Everyone Is Not Scamming


I recall when I started working in the field of Social Services being welcomed onboard and placed on a team of Caseworkers administering what was then referred to as General Welfare Assistance. In laymen’s terms, we issued funds to welfare recipients.

Now this would be back in the late 1980’s, but the words of a teammate still stick with me to this day. While I didn’t have a single person assigned to me as a Mentor or Trainer, this person took me aside on my second day and said, “Look, the first thing you have to know and remember is that everyone is scamming.” I have obviously been struck by that remark to the extent that I recall it now in 2019.

One thing I’m proud of myself looking back is that I didn’t believe it then anymore than I believe it today. However, the thing is, I could have believed it – after all this was someone working in the job I was just learning, so the assumption is that they know what they are talking about. Had I believed that person, I may have started my career in that organization with a very different mindset; one that set me up to mistrust all the people that I’d encounter; one that would have me looking for lies, disbelieving all the expressed needs that I’d hear. Had I taken that piece of advice, I might have become an embittered worker, perhaps denying all kinds of benefits to people in dire need.

My instincts back then were to actually come at things exactly the other way around. It made much more sense to me to start with the attitude that all the people I was meeting were to be believed and using the funds provided to them for the purposes issued. In the event that I became aware someone was ‘scamming’ as she referred to it, then of course our relationship would change. Many years later and in another social services organization, I did encounter a man with an undeclared bank account with $30,000.00 in it. I discovered it and he was prosecuted, found guilty and fined. There’s a process in place you see to deal with those who knowingly defraud.

Thankfully, that trial which I attended and was called to be a witness in still didn’t negatively affect my core belief in the people I had the privilege to assist as their Caseworker. And let’s make no mistake; it is a privilege. Those who are the most vulnerable in our society need good people with empathy, compassion, care and well-developed skills, experience; knowledgeable of the resources to which people can be connected. Should I find myself on the other side of the table, I sure hope to find a compassionate, understanding individual sitting across from me who believes my story and extends to me the resources I may not have the awareness of to ask for.

Now if you’ve never had any reason to avail yourself of social services, (welfare), or if your experience is limited to one or more people you know who brag about fooling the system and scamming, you might be inclined to think as this person did. Let me tell you the reality though; most people in receipt of social assistance are legitimately poor and deal with multiple barriers to financial independence. Many have underdeveloped decision-making skills primarily because they’ve had poor role models. Some have grown up in families on social assistance themselves, what we refer to a generational poverty.

Breaking away from poverty is incredibly difficult when you start off in a family that doesn’t highly value education; that may see any attempt to better yourself as a slap in the face to the rest of them. The high cost of food, housing, transportation, childcare – pretty much the core basic needs we all strive for, keep people from focusing on what many of us who have these basic needs fulfilled do, our potential. Because we go home at night to places that are safe, private, comfortable; because we put good food on the table, because we sleep in clean beds, shower at will and put on clean clothes each day, we can focus on other needs. Remove these things and suddenly our own priorities would change – and in a heartbeat.

No, I won’t ever believe or advise some new employee to look at everyone who comes to them for help as a scammer. Do some people do whatever they can, or say what they believe needs to be said in order to get some additional funds to buy better food or pay the rent they couldn’t afford otherwise? I’m know that happens.

It’s vitally important that as a society, we keep those out of power those who enact legislation and bring about changes to punitively punish the poor. On the front line, we have to trust those above us and those above them, hoping they always work and act with the best interests of our end-users in mind. That’s not always easy to see.

You know what one of the most important things you can do whenever you meet with someone who shares their story? Tell them you believe them. Build some trust. Get at the deep stuff. Then use your powers of knowledge and resources to help them help themselves. Don’t become embittered, burnt out and cold.

We’re just people helping people in the end.

This Is Not About Mark And Julie


When Mark was first approached with the offer of help finding a job over a couple of weeks, he accepted the invite, but openly expressed his doubts that I could teach him anything he wasn’t already doing on his own. You know what? I relish that honesty in people; I wasn’t insulted in the least.

Now Julie on the other hand? While her feelings were similar, her choice of words and her decision to decline the help offered was received quite differently. Not only was she sure I couldn’t do anything to help her, she said two weeks with me would be a complete waste of her valuable time.

What made Julie’s reaction and decision all the more puzzling at the time was that a highly respected colleague of mine had referred us to each other and Julie was touted as a ‘Superstar’; someone I’d absolutely be impressed with. Well she made an impression. I can’t convey in words the tone of voice she used on the phone, the emphatic disdain she communicated for the help offered.

So you should know, what both Mark and Julie were offered was to be one of twelve participants in a two-week intensive job search group. All twelve have to have: 1) A résumé 2) Basic computer skills 3) A clear employment goal 4) strong motivation to find work 5) Give me permission to give them honest feedback and 6) come dressed daily in business casual clothing ready for interviews – because they will get them. Beyond making the self-investment of time to realize their financial independence, the cost to attend? Free. In fact, I’d see they got money for clothing and grooming needs, full transportation costs to get around, funds they could use for lunch if they chose to and when they did get a job anywhere up to $500 to buy whatever they needed to get off to a good start.

Now to me, this is a pretty easy choice to make. After all, Mark, Julie and the other people I extend this offer to are all unemployed or severely underemployed; sometimes working part-time outside their field of training or volunteering. Now I know that most people are already doing a job search on their own, and that some of what people are doing already is quite good. However, if the results are not forthcoming, doesn’t it seem sensible to take advantage of free help from someone recognized as a professional helping others find work?

My accumulated years of experience has told me that when most people don’t seize such opportunities, something – or some things are going on beyond what is known. Yes, they could be secretly working and don’t want to be found out, but that’s not typically what’s going on. One of the key things I do actually is work with people and after establishing mutual respect and trust, make it a point to get at what barriers they are facing which prevent them from moving forward and realizing their goals.

Now you might not think this approach is necessary; if you help somebody write a cover letter and resume, prepare them for the interview and wish them the best, they’ll get work soon enough. That may be true of course, but if this is all you do, you’ll be puzzled and disappointed when they lose their employment in short order. Some will contact you and ask for more help, while others will feel embarrassed and not contact you as they don’t want to let you down.

You might wonder then how far I can get with twelve people in only two weeks to set up the trust required to have each person open up and share what they would otherwise keep buried. I tell you this, the faster a person opens up and the more they share, the better the counsel I can offer, and the more effective the help will be they receive. In the end, what most end up with is a job best suited to not only their education and experience, but in an environment where they’ll not only survive, but thrive. Now as an unemployed person, doesn’t this sound enticing?

The most significant factor in achieving success is wanting what you’re after with enthusiasm. If you want it – I mean REALLY want it, that inner motivation and enthusiasm will be exactly what it takes to get you through when the roadblocks pop up. Instead of throwing up your hands in exasperation, you’ll roll up your sleeves and dig deep. Make no mistake, the job seeker has to want work more than the person helping them find it.  If it’s the other way around, lasting success won’t come.

Here’s the thing about Mark; recall if you will he’s the guy who expressed doubts but accepted the offer. When we wrapped up our time together, Mark told me that he was really suspicious but it was at noon on day 1 that he realized how thankful he was that he got the offer and accepted. His is a success story in that he did find work. He ended up moving from Ontario to British Columbia, accepting a full-time job at $120,000 per year. Quite a significant change from receiving social assistance and feeling frustrated, low self-worth and getting less than $15,000 per year.

When opportunity comes your way, make a change; say yes if you typically answer with a, ‘no thank you’. There’s a lot of great help out there to seize!

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And The Hotdog Guy


“I don’t know why the City doesn’t do something about them. They just lie there all month until their welfare cheques come. Just get a job!”

The above words were spoken to me only yesterday around noon as I chatted with a hotdog vendor while out on a walk. He was referring to the 4 or 5 people who have taken to occupying a patch of grass on the fringes of a public trail adjoining a downtown mall and parking lot. I’ve noticed them too; one or two sound asleep while a few others sit and chat watching over them and out for them.

The hotdog vendor operates about 5 feet away from them, and while we were there one of the guys came over and gave him the $3.50 for a hotdog. Interesting to hear how the topic changed immediately as he took the change and threw a hotdog on the grill.

I suppose many people see panhandlers and people living rough and feel the same feelings as the hotdog guy. “Just get a job!” But it’s far from that simple. To test that out, I actually asked him when the guy buying the hotdog had walked away, “Would you hire one of them yourself?” and he said, “No way! Nada! Never! Shiftless layabouts.”

That’s probably the case with a lot of others too; they want these people working and contributing and not taking from the tax base, but at the same time they don’t want to be the employer taking them on. Why? Presumably they come with a lot of headaches; reliability, trustworthiness, mental health problems and low motivation.

To an entrepreneur like my hotdog vendor, they are the epitome of everything he’s not. He’s self-reliant, having no one else to rely on to make his income. He can’t just walk away from the job on his lunch, and if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid – no sick days or paid vacations.

Way back in my College days I recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Does that ring a bell? You know, the pyramid with basic physiological needs at the bottom and way up at the top you’d find self-actualization; things like creativity, problem-solving and these just above self-esteem. Here’s your living proof of that pyramid. The hotdog guy expects people to just get up off the grass and function at the top of that pyramid and is angry and frustrated that the system doesn’t punish them for anything less by withholding their money. I suppose he sees that money as his money via his tax contributions.

Before a person can go out and find work they’ll be able to keep, certain things have to be in place. Those basic needs of Maslow’s like food, water and sleep. When you don’t know where you’re next meal is coming from, when it’s coming, where you can sleep in safety for example, a job is hardly your first priority. I know of course that the hotdog guy would argue that the income from a job would provide food and water plus a secure place to live. This is the chicken or the egg problem though, and we’d come down on opposite sides of what needs to happen first.

Without a secure place to live, there’s no income for luxuries like a razor for a shave, and where on earth would a person secure any personal possessions when they have no safe storage place? Moving from area to area around town to avoid charges of loitering and worse, where are they to keep their personal ID? ID that’s needed for so many things we take for granted in society.

If you look up an image of Maslow’s Hierarchy, you’ll find employment and the safety it brings to a person is just above the basic physiological needs. It doesn’t seem like much is need to make it to level 2. Get your food and water, air to breathe and you’re on to stage 2. So if it’s that simple, why are people stuck forever in some cases at stage 1? That answer would take more time than I’ve got here to share.

Recall a time when you were stressed about something and couldn’t turn off your thoughts; that sleepless night worrying over something. If you’ve had a time like this that went on for a few days, your performance at work might have slipped a bit, you may have reduced your social calendar until you felt better, and while you were out of sorts, you probably did your best to work things out. Eventually, you did get out of that bad place, your mood improved and you carried on.

Now magnify that if you will. Imagine multiple problems; anxiety, low self-worth, family dysfunction, vulnerable relationships, poor resolution skills, unable to multi-task, hygiene issues, homelessness, judgement from others, financial dependence, chronic sleeplessness, no family doctor, poor social supports (being others in the same predicament), poor nutrition, lack of shelter, clean clothes, good footwear. Can you picture one person with these issues? What if that person were you? Got that image? Okay, now go get a job.

This piece is going to end without a nice solution. Societies have been struggling to resolve this very problem for thousands of years and have different models of trying to do so. Until they do, some compassion and understanding at the least would be nice if we’re unable to truly empathize at best.

Social Services Provider: Build Trust As Step 1


When you meet with someone for the first time, one of the best things you can do as an initial step is set yourself a goal of establishing trust. Yes you likely have an agenda in mind of assisting this person move from being dependent on Social Assistance or Welfare to financial independence. However, recognize that while this might be the ultimate goal, you’ve got to get at where they are now on that path to the goal; there could well be several steps they need to take before that final achievement.

This is the dilemma facing so many Caseworkers in the Social Services system; with sizable caseloads and seeing people infrequently, how does not take the limited time they have and just rush full speed at the end goal? After all, there’s administrative paperwork to complete that fulfills legislative requirements to be done which also restricts the time available to discuss employment. Given the meeting might be an hour maximum, there’s not much time to do what needs doing.

One of your first goals should be to find out what’s going on from the person themselves. You can’t do this well if you’re the one doing most of the talking, and you can’t do it at all if you’ve got this preconceived plan on what you’ll talk about and what you’ll get done. My suggestion is in setting up the meeting, invite the person to come ready to initially talk about whatever is on their mind. What would they like to talk about or ask? Even when you’re the one requesting the meeting, you can start by turning away from your computer monitor, giving them your full attention and asking.

When you immediately shift the focus to what they want to talk about, what’s important to them in that moment, you might surprise them. After all, they may be more accustomed to having past meetings driven entirely by the Caseworkers they’ve previously met with. While they might be expecting to sign some papers, talk about their job search and do it all only to remain eligible to get financial help, they really might not think you care to hear what’s going on. In fact, they could be quite suspicious; unsure if they could trust you enough to tell you their truths for fear of having their money put on hold.

Ask yourself this however; isn’t it preferable that you find out what barriers this person is really experiencing that are preventing them from focusing on their job search? As many of us know, there’s often multiple things going on. In addition to diminished self-esteem and a lack of confidence, the person might have a poor landlord their dealing with, no funds to keep their phone activated, issues of isolation from family, past or present abuse and of course transportation problems. Expecting such a person to, ‘get serious and get a job’ is going to fall on deaf ears. No that’s not true… they’ll hear that message and tell you what they know you want to hear but not really do what you believe they’ll do – they can’t!

Step 1 really is building trust. Create the climate where the person feels they can share honestly how they feel, what they cope with daily and where their priorities are and you’re on the way to truly helping. Now be cautioned, you’ll need to use your ears more than your mouth and listen to them. When you hear of their struggles and challenges, you could really be helpful by labelling the skills you hear them describe. They might tell you they’ve been emotionally and physically taken advantage of since they were a teenager, they held down a job for 4 years before losing it when they had to move to get away from their abusive partner, and since relocating to their present apartment they haven’t met any friends and their new landlord keeps putting off needed repairs. Maybe what you hear is resiliency and courage.

Resist the urge to fix the problems right away. Have you heard this before? There’s a good reason for this advice. So often in the role of Helpers we start thinking of the solutions while the person is still sharing their problems. We want to fix what’s wrong; just as we would if we were parents hearing our children tell us their struggles. But you’re not a parent in this case. You risk losing the opportunity to forge a true connection if you rush to solve the problems you hear. You also reinforce their dependency on others to solve their problems instead of letting them arrive at the solutions themselves and reinforcing their belief in their own abilities to do so in the future.

Now I don’t suggest you hold back on sharing possible solutions. Sure, share your resources and places to get the help they could use. As for a job, sure it might be their goal. However, to get AND KEEP a good job, they may need to discuss some things first that increase their chances of long-term success. Giving them the green light to focus on other things and have your support might be the best thing you can do for this person at this moment and remove the job search need entirely for a period.

This is their life journey. You and I? We’re just some of the good people they meet along the way who are privileged to be included.

 

A Glimpse Into The Social Assistance Experience


If you’ve never needed it, I doubt you’ve thought a great deal about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the Social Assistance experience. Your knowledge and assumptions are probably based on what you hear in the news when an individuals’ story is profiled, from a candidate around election time or perhaps you’ve got a friend or family member who has shared a little of their own experience.

It has been my great honour and privilege to serve and support those receiving such benefits in two Municipalities; Toronto and Durham in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario for a total of 21 years and counting. In addition to this experience, my wife has 16 or so years of experience herself working in another municipality. While my experience is extensive, I’ve never been on the receiving end myself, and I hope the choices I’ve made and continue to make into the future don’t land me in such need.

That being said, if the time comes when I’m in need, I know now that I’d be thankful the support system was there to help get me through such times until once more I became financially self-sufficient.

It can be a very demeaning and embarrassing process to apply for welfare. In Ontario Canada it’s referred to now as Ontario Works, but to many in receipt, it is and will always be welfare.  It all starts with a phone call to apply in which someone in need talks to someone in what is akin to a call centre. The conversation while initiated by someone in need is pretty much led by the receiving employee asking preset questions. Full name, address, SIN and Health numbers, rent/mortgage information, family members, assets, banking information, investments, etc.; all of which will need to be verified at an in-person meeting to determine eligibility.

I get that it can strip one of their pride and self-worth. With every document you hand over to some stranger, with every disclosure of your personal circumstances such as whether you’ve been abused or the name of your child’s father or mother and where they might be, you give up a little dignity. While most in this field are very good at getting this information in a caring compassionate way, no amount of empathy can change that stuff you’d normally keep private and confidential must be fully disclosed.

Now the agenda of the person in need is pretty clear. Almost all the time, there’s a stated desperation present or looming; rent and food. Get approved and the rent gets paid and people eat. Get denied and a missed rental payment eviction and hunger, a visit from the child welfare authorities, homelessness, begging and worse, having to steal to survive.

If as my piece began you’ve not had to experience social assistance, maybe you’re completely unaware of the community resources you’ll have to tap into. Where would you find the kitchens, thrift stores, donation centers, etc.? If you needed your ID replaced to get many of these benefits, would you know where to go and remember it’s likely you’d have to walk or take public transportation; taking your child or children with you everywhere if you were a sole support parent without a trusted, reliable childcare provider.

Now meeting with us in Social Services for many is a good experience in the end. However, in those first few meetings, the anxiety and stress of anticipating what that experience will be like is often influenced by past meetings and stereotypes of government workers. Just as you’ve no doubt got frustrated with being put on hold, re-directed, not getting through to the person you need to talk to etc. when calling for help yourself, the experience can be like that for some. What increases the importance of getting through is the immense pressure and stress of failing to get the help asked for.

Look there are a lot of really good, compassionate and empathetic people in the business of providing social assistance recipients with support. While these are good qualities, what’s really needed in addition are people both knowledgeable and able to share that same knowledge of resources needed in any one person’s situation. Whether it’s a benefit we can issue ourselves or a benefit another service provider offers, connecting people with what they need is imperative.

On the receiving end, people want to be heard, respected, treated with dignity and foremost be a person; not a case, not a number and no, not a client. Most aren’t in receipt by choice. On top of their financial needs, many have multiple barriers to employment including gaps in work history, mental health challenges, anxiety, low self-esteem. You’d be surprised though to find highly educated professionals in receipt of help; people with their Masters and Degrees perhaps. Yes, really.

Hopefully, supporting people in need is done in the way we would wish to be treated were it us on the other side of the table or end of the phone. “Do onto others…” And while we may have our hopes and plans for people, it’s critical to listen and figure out where someone is at any given moment. I mean, are they ready to job search? Would job searching just set them up to fail at the moment? Do they need stable housing first, addiction intervention, counselling, or maybe to volunteer to rebuild a shattered confidence?

Just the briefest glimpse into this experience.

She Might Be Someone You Know


There’s a lot to unpack, note and commend in her story.

Here’s the quick summary, name withheld. Woman leaves Lebanon with her husband, leaving behind 5 siblings along with her mom and dad; a close and loving family. Arriving in Canada, she is pregnant and speaks two languages, neither one of which is English. She knows no one beyond her husband in this new land, and soon finds that things are changing.

Here in Canada, she not only knows no one, she’s not ‘allowed’ to meet new people; and whereas in Lebanon she held a job as a Childcare provider complete with a College Diploma, here it’s pointless because she’s entirely supported by her husband. After the child turns two, he walks out, leaving her with no income, no friends, no job, no idea of where she stands financially, and no prospects.

She is well aware of other women who like her ended up being divorced here in Canada and in each case they had returned to their families in Lebanon. Her choice however has been to stay in Canada to give her son – now 13 years-old with a better future; putting his future ahead of her own wish to be reunited with her family.

So that’s it in a nutshell. What I learned beyond this bare-bones story is that in the 11 years since the husband walked out, she took the initiative to enrol in English as a Second Language classes, and now has full command of a third language. She’s also visited and continuously makes use of a Welcome Centre to learn about programs and services to improve her situation. Her son is still completely in the dark about their status as Social Assistance recipients. She doesn’t want to burden him with that knowledge and have him feel shame and embarrassment. When I heard her tell me this I wanted to tell her that she should trust his judgement and he might just surprise her with his understanding and respect for her in spite of being  on social assistance, but I kept silent as that’s not call to say so.

I then asked her a question which brought her to a full stop and tears to her eyes – although it was not my intention to do so. I asked, “So what do you do that’s just for you, not your son – just you?” Not surprisingly she said, “Nothing.” Now why you might wonder is this not a surprise to me? Well, it’s been my experience that many women who have been isolated by their partners are entirely devoted to their children; their children being everything that they live for. There is often nothing they do for themselves because any extra income goes to extra-curricular activities that the children are involved with. Sure enough, soccer and buying the things that teenage boys want and/or need to be socially ‘in’ consumes these things. Reading for pleasure isn’t something she does but she reads a lot of legal papers, government memo’s, social assistance letters etc. – and all of these she hides from the eyes of her son lest he pause to wonder if they are on welfare.

For a second time in our conversation I brought her to tears. You’d think I was going out of my way to do so! Such was not the case, but it happened. After hearing her story I said how much I admired what she’d accomplished on her own, getting established independent of her ex-husband, raising her child, committing to living in a country when all her family was back in Lebanon, learning about various services and what brought us together, her decision to attend an interview preparation workshop. Of course what I said that really got the tears flowing was that I wasn’t just proud of what she’d accomplished but that I was proud of her.

So why the tears? Years and years of being put down and told she’d never amount to anything; that she wasn’t important and no one would ever care whether she’d live or die hammered home low self-esteem. This you see is why I believe she doesn’t do anything just for herself – something that people with a healthy self-image regularly do. If you’ve been told you’re nothing and you’ve come to believe you’re nothing, then you do nothing that’s just for you; you don’t deserve it. Nonsense of course, but it takes a long, long time for some people to alter that belief system.

Apparently I am the first person in all the time she’s been in Canada who has said good things about her. That I felt, extremely humbling and even more a sad state of affairs. Mid-forties, in good shape, excellent attention to her appearance, a beautiful smile and equally good manners. A dedicated parent putting her child’s needs and happiness above her own.

Here’s another thing. Does she lay her burden on her parents back home in Lebanon with crying and how difficult life has been and continues to be? No. In fact, she’s no one to share with, no intimate friend to vent or confide in; all this bottled in and heaven only knows what else.

So the point? She’s not the only one. Be kind, be considerate, be above all compassionate and non-judgemental. You can bet that this woman’s story is playing out everywhere not just one isolated person I came into contact with.

The Benefits Of Work


“Why would I want to work?”

I had a man ask me this question yesterday. I couldn’t tell if he was be sarcastic, flippant or genuinely asking for a couple of seconds. However I tried, the usual visual cues weren’t there for me to pick up on. He didn’t have a wry smile, wasn’t folding his arms across his chest in defiance or really give anything away; so I took him as seriously asking and found out shortly I’d been right to do so.

After I gave him some of the many benefits and reasons people work, I started to think that there had to be others like him. So, this is for the ones who really don’t understand why people would choose to work. Please add your own reasons in the comments section.

  1. Purpose. Waking up in the morning feeling you’re contributing to something, or making the lives of others better in the work that you do gives one’s life meaning. Without purpose, a person can feel aimless, lost, lacking direction. Waking up and wondering what you’ll do with your day is nice occasionally, but as a fixed routine can lose its appeal quickly.
  2. Contribution. This can be a hard sell to someone who feels that the world owes them a living. Contributing your skills, experience, knowledge, wisdom, failures and successes with others actually gives back in many ways. If you don’t like the current way things are done in some area, get involved and work to change what you see could be better. Change from within and not from a distance is very effective.
  3. Learn. When you learn you grow, when you’re ripe you rot. Learning doesn’t just happen the first few days and weeks on a job. Some of the smartest people I know realize that learning happens every day in some way. Whether it’s in some small way or a huge change in how one does their work, learning never stops. When you’re not working, this can be impossible for some to grasp.
  4. Responsibility. Being responsible isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, this accountability can be extremely beneficial. A worker is but a part of a larger group of workers, and mutual responsibility means showing up on time with regularity and punctuality. It means being depended upon and counted on to add to an organization and in so doing lighten the load of others; bring your gifts to projects and make things better.
  5. Income. Not number one; but yes work provides income. Income alone isn’t what it’s about but rather, what income allows you to buy or invest in. Living where you choose, in accommodations that don’t just protect you from the elements but enhance your appreciation of the world around you. Money gives you the means to travel, eat better, visit those people and places that add to the richness of your life.
  6. Good mental health. Work is good for your brain; your mental stability; your intellect and what it wards off. Work and you stave off some anxiety and depression. You get more control of yourself and the world you experience. As you work, your brain cells get stimulated, you enrich your days and have things to talk about at day’s end that you’ve accomplished, struggled with, experienced and been a part of.
  7. Self-Confidence. Work and you’ll feel good about yourself. There’s that first pay cheque, the moments when the boss tells you you’re doing well, you complete something without having to be shown how, you create a product or give great service. “I can do this!” is a great feeling.
  8. Inclusion. You ward off isolation when you work because you’re part of a company, you work on a team, you interact better with those around you; feel like you’re a part of a group and yes, you are needed and appreciated. Whether a second family or not, your co-workers can become people you actually care about, and yes, they’ll care about you too.
  9. Self-control. When you work, you decide how much to spend and how much to save. You decide what to buy and what to save up for too. When someone far away is ill or you just want to see your family who live far away you have the means to get there. Save some each pay and you’ll have the money to get by if there’s a downturn in the economy, you get laid off, or you want to change jobs.
  10. Physical health. Work means physical exertion and movement. Not only is that good, but if you get ill, you’ll either have a health plan through an employer or have the money to invest privately in health care if you choose. Now you have the money to eat healthier foods, eat regularly and eat guilt-free.

There are many reasons to work and these 10 aren’t the entire list. Yes, there are people who don’t work and depend entirely on the generosity of others to live. They work in a very real sense too of course; some begging for handouts, others collecting beer cans and bottles to exchange. Some live on social assistance, dependent entirely on governments and taxpayers to decide their income. It is possible to go through one’s life and not ‘work’ in the traditional sense.

Work doesn’t mean you’re miserable for 7 or more hours a day. It is for many a rich, rewarding use of their time they appreciate.

Fed Up Being Unemployed


Okay let’s start with the premise that you’re fed up. I mean you’ve grown so frustrated with trying to get a meaningful job that pays well that it’s left you confused on how to succeed and bitter. It seems no matter what you tried in the past, no matter who you applied to for a job, in the end the result was the same; you’re not wanted.

Seems to me that hearing the message, “Just keep trying” rings kind of hollow. How many times can you be expected to keep at it hoping for a better result? So you give up. Then after having packed it in you start feeling that it’s worth it to try again. Why? Usually it’s because the life you’ve got at the moment isn’t the one you want for yourself; you deserve better and you’re motivated to try again until you ultimately succeed or you give up once more.

Maybe you’d be open to hearing a few words of encouragement? If so, I’d like to offer you some. I suppose the first thing I’d like to say is that it is a good sign that you aren’t content to keep living the way your are now. That feeling that you want more is the seed of Hope that’s buried deep in your core. ‘Hope’ my dear reader, is at the core of so many people’s thoughts who push off from some known shore for the great journey’s they embark on. Hope is what causes them to leave the safe and known for the uncertainty and yet-to-be discovered.

Now keeping with that image of some adventurer embarking on a journey; the early stages of a journey involve traveling through the norm. The sailor who sets to some unknown land far away first has to get beyond the waters that are well chartered. The hiker deviating from some known path had to first hike what they knew to get to the point where they chose something previously passed up on.

It’s the same with you and your job search. You rely on what you know when it comes to looking for a job until you come across some better way of going about it. This makes absolute sense. However, just like the hiker and the explorer decided at some point to do something they’d never before done, it also stands to reason that you should do something you’ve never done if you expect the results to be more satisfying than you’ve experienced. Going about looking for a meaningful job the way you’ve gone about it in the past is likely to end with similar results; results you don’t want to experience again.

It’s important to realize that you’re not at fault or to blame for going about things the way you are; even if you later realize a number of mistakes you are made. After all, until someone introduces a better way, a more effective way of getting you where you want to be, the only way you’d have succeeded entirely on your own is through trial and error, until you lucked out on whatever works. That seems pretty high risk and could take a long time.

So it seems like you have a choice to make; do things the way you’ve always done them assuming this is how everybody goes about looking for work or, open yourself up to getting help and direction from someone who knows a better way. That ‘better way’ by the way, is likely going to involve some effort on your part in two ways. One, you have to pause long enough to be open to learning the new way and two you have to be willing to give it a shot and carry out what you learn.

Keep something in mind will you? When you’re learning something new you will likely feel the urge to just get going and apply, apply, apply! But throwing your résumé around everywhere hasn’t worked to this point has it? Pausing to learn, being taught something new isn’t  everybody’s idea of a good time. You might be the kind of person that finds sitting down and being taught how to go about looking for work in 2017 is really pushing your limits. Do it anyhow. Seriously; you want a different result don’t you? Sure you do. This is the price you pay for success.

Look you deserve a decent job. You probably aren’t going to end up running some major corporation or discovering the cure for Cancer. That you want to improve your lot in Life however, do something you find personally meaningful and make a future that’s better than the present is commendable. And if I may add, you’re worth it; we all are.

You should seriously think then about reaching out for help. Where to start though? Check in with just about any Social Services organization in your local community. If you’re not in the right place, a few phone calls will likely get you pointed in the right direction. Best news is that the help you need is likely free. Sit down with open ears and a good attitude and do something you haven’t done yet; give yourself over to their expertise. If it works, great. If the chemistry doesn’t work, try someone else.

When you decide to improve things and then act, you’re already becoming the successful person you envision.

 

 

My Job Is A Privilige


I am an Employment Counsellor employed with a large municipal organization in the Greater Toronto area of Canada. While I provide help and support to people on people from all walks of life around the globe on my own time; through this employer all those I assist working with the Municipality are exclusively on social assistance.

Now I have to tell you that I consider myself to be an upbeat, positive individual and I do my very best to work with enthusiasm front and center at all times. Some of my personal friends and acquaintances wonder that the job must by its nature be depressing at times, constantly working with this population. I tell them they couldn’t be further from the truth.

It is a true privilege I find myself in to be in this position; to be looked to for support and guidance regarding looking for employment. However, what makes this particular job unique and what new employees soon learn upon taking the job, is that dealing with unemployment is only a fraction of what the work entails.

One of the things I truly love and have come to value highly are the back stories that each individual shares with me when I work alongside them. Now in some organizations the scheduling of appointments is so tight that all an Employment Counsellor can really do is focus on building a resume and any talk outside of past work histories is severely limited. Success is measured by how many people you saw in a day, a week and a month. It might look good on a stats sheet, but these are real people with fascinating backgrounds; backgrounds that are currently impacting on their ability to get and keep employment.

I am so grateful that I came to work in this capacity later rather than earlier in life. By the time I landed in my current role, I’d already worked in Retail, Recreation, Social Services and the Non-Profit sector. I’d been an Executive Director, on the front line and in positions of authority. I been promoted, let go, resigned and worked in both jobs and careers over my prior work history. All of these gave me the gifts of diverse perspective, empathy, understanding, appreciation and resiliency.

Where I am now is indeed a privilege and I’ve found a way to draw constantly on my own past experiences for the benefit of others who hope to move forward. Some people say you should never look back if you want to move forward, but I know that it’s only when you look back that you see others who could use the hand you extend as help moving forward too. Now I’ll never be financially rich in the role I’ve taken but I didn’t set out in life to accumulate the biggest bank account balance I could in the first place.  I am enriched on a regular basis and thankful to be where I am. With respect to finances though, I must say I’m not wanting.

It’s truly an honour and a rare privilege when other people come into your life and trust in you enough to open up and share some of themselves. I have found that the level to which they confide in me requires a corresponding amount of empathy, honest concern and interest in them; not as a client but as a person; a fellow human being. Often the stories I hear are dark, fraught with pain, abuse, loss, trust broken and betrayal. These are the real experiences of real people and therefore their realities however. Maybe these people have never had someone in a position of authority actually care to listen to them with only the best of intentions in mind; a person who isn’t out to take what they share and manipulate it for personal gain. Who knows?

I tell you this however; these are remarkable people who have resiliency of their own. As fragile as they might be in some respects, they are also people of incredible fortitude and determination in others. They are good and decent people deserving of chances; be they second, third or fourth ones. They are skilled, qualified and if given a chance to demonstrate their value with the right employer will prove themselves to be among an organizations finest.

And they’re up against it aren’t they? It’s not just a lack of employment they’re working to change. In addition to finding a job, they often have to overcome abusive, traumatic relationships with controlling partners and ex-partners. Their housing is often substandard, their reliance on food banks well documented, their abilities to live within the constraints of a fixed poverty income tried and tested. Along with all of this they must overcome a stigma of being a social assistance recipient.

Would you be surprised to hear that many are highly educated? You’d be surprised to learn a lot of things as am I. How I learn is really by putting myself in position to listen without judgement, exercise some patience and empathize; create the opportunity for them to take or pass up to share to the level of their individual comfort. This helps me often get to real barriers of course that I see in the way of moving forward with employment, but I feel it really helps them as a person first.

This may not be your dream job but I’m grateful it’s mine.

 

 

 

 

Poverty And Parenthood


Many of the people I assist looking for employment have children and of those who do, almost all tell me how much those children mean to them. Most of the time they say, “My kids are everything” or “My kids are number one.”

What’s at the heart of why they are telling me this when we are discussing employment has everything to do with their prioritizing skills. What they are inferring is that factors such as work location, hours, pay and benefits will often outweigh other factors like job satisfaction, chances for advancement, even what the job actually involves in some cases. They are also saying, “Just like you, I’ve got my priorities in the right order”, because make no mistake, it’s important for them to align themselves with those they respect and who they see as able to help them. They know we are different in so many ways, but here we can be equals.

They genuinely want their children to have a successful life; which really means a better life with better opportunities that they themselves have had in the past and continue to have moving forward. That’s a pretty understandable hope. Whether it’s getting out of poverty, then moving beyond the ranks of the working poor or having better quality personal relationships, they generally want their kids to be better off in life.

Now even if you’ve never been in poverty yourself, you can I trust empathize with the parent(s) who have very little if anything in the way of surplus income; especially for those in receipt of government social assistance. By the time a person covers their rent and buys food there isn’t much left over. So you might assume the obvious thing to do would be put your child in care and get a job so they have more money to improve their children’s lives. That as it turns out isn’t how they always see it. Your forgiven and perhaps guilty of looking at this from a middle class perspective and assuming because that would be your plan if you were in that situation that it’s therefore logical that it should be their plan too.

Take some of their common realities into consideration. Not true for all of course, but there are some observable behaviours which can be explained completely by circumstances in which many find themselves. For starters, poverty is often generational. Those in receipt of social assistance may have been raised in families where poverty was the norm; their parents lacked financial literacy, discipline was harsh, parenting skills in short supply, education was undervalued and ambition was viewed as showing up your elders.

Now this isn’t the reality for everyone on social assistance but there are many who if reading this would say I was accurately describing their own histories. Now in the present day, this person who is a product of their upbringing lacks the benefits that come with good supportive parenting, encouragement in school. There’s no, “you can be anything you want to be” or, “follow your dreams” mantra giving them every hope of success in life.

So what happens? The reality for many is that despite their best intentions, those early years of growth and personal development have stunted their chances. Food might not have been the healthiest or available as often. There were limited opportunities to visit museums, art galleries, experience fine dining and theatrical productions. Socializing and vocabularies were limited and as a result they saw themselves as different. Some friends weren’t  allowed to visit where they lived, their clothes were hand-me-downs and never on the cusp of cool. In short, for reasons beyond their personal control, they were impoverished in ways that went far beyond money alone.

Okay so now as an adult, they have the best of intentions. Like you and I no matter where we are in life, they only know what they’ve experienced to date and hence despite their very best of intentions, may repeat many bad decisions; well, decisions you and I might look at objectively and consider bad decisions. No wonder than we might scoff and say, “Well if they’d only have some common sense” or “Well if they’d only do what I’d do”. But how can they make good decisions without the benefit of the tools and awareness that’s required to base those good decisions on?

So it comes as no surprise for example when they do find themselves with some additional funds that they quickly spend the money on their children seeking some measure of immediate gratification. Maybe it’s off to a fast-food restaurant which brings them and their children immediate if short-term happiness; a chance to do something beyond the norm and special.

You and I might have hoped they’d save that money and by clothes for job interviews, a bus pass to get around and job search, or maybe just save it for the child’s future education. That’s middle class thinking again.

Children are their number one priorities and their hearts are in the right place. Their intentions are understandable and should be applauded. What’s lacking for many is information, supportive learning, respectful role models, helping hands and non-judgemental interventions which meet them wherever they are in terms of their capacity to learn and their willingness to do so.

In many respects we are all not so different. Maybe something to think about today.