some ethical or moral guidance; often unlooked-for and unexpected. Now it could be a teacher, a big brother or sister, a neighbour, shopkeeper, social services agency worker or, well…maybe even you or I.

In the case of a formal arrangement, there are groups who pair up young children and teens who could use some positive role models with older adults. These groups hold events, encourage interaction on a regular basis and hope that just time together will influence for good the young developing child who could use the benefit of a nurturing guide.

Formal arrangements are fine for some. Often; more often actually, we are influenced by those around us who we interact with on a more random basis. The teacher whose class we find ourselves in might be such a person. Seeing something of interest and value in a child who can’t see it themselves yet, and providing that same child with the opportunity to explore and experiment with whatever talents they might have in small doses without trampling and squashing out that gift.

What though of you and I? After all, maybe in the work we do and the lives we interact with because of it, there are opportunities each day to connect with people and possibly lay some foundation for a relationship. Maybe it starts off with a few positive interactions, casual offers of help or even just being available. Some people who have had the benefit of a mentor or guide can think back very clearly to their very first encounter with the person, while the mentor has no recollection of that initial contact whatsoever.

This difference is largely attributed to the fact that many people are so use to being passed over, talked down to – if talked to at all or being ignored, that it is a memorable event when someone engages with them who doesn’t necessarily want something in return. How significant it is then to constantly be aware of the potential you and I have each day to influence for good or not, and to look for the opportunities of engagement.

Now I myself know the faces of those whom I’ve had the benefit of positive engagement with in the past. Often I wasn’t aware enough in the time I had with them to appreciate or thank them. As we grow and age, people come in and out of our lives, sometimes reappear and sometimes leave for good. It’s not essential or required that we hunt them down years later and thank them when we realize their impact on us. In fact, many of them know instinctively at the time they are influencers of good and that’s enough for them. That’s part of their make up.

You and I though? We don’t need a formal education or a fancy job title. We don’t have to have a big pay cheque or a shiny new car. To be an influence of good, to be thought of later as ‘the one’ who believed in me when nobody else did; who saw something in me I couldn’t see myself – to be that person, could you do that?

I believe we have these chance encounters on a daily basis. Maybe it’s sitting down distraction-free and really just listening to someone with your full attention. In a digital age with technology at our fingertips, that may be shocking to some people just to have someone give them 100% of their attention.

Maybe too it’s just saying, “Sure”, when someone says, “Have you got a few minutes?” or just going about your own work with a moral compass as your guide. Who knows? Listen to others this week and look for the opportunities. See if you don’t find yourself in a situation where yes, you in fact, might just be the one.




What Exactly Can A Job Coach Do?

All over the internet you’ll come across people – and I am one of them – who will prompt you to enlist the services of a professional Job Coach. Whether you pay this person, they provide their services for free, or they are paid through another source, you really should take advantage of their expertise.

So let’s talk about exactly what that Job Coach can do for you. Knowing the benefits of having one after all, will provide you with the information you’ll need to decide whether or not this is a person who can help you or not.

First and foremost, a good Job Coach will need to speak with you and find out your skills, interests, positive and negative past experiences, education, training needs and certifications. A good Job Coach will also probe into why you’ve left jobs in the past, why you are currently unemployed, what you’ve been doing to stay relevant, ask about employment and character references, and look into your job maintenance skills specifically. After all, getting a job is one thing, keeping it is another.

This person needs to discuss with you pretty early on the topic of receiving feedback and whether you are open to listening, reflecting on the feedback and considering making changes. Because if you only want to pay someone to tell you things you want to hear and refuse to hear anything that might suggest you’ve got some changes to make, this person isn’t for you; get a dog instead. Dogs think every owner is the perfect person just the way they are.

Everything related to employment is on the table with a good job coach. This includes: your attitude, clothing, non-verbal communication, technical and job-specific upgrading, interview skills, work ethic, professionalism, your commitment, communication and interpersonal skills, listening and speaking skills, writing and vocabulary skills.

A good Job Coach takes the time to show you what someone successful in your field acts like and looks like, and then holds a mirror up for you and says, “So, what do we need to change so you become that successful person?” Far from just trying to make every successful worker identical to every other person, the Job Coach has to work with whatever you present with. Building on whatever you present with, the Job Coach has to understand what it is you want, the kind of progressive acceleration you may wish to realize, and your definition of success. You may only want a relationship that gets you an entry-level position and then terminate your relationship. You may want to retain their help for the first six months of the job until you pass probation. Up to you.

And of course when I say it’s up to you, the Job Coach may or may not have restrictions on their involvement with you too. If they work for a company, they may only be able to work with you up to a certain point and then have to terminate the relationship. This could mean when you get hired, or for a year whether you get hired or not for example. If they are self-employed, they may stay helping you until you stop paying!

A Job Coach is someone you can contact when you’ve got an issue at work and need to get the external, non-partisan advice of someone on how to best handle the problem. Maybe it’s a problem with a Supervisor, a change from what you expected the job to be, a transportation problem getting to work because of a shift change, or you’re not getting paid consistently and are thinking of quitting. Before making a knee-jerk decision, the Job Coach might be worth contacting and laying things out for them so you get some advice. A huge problem for you might be something relatively easy to address and you could not only keep the job you want, but handle it professionally to following their suggestion.

If you’ve got anxiety issues over certain questions that you just know you’ll face in an interview, a good Job Coach can help you prepare solid answers for these, and then grill you in a mock interview so when it’s asked in a real interview, you’re composed and confident in your reply. And those crazy questions that are just plain stupid and an insult to your dignity? Well, the good Job Coach can explain why companies ask those questions, what they are getting at, and how best to frame a response that answers the question and sets you apart.

So how much does a Job Coach cost? Well, the smug answer is to ask you this: “How long have you been out of work and how much income have you lost during that time trying to get a job without a Job Coach?” Seriously though, it varies. It depends on whether the person is self-employed and this is their source of income, or perhaps they work for a government agency and their services are free for you to access. It also can vary depending upon the length of time you need them, what you are asking of them and what they can deliver.

A poor question to ask is, “How much do you charge and what do you do?” A good question to ask is, “I know I need help preparing for upcoming interviews, and I’d like to get along better with my co-workers. Can you help me in these areas and what do you charge for your services?”

Working Alongside A Summer Student

One of the nicest things that happens in the summer months is the arrival of students in our office. We usually accept three or four; one of which is assigned to work on the team I’m part of. Our team is fortunate because we generally get a student who has previously in other summers worked shadowing a Caseworker and therefore has seen that side of the organization.

Here in our Employment Resource Centre, what we do is provide an opportunity for the student to experience both life in the Resource Centre itself, and assisting with facilitating workshops. If time allows, interest is there, and scheduling makes it possible, we’ve even had some students facilitate the sessions with an Employment Counsellor in the room but taken the secondary role.

What I love about the students we get is the infusion of energy and optimism. This year I really think we have had an exceptional student spend time on the team. Laurel excels in punctuality, positive attitude, willingness to help in any way possible, and she is always eager to help our clients with their various needs. And the one thing that I really appreciate in her is the initiative she shows.

Here I’ll give you two concrete examples of initiative. For one, she is proactive rather than reactive, and does not hesitate to get up off her chair behind the staff desk and go to the client and help out. This varies from the student who may have the necessary skills to assist, but sits and waits for the client to approach them and ask for help. This is a critical skill, because not everyone is comfortable approaching the desk which represents authority, and it’s easier to establish relationships with clients in their own space and comfort zone. Just walking around can get someone to say, “Hey while you’re here can you help me?”

Secondly, we have a whiteboard in the Centre where we write what’s coming up, or what room a workshop is in. What I’ve done when I’ve been in the room myself is to put up a motivational quote, or a job search suggestion etc. just to use the space and pass on information. I mentioned this board and how I’ve used it in the past to this student on one of our first days together. Guess what? Every single day Laurel looks up a job search tip on the internet or thinks one up and puts it up on the board before the clients come in…every day without exception. Now that’s initiative!

A month from now the students will be gone and with them, that infusion of fresh faces, energy, optimism and yes, those extra pair of hands and an easing of our own tight schedules. However far from appreciating them after they’ve gone, I’m happy to say that our students are very much valued and told that while with us. The result is of course they perform better.

And here’s a personal benefit that most staff don’t always recognize. Whenever someone new comes onto your team, there’s an adjustment/training period where you have to explain what it is you do, how you do it, why you do it a certain way, how you stay safe in your work, tips on making your job safer – more enjoyable, and improving the customer or client experience. In those mentoring and training moments, it’s like reviewing your own procedures. Do you for example find yourself saying, “This is how it should be done, and this is how I do it on the other hand”? If so, why are you not doing things the way you know they are expected to be done?

And the questions we get asked in return help us to pass on the thought processes behind policies, practices and decisions. And here’s an opportunity to do some shaping of a young protegé who one day might reflect back and realize how much they learned from you. Of course they’ll grow up and move on to be their own person, taking the best of what they’ve learned from all the people they’ve met and what others have shared with them too, but somewhere in there, maybe there’s a nugget or two of what you’ve passed on.

I remember with a smile a new student I had on my team years ago in another position. I was so eager to ‘get to them first’ before my co-workers passed on their poor habits and ill-chosen advice. A burned-out employee may not be the best person to assign to an aspiring student whose sponging up everything they can. However on the other hand, a burned-out employee might just rekindle some old but good behaviour because they are mentoring!

A summer student works out best I think when employees take the time to invest in the student and make the experience one they can truly take away with them. At the same time, a student can either add to the energy of a team or they can be a drain on productivity if they are entirely reactive and show little to no real enthusiasm or respect for the opportunity.

So I want to acknowledge Laurel here specifically for the truly positive impact she has had on me personally and on our team, and of course our clientele. Hopefully in return, we as a staff have had an impact on her for the good, and yes, I have offered to be a future reference should she need it!