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ESA and my experience of skills training ….. A4E style!

Updated on 15 April 2012 to incorporate excerpts from Izzy Koksal's blog:

This post combines excerpts from Louise Whittle's Harpymarx blog on her experiences with A4e training and losing her contribution-based Employment Support Allowance and from Izzy Koksal's blog on A4e training.

Welfare reform act changes mean that people on contribution-based ESA will now only receive ESA payments for a year. That change takes effect on 30 April 2012.

My experience of skills training ….. A4E style! (Louise Whittle)

I spent two days of my life listening to information, which didn’t dazzle me.

It was hum-drum, pedestrian and kinda boring - two days I will never get back in the whole scheme of life. I had gone on one of those training courses where I was sent by the Job Centre - the prime contractor being A4E (because they devised the package) and Twin Employment carried out the training. The dull as ditch water new world order of private companies being contracted and subcontracted to create dull training that neither educates nor informs.

What this process actually does inform you about is the complex nature of the contracting out of the benefits systems - the prime contractor who subcontracts with the overall employer being the state. And boy, aren’t those contracts worth millions (Jan 2012 – Twin has been named as one of the eight welfare-to-work companies who will be implementing a new £200m government programme to help families overcome barriers to employment).

Another apt description of this training would be “money for old rope”.

The course was about “Finding and Getting a Job”. The information and guidance given to people was basic - nothing new, and pretty much what we (the group of us sitting in the room) knew already: How to find suitable vacancies, CVs, telephone techniques, application forms, interviews and coping with rejection. What was being explained was nothing new, I also felt my intelligence was being insulted. Everyone in the room understood their own objectives - applying for jobs, devised own CVs, applied for jobs and certainly understood the cold depressing experience of rejection….Quite a lot!

People are sussed. They know what jobs to go for - they have written the CV, applied for jobs, attended job interviews. Hell, they have had jobs in the past. It isn’t about people not trying hard enough, making a tweak or two to their CVs, having an eureka moment in these training sessions where you can exclaim, “That’s where I’m going wrong”… No, the issue isn’t with the unemployed…. The issue is that… THERE ARE NO JOBS OUT THERE!

The trainer mentioned “recession” and “difficulties” of finding a job - but no connection was made with the fact that there are lots of people chasing too few jobs.

Another issue (of many) is the lack of understanding about diversity, equal opportunities and diversity. I think the trainer saw it more about tick boxes experiences and not truly understanding the reasons of why equal opportunities are important and that with a recession, people who experience discrimination and oppression in this society will bear the brunt of unemployment. But then this is the private sector. Much of the information and exercises given were geared towards private sector jobs - ie the so-called saviours of this recession.

If these training programmes were serious in attempts to support people, then you would make people aware of their rights. But again - I am living in fantasy land as this is just two-bit, bare minimum “help” (hindrance?) time which would be better spent searching for jobs on your own terms, without the threat of sanction being wielded.

Another thought occurred to me - are these courses/training modules accredited? Evaluated? Has there been any quality assurance, audits, peer reviews etc.? I tried searching, but couldn’t find anything. Many of these contractors are vague about the courses and certainly, you can’t find an in-depth detailed outline. Is this about corporate confidentiality? How many people forced on these training courses get jobs at the end? Has been research done on this?

The end of the training included filling out an evaluation form (with your name on top… usually they are anonymous). I expressed concerns (they possibly have my name on a file somewhere now). The course wasn’t organised properly and too much time was spent on CVs. Application processes are a much more standardised, objective and fairer process than CVs. Nor was the whole of the application process explained - ie where the data went with filling out equal opportunities forms. Personally, I think the trainer needed to be trained on equal ops and diversity… His explanation of the sexual orientation categories on equal ops forms was bizarre to say the least, referring to potential managers as “he” and asking me, for his records, what my “Christian name” was? I had to stop myself muttering, “FFS”!)

One of the final handouts was on “Keeping a Job." The bit on “dealing with your boss” can be summarised as “be subservient”. There was nothing about knowing your rights because at the end of the day, it isn’t about you. You are just a cog in a wheel. It’s about behaving yourself. There was no mention either by A4E about it being a right to join a trade union…. Funny that.

I will be interested to know what other people have experienced on these kind of courses….

Read the full post here

Your ESA is due to end...

I was expecting the letter which I received this morning. Even though I had psyched myself up for it it was still depressing.

My contribution-based ESA (Employment Support Allowance) is due to finish at the end of April. The letter is a standard template explaining the reason and how you can continue being credited with NI contributions. I may still be able to receive means-tested ESA (I doubt it very much) or JSA. Under the new Welfare Reform Act, ESA stops after one year, as apparently, we should have got jobs by then.

Therefore my meagre amount - an absolute pittance of a benefit - will stop as I should have got a job. Again, to reiterate, the most obvious point is - where are the freaking jobs? Too few jobs with lots of people scrambling after them. Jobs disappearing everyday with this recession, more unemployment…

Something like 1 million will be affected by the changes to the benefits system. These attacks will doubtlessly lead to more poverty, misery and distress.

I wonder what my own professional future holds. For the past year, I have been teaching myself short-hand, audio typing, brushing up on my German and speed typing. Along with taking photos of cute heron chicks. But still no sniff of a job (plenty of interviews… so near and yet soooh far).

Read the full post here

Following Louise on her blog harpymarx and at @harpymarx on twitter as she writes about looking for a job in the current environment.

And from Izzy's blog:

‘Izzy, nothing is impossible…’ he tells me reassuringly, he starts to read one of the many motivational quotations that are stuck all over the walls and on the desk around which the group is seated. I stare back at him blankly, horrified. Then the man next to me starts reading out loud the Oprah Winfrey that is in front of him.

This was one of many surreal moments of an A4e training course ‘finding and getting a job’ that I was coerced into attending by my job centre advisor. She had told me that it would help me with my CV, however, it seemed that the trainer of the course had much grander ideas – he was determined to change my ‘being’ which was apparently what is preventing me from getting a job – rather than, say, an economy that is heading back into recession and a saturated job market.

And so, for two days I sat with ten other unemployed people being told that we needed to ‘talk, breath, eat, shit belief in yourself’ and being compared to iPhones. The experience was like being in some sort of strange comedy sketch that just went on and on and at times bordered on feeling like a cult. Even the toilet signs were plain weird – the sign for disabled has a man with a broken leg that appears to be bandaged up with toilet roll.

Barbara Ehrenreich charts the rise of positive thinking in the US in her book Smile and Die – it seems that this is yet another US import, like workfare, that is being used to punish the poor.

Does the government honestly think that sending unemployed people to these courses, where we are bombarded with pseudo psychology about positive thinking, will actually make any difference at all to unemployment? I would argue that they are actively harmful to unemployed people who spend the time being blamed for the situation that we find ourselves in and being offered ‘solutions’ that will make no difference whatsoever, and may even reduce one’s job prospects – for example we were told ‘no need to be nice and fluffy about it, tell them straight up. ‘I am the one you’re looking for.’ Like the Matrix – ‘I am the one’ – it was only when he believed he was the one that he became the one’.

As well as being at best a waste of our time and at worst mentally distressing and incredibly manipulative, is this really good use of tax payers’ money who are paying A4e for this nonsense?

Read the rest of the post here.

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