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Is this the end for Work Experience?

February 15 2016

On Friday, we have received confirmation from Interserve - the agency appointed by the DWP, that the Mandatory Work Activity Programme is to finish at the end of March. The “work for your benefits” scheme may be seen by the Government to have failed, however, this closure news is hugely disappointing to Ucan Recycling as over the last 18 months we have worked with the agency as a host employer offering 4 week work experience placements to over 35 long term unemployed people. 

The closure news comes a day after we offered Kawa Said (pictured) a permanent role as Warehouse Operative having completed his 4 week placement with us. During this time, he proved that he is dedicated to working hard and committed to finding a job and there is no better demonstration of this than working 30 hours a week, in wintery conditions for free.

.kawa saidKAWA SAID, our newest recruit who came to us via the Mandatory Work Experience programme

In our society we tend to classify the unemployed in one bracket and label them as lazy, work shy parasites. Our experience working with people on the scheme is that this paints an inaccurate picture as beyond the statistics there are a number of reasons why they have may found themselves in this position. Yes, there are people dumped on this scheme that have no desire, nor inclination to get off their arses or the benefit system and that is very apparent when they walk through our doors.  They don’t last very long, give up and go home. Simply, that is there loss.

But, I would say that the vast majority fit into one of two very different moulds. Firstly, there is the set that have been out of work due to an unfortunate circumstance and the often lengthy gap on their CV has put prospective employers off and so the cycle begins.  Then there is the other set where they don’t think they have anything to offer an employer because they haven’t been given the chance to shine before. I am not going to go in to the sociological reasons behind this too much as I am digressing from the point of this post.

What we are seeing again and again, is that, whatever their background, the guys that have mentally committed to this programme all lack job confidence. They are not at ease in the workplace, they believe they don’t have transferrable skills, and this negativity breeds negativity and sends them on the downward spiral.  I hear it all the time from the lads that we work with that they can’t get a job because they don’t have any experience. And we all know that – no previous job + lack of experience = no job offers

This is why Mandatory Work Activity for us has been a really positive experience, we have been able to offer paid employment to 5 people who have come through this and other work experience programmes. It is fair to say that we see it as a valuable recruitment tool, having a warehouse that requires a fairly low skilled entry level workforce we are able to train people quickly and during the 4 weeks we see them start to believe that they have a great deal to offer an employer which in turn gives them the sense of purpose and desire to get out of bed in the morning.

This sounds unintentionally patronising  but the facts speak for themselves. You are much more likely to get a job if you are in a job and often a couple of weeks into the placement, lads go for interviews and then don’t come back to us because they have been offered the job because they are working.  We received a call from a guy that had been with us for 8 weeks, he was buzzing as he had been offered a trainee supervisor role at The Co-operative Supermarket and thanked Ucan for giving him the confidence to even apply for the job. As a lad with mental health issues, he had written himself off before he came to us and we are proud to have helped him and other lads like him to go on to achieve personal success and employment.

Cynics reading this may still be thinking that we have simply taken advantage of the "free labour" offered by the Government. However our story is far different. As a social enterprise, our ethos has always been to provide more jobs to local people but we can only employ as many as the company can sustain and with market conditions as they are, growth is steady but not as rapid as we have enjoyed in the companies infancy. Therefore this scheme is perfect for companies like ours as we are able to bolster our existing team in busier periods and holiday cover.

So, to conclude, we are disappointed that come April there won’t be regular influx of new faces at Ucan Recycling. We will instead try to advertise our own work experience programme whilst we await the Governments decision  to launch the new “health and work” programme which we hope we can still offer this valuable experience to local people.