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.

 

 

Social Supports Work


If you never need to make use of the services provided in your community for financial assistance, mental health counselling, employment coaching, childcare, subsidized housing etc. congratulations. You’ve been fortunate enough to have your needs met both as a child and into your teens, and once in a position to make decisions about your own destiny, apparently you continue to make good ones.

For many however, the circumstances they were born into differed and the supports they had growing up which shaped their thinking and ability to make knowledgeable, positive decisions just wasn’t in place. When you sit down and listen to people tell their tales and hear first-hand their life stories, you come to appreciate the ongoing struggle that they face on not only a daily basis, but on an hourly basis.

Sometimes I admit that I sit and wonder why someone I’m listening to can’t see the situation as I do. If they’d only do what I’d do in the same situation the problem would soon be resolved; a barrier removed. Yet the choice they decide on is one which I can predict with a high degree of accuracy is not going to resolve the problem whatsoever and may even escalate things, compounding the initial challenge with additional issues. Oh if only everyone were as clever as me!

Of course I’ve become wiser over the years listening to people and taking what they say, massaging the information I receive and returning it back to them to make their own decisions and perhaps build on resolving this one issue so they can work on others. What I’m giving is perspective, an objective opinion, options, talking about foreseeable consequences and resisting the urge to tell people what to do. It’s tempting of course! Better however to ask people in the end what they plan on doing; after all, if they make a good decision it’s theirs to feel good about and if they make a decision that turns out bad, it’s their learning opportunity.

Let’s face it, sometimes, “Life” happens. You know, the things that happen to us all that we couldn’t have predicted but have to respond to in some way. Make no mistake, these things do happen to us all. So why is it then that when unexpected and unpleasant things happen, not all of us respond in healthy, productive ways? In other words, why do some people make better decisions than others when faced with the same events?

It goes back to the 2nd paragraph; right from the time we were born and well into our teens, some of us didn’t get the good parenting, mentoring, leadership, guidance, support, direction, teaching and support that is so crucial to developing the skills needed later in life when we have to make our own decisions. You might think that having such a setback might excuse someone’s poor choices as a youngster but as they move into adulthood the lack of good building blocks early in life can’t be used as excuses any longer.

The reality is that the circumstances in which many adults are in now are directly proportional to the circumstances of their upbringing. A family living in poverty – and I take the liberty of painting with a very broad brush here – has economic restrictions. A lack of financial resources limits opportunities for their children to participate in activities where children can socialize at the same level with other children from affluent or middle-class environments. They fall behind. They get less support in learning basic life skills; money management, goal setting, they find out less about education and employment opportunities which hinge on higher learning.

Now as adults, I admire the sheer resilience many of those receiving social supports have. Somehow through it all there remains for most a desire to improve not only themselves but the lives of their children. They still have hope. They may not use cover letters, those resumes might have spelling and grammatical errors, but they don’t give up or give in. They keep trying. They will only stop trying as it turns out if they keep getting told they can’t, they never will, it’s hopeless, they are a failure. Hear it often enough and they’ll believe it. So why can’t the opposite be equally true?

Hang on second…is that it? Is that a simple starting place? Is the key to surround a person who’s had nothing but poor mentoring and a lack of supports with positive, helpful, inspired and empowering people? How long would it take to see results? Months? Years? Never? I don’t believe it would be never, but it might take a long time. Then again, not everyone has the same problems, the same degree of difficulty nor the same number of issues.

Granted there will be those who despite all efforts will always need social supports and financial aid. While they need supports in place, unfortunately there is an extremely small chance of them becoming self-sufficient. There are also those at the other end who will pull themselves up with or without needing much help as they have the skills. However, in the middle are the vast majority of folks receiving some kind of support and if they get it they progress, and if they don’t they regress.

Want to make a difference? Become a mentor and/or helper or back those who are.

On A Career Journey? Learn From Tracey


On March 1 I received a message via LinkedIn from a woman who had read one of my blog posts and was touched by it enough that she reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to meet with her face-to-face to hear first-hand about my career path. On her own career journey, she respectfully asked for 20 minutes of my time over a coffee, and even then said if not, she’d understand and wished me well in my passionate endeavors.

First thing I did was look up her profile on LinkedIn and read up on who this person was and what she’d done to date. We exchanged a couple of messages and the short of it is that we agreed to meet last evening in a public café. I mean here was someone doing exactly what I and many others so often suggest doing; reach out and network, ask for 20 minutes and see what you can learn. I was impressed.

So last evening we met at our agreed time and after introducing ourselves, Tracey made good on her offer of buying me a tea. In exchange for that small investment and the cost of the gas to get to and from the meeting, what she got was more than 20 minutes. We sat there and had a great conversation for…are you ready?…..3 hours. Yep, 3 hours.

When did you last meet someone for the first time and not only found yourself happily immersed in talking but found this interest reciprocated for so long? This was special. The conversation had a nice flow back and forth, both of us sharing experiences, and how those experiences have us where we are in the present. There was something in that post of mine that prompted Tracey to feel she could benefit from meeting; perhaps gaining some insight into what she herself might do with her own career moving forward.

So I shared my working philosophy, the significant characteristics I believe are essential in this line of work, the benefits I derive, what I actually do and what I learn in return. As I spoke I observed Tracey and noted many positive qualities which we’d all do well to replicate in similar situations should we initiate such meetings ourselves.

She listened attentively, made excellent eye contact, smiled, commented on what she heard,  added her own experiences to the conversation so it was a two-way exchange. She was well dressed, came prepared with some written questions and had a pen and paper at hand. Now ironically, the questions she’d prepared didn’t play much of a part in the meeting, as our conversation went back and forth at a comfortable pace and apparently satisfied her questions.

I was interested to hear that in addition to myself, she was meeting with others too; people she had been referred to by others. She said it this meeting was the first time she’d reached out on her own to someone she didn’t know, and we laughed a bit at that. It’s prudent to be cautious when doing so of course, but we were meeting in a public space and sometimes that courage provides new perspectives; hearing from others actually doing the kind of work you might be considering yourself.

I found it interesting that she’d spent 4 years teaching abroad, has recently invested in upgrading her education in Social Sciences and has experience working as a Researcher. More significant to me was hearing her speak about her own love for helping others, having a need for innovation and creativity and how much she enjoys interacting one-to-one. Like attracts like, and so being innovative myself, connecting with others one-on-one, loving helping others and being creative I envisioned her as a professional colleague in the same line of work. Having just met, I don’t know her inside and out, but still, I started to read her and see if she had what it would take to be in this field and succeed. No question about it.

What struck me was her dilemma. What to do? Look for work in the field she just upgraded her education in or possibly pursue a career in something else. Now as I said to her, if her heart was in the work she’d just went to school for, she likely wouldn’t be sitting in a café having a conversation like the one we were having; she’d be enthusiastically out there applying for jobs. Yet here she was. That is a most telling reality; seems to me she’s looking for some work to do with passion herself; helping others in some capacity and looking to feel fulfilled. That apparently hasn’t manifested itself where she is right now.

In the end, it will be Tracey who makes up her mind as to where she goes from here and what she does next in her career journey. She’s an intelligent woman gathering information and others perspectives, and I’m very interested myself to stay in touch and hear what transpires. I’ve made myself available in any way that she might find helpful too, be it further conversations in-person or otherwise.

Now as for you and me, this is yet another example where connecting via social media is a good start, but leveraging these connections into actual conversations and truly networking is what we could do more of. 3 hours you might not get I acknowledge, but asking for 20 minutes…priceless. Happy networking!

 

Always Look For Innovation And Creativity


I bet you can think back pretty easily and find someone in your past who appeared to be going through the motions in their job. Maybe a teacher for example who appeared to be on auto-pilot for an entire year, droning on and on without much enthusiasm for the subject matter. Looking back, it’s as if that person should have gave way to someone else who would have put more energy and enthusiasm into the job.

What I believe really is happening with such people is that they’ve lost the enthusiasm to innovate and make the subject matter they are teaching interesting – both for the students in their classes and more importantly for themselves. I feel for these people because they have rich backgrounds, know their subjects very well and at one time were probably held in high regard. The problem sometimes is stagnation; doing the same thing over and over without variety, an infusion of creativity and the result is a bland message without any passion for the subject matter.

Now you and I would do well to remember those folks from our past who got into those ruts. We can and should learn not make the same errors and become like them. Today is a good example in my own life of trying something different. I am hopeful of great success in what I’m starting today.

You see, I facilitate employment-related workshops for people in receipt of social assistance. Come the 19th of January, I’ll have 12 people hand-picked by my colleagues and pre-interviewed by myself who I will be helping to land job interviews and hopefully if all goes to plan, employment offers. I’ve been doing this workshop every couple of months since early 2011. Now that is not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, and every client present as a unique person with their own set of employment barriers. But I find great personal satisfaction in shaking things up a little, as it keeps things fresh for me, and hopefully improves the experience for participants.

This time around, I will have in my class a former participant who ended up gaining employment, then lost her job and returned to school. Now with school complete, she is again job searching, and both she and her Employment Placement Consultant think it would improve her chances of success in finding a job to go through the class a second time with me. What she’d get out of an intense job searching program a second time is the disciplined environment, the focus on job searching intensely for 10 consecutive days, and the support of an Employment Counsellor throughout.

So what is new and innovative? Where’s the creative part? Ah, well what I’ve proposed to do is allow this participant a chance to actually do some co-facilitation. The course she took back in school is some advocacy on behalf of others, and so it seems like a good fit to take someone who has gone through the course before and has chosen a career which might involve some leadership and group facilitation, and build-in the opportunity for her to lead a session under guidance and supervision.

What we’ll be doing later on this morning is meeting to go over the range of topics to be covered and find out which she might be able to take on a lead facilitation role. This not only gives her the chance to lead, but it puts a new skill on her resume in the future and equally importantly, 2015 experience on her resume. But personally, it also stretches me a tad more. You see now I’m involved in mentoring someone, preparing them to take charge, sitting back a bit when it would be natural for me to jump up and facilitate. I’ll have to help her prepare herself for this added role, yet remember too that she is job searching herself and not get her too much into the facilitation so that she has time to look for work herself. It’s finding the balance.

And on top of all this, I have to be prepared to take over and lead as I’ve always done, for what if she should get called out for an interview or get hired and not be there to lead a session we had agreed she would? Yes, being prepared for such an eventuality is critically important.

It’s a delicate balance in another respect too. One has to be cognizant of confidentiality concerns. Whereas I want to know the ins and outs of all the participants and their personal barriers, I can’t divulge this to her being a client herself. Is that important? It sure makes the learning more personal and beneficial if I can tailor the experience to someone or tread cautiously when discussing areas which might otherwise trigger strong reactions.

This is just a small example of thinking creatively and adding some innovation. Hopefully by implementing this idea, I provide greater buy-in from the client herself, give her new skills and experience to add to her resume, and still convey to the class participants the information originally intended. And of course, I personally develop a little in a new way which is good for me.

So my suggestion is to look for new ways to be creative and innovative in the work you do. Be aware of the pitfall of falling into what is easy and tried and true. Sometimes what’s easy isn’t always what we should do.