Kevin Jennings is one of Groundwork’s Learning Mentors for the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) project in Hertfordshire, who supports those furthest from the job market. He helps his clients overcome a wide range of barriers to employment such as drug and alcohol issues, housing issues, and health problems. We recently spent some time talking to Kevin to find out more about his role.
Hi Kevin! So, what does a typical day as a BBO Learning Mentor involve?
A typical day normally involves meeting with several clients and having a chat. I try to see people in blocks, I cover the whole of Hertfordshire but I’ve got meeting hubs in different areas so I try and stay in those. I’ve got a good rapport with the job centres so we can use their facilities to look at the client’s job search.
What sort of needs do clients have?
Most of the people I deal with have very complex needs such as mental illness, learning difficulties, neurological conditions, and emotional issues. There are a lot of anxiety and self-esteem issues with people of all ages. There are definitely more issues of these sorts than I expected to see, it is much more common. I can relate to it and I certainly empathise with it.
In what ways do you typically help the job seekers find employment?
A lot of my work goes into creating a good CV that reflects transferable skills that the market might be looking for. You need to set up a generic CV and then tweak it according to a job role. So if a certain job role had certain things they were looking for, you would change the CV or covering letter slightly to reflect the role, that’s one of the main things I teach my clients.
For some of the clients, I have to support them with job searching because their IT skills are not up to scratch. I have to sit down with them and coach them on how to use the computer properly. Then if we get a reaction from an employer, I will prepare them for the interview. CV’s are the area we have to get right because without a good one they will not be able to get an interview.
What kind of barriers do you help job seekers overcome?
IT skills is a barrier that seems to be more common with the older clients, as some people might have been employed for 20 or 30 years and then get made redundant. During that time, they may have not learned any IT. There are also younger people that aren’t great with IT due to learning difficulties that may not have been discovered or diagnosed. They have sometimes just kept quiet and never learnt to read and write properly, so I can be helping them to come to terms with that.
What would be your advice to someone who has recently started on job seekers allowance?
If someone has recently lost their job then my advice would be that you’ve got to get back on the horse as soon as possible, as the longer you leave it the harder it gets.
The advice also depends on why they lost their job and what they are looking for next. I need to get to know the client first. I need to know what makes them tick and what their hopes and aspirations are before I start giving advice.
It’s very important to focus on positives when somebody is in a negative situation, especially with something like being out of work. Focusing on the positives is definitely one of my main bits of advice.
What do you think is the hardest part of trying to find employment?
It varies. There are many clients where we are able to get them an interview, but they don’t know how to prepare for one. So it’s our job to help them with that. A lot of people find interviews very difficult. They clam up and forget what they want to say, they mix up their words and the information on their CV.
But I think the hardest part of it is trying to find the right job to get the client motivated. If they are motivated, then their chances of succeeding at the interview are a lot higher. It is much harder when they are going for a job where they are compromising, as they might not come across as eager.
What are the biggest challenges for both a job seeker and a Learning Mentor?
From a mentor point of view, the initial challenge was trying to find a place to meet the clients where the clients felt safe and comfortable, and also where there was privacy so that the clients felt they could open up and talk to me once they trusted that I was the right person to talk to.
I have to teach them to job search effectively, as they don’t get taught how to job search. It is also difficult when the job seekers don’t have the qualifications that give them more of a choice for the type of job they can get. From their point of view there is a difficulty finding a job that they get pleasure from. So they end up working in difficult entry level jobs on national minimum wage, doing something that they don’t want to do.
My job is to help them find something that would be more fulfilling. It is a challenging part when you have to try and motivate people to go and work as a cleaner for example, which I can totally understand from their point of view. I often see it as a journey, they might have to start in an unappealing job but with our support they can take positive steps to where they want to be.
What are your personal highlights of your job?
Well, working for Groundwork has been brilliant as it’s all about the people. It’s a wonderful uplifting experience to know that the people you are working with really care about you. It gives you the motivation to keep going. The main highlight is getting people back into work in a job that they are happy with, that makes a difference to their life.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since becoming a Learning Mentor?
The biggest challenge is the employers and getting them to not discriminate or judge too soon. There are all sorts of policies in place from the government to try and prevent employers from doing this but unfortunately it happens all the time. The problem I face is trying to structure the CV’s and cover letters in a certain way so that they don’t experience discrimination from employers. People might have mental health issues but these issues are not going to affect the job that they do necessarily. Sadly, if you tell employers too much then they might not employ you. So you have to overcome this and it is a big barrier.
What is your greatest success story?
I worked with a chap that came to me who had just finished a Green Skills course. At the time he was very down. He is an ex mechanical engineer, he had worked for around 30 years for the same company but was then made redundant and didn’t know what to do. He had no idea how to use a computer and didn’t even have an email address, so he was struggling.
He is 62 years old and thought he would never work again. He got pretty fed up as he missed the daily interaction of going to work for many years. Eventually after talking to him on a bi-weekly basis we realised there was a possibility he could work again. By helping with his CV and applications, that took a lot of stress away from him. He seemed to cheer up more every time we met up, he knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
We managed to find him a job working for an engineering company at entry level, which was great because there was room for improvement within the company structure. He was very happy as he was offered a permanent contract after 12 weeks and he is still there today.
The programme is part of the wider Building Better Opportunities programme across the country and is funded by the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.