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‘Let down by the system’: Barriers to work after long-term unemployment

22 Jul, 2023

In this blog Changing Realities participant Dotty G, a lone parent of two children, shares her attempts to re-enter the workforce and sheds light on the challenges of long-term unemployment and the industry-specific gaps in skills and training that she encountered along the way.

After having been out of paid work for over 10 years to raise my family, but having before then, graduated from University with a Masters degree in Human Resource (HR) Management I feel as though I have been let down by the system and some of it’s institutions.

The institutions in question are, the education system, the DWP and also potential employers. Whenever, I have been selected for an interview for a HR position, the feedback that I often get from employers is often that the successful candidate’s HR skills were more recent than mine or that they had slightly more practical (rather than academic) experience of the role than what I have or demonstrated. I wonder whether jobs in many other sectors operate in the same way in terms of recruitment? And if so, this seems most unfair to the potential candidate, because, in my opinion, often the Job Centre/DWP and the education system, do not teach you nor provide people with Industry specific courses in order to fill in these gaps which Industry needs, as does the potential candidate (who ultimately wants the job).

Following on from this, and judging from my own experience, the work I did on my HR Masters course was mainly theory based. The learning was based on remembering what authors said about a particular aspect of HR that we were studying, but none of the course was practical.Hence, it failed to teach us about what the real world of working in a HR environment was like, which is that you could be assigned with a range of tasks such as: administering payroll, dealing with employee relations (such as disciplinaries and grievances), dealing with agency staff, and maintaining and updating databases, to name a few.

Having engaged in voluntary work within HR departments for two distinct companies while in the process of applying for jobs, I understand that every HR industry is different, and hence every organisation will have their own way of dealing with issues. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that the framework for all of the above mentioned categories remain the same because it is part of the law and yet we were not taught any of this important information on my course. In fact, I think that this information is so important, that it supersedes the theoretical information that I learned.

Moreover, during the 10 years that I spent raising my children, I did as many Government/free courses that I could in order to keep my skills updated the best way available. But, with the greatest respect, I found them either too general or not long enough (usually just two weeks long) to get into the real crux of the subject at hand. To add to this, being on a tight budget of benefits, and raising 2 children alone, I would love to have perhaps done some more HR specific courses, to add to my CV, but they were always too expensive to do and not offered by the Jobcentre, so it was a bit of a catch-22.

I’m probably not the only person on Universal Credit who is having this experience, and I feel slightly more fortunate than others, because I did have some (albeit short term) experience of working within a busy HR environment. However, I fear very much for those who don’t even have this, for example, those who have been long-term unemployed, or even people who have recently graduated and don’t even have the work experience nor the contacts to provide them with the work experience that employers are looking for.

In conclusion, I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, especially by the Government, who are constantly pushing people to find work, but are not always looking or addressing some of the underlying barriers (or causes of them) that unemployed people such as myself, and people who have finished their courses of education are facing, through no fault of our own.

I also think that employers, need to be a little more lenient with potential candidates (like those who have been long-term unemployed, or who have recently graduated when considering them for positions in certain industries. This is especially the case if they haven’t got all the basics because of the barriers they face, so as to ensure that they are at least being given a chance to get their ‘foot in the door’. Otherwise, I fear that if this continues, the unemployment statistics will increase, and there will be no one left to do these jobs in the future, because those who are in the jobs now would have retired, and the other groups of people who would like to apply for their jobs, are simply not being given a chance.

Written by

Dotty G

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