Jobsearch: The Gatherings

I’ve now moved on to ‘The Gatherings’ – essentially a silly name for some more group meetings at which the Jobcentre staff will impart wisdom to us in the guise of a Candid Camera skit. Honestly, I was beginning to wonder if the initial session would be revealed as a practical joke as the Jobcentre had surpassed itself in its silliness. Sadly, it seems they were entirely serious.

Between the half-hour meeting and the time taken to get there and home, I’d taken an hour out of my jobsearch in order to be told how to create an Universal Jobsearch account (something I’d had for years) and be told that the course they’d just sent us on was wrong to tell us we should adapt our CV to suit each job we apply for. Which not only makes a mockery of the claims that said course would supply us with amazing insights into the job application process (already a bad joke as it was) but calls into question why they paid to send us on it if they’re just going to tell us to ignore what they told us.

Even had I not been using Universal Jobmatch for years, the session was useless as it merely covered the same ground as the group meeting I attended after returning to the Jobcentre from Ingeus and the handout could easily have been passed on by our advisers rather than requiring two members of staff to present it – one who was silent throughout.


Session Two

The second session didn’t start so well. I was on time, but was told to wait in the wrong place, resulting in my missing the 2pm session and having to join the 2.30 session instead – deleting a further half-hour from my jobsearch. I must add, however, that I did receive an apology for being made to miss my session – quite possibly a first from a Jobcentre employee!

So, what topic were we studying? CVs. Yes, I spent just under half-an-hour listening to a staff member (just the one, this time) read from a handout about CVs. Again, why they couldn’t just hand out the handout, I’ve no idea. Besides being aimed at idiots, whereas I’ve got a good CV that stands a chance of landing me an interview if I’m ever allowed to actually apply for jobs, it seems ridiculous to cover the topic again when we’ve just covered it on the course we were on. It really seems an utter waste of time and money to be duplicating effort. And, given that the first session had told us to ignore advice about adapting CVs to each job we apply for, today we were once more told to do just that. You’d think they could at least make sure their advice was coherent…


Session Three

More CV waffle. There are still only three of us in the group and I really don’t need to be here. If only they would expend their time and energy on providing the specific help that one of my fellow attendees needs. They have a problem with computers – a case of not ‘clicking’ with the necessary mindset – and need targeted help to enable them to carry out the required tasks (such as using Universal Jobsearch). All requests for help are met with rebuffs (the onus is on us, as they love to keep reminding us, and little help or advice is forthcoming, even for those who need assistance to make the initial steps towards self-sufficiency) and frequent detours into how important it is to use computers in the digital age and how not doing so will see benefit payments stopped –  hardly a useful approach for someone who is already anxious and confused. That, of course, is if they even answer the actual question that was asked.

I find myself having to translate what they’ve said out of the garbled and meandering language they’ve used into clear English and then offer practical suggestions as to how to comply with the demands made of them. Everything that the advisers running the course should have done.

Having worked in education and in assisting jobseekers with learning difficulties into work, as well as having been unemployed more than once, seeing the Jobcentre and other providers at their best and worst, I think I am qualified in saying that the provision is abysmal.


Session Four

Interview skills. We’ve now absorbed the other group for this gripping session. Apparently, the person who’s supposed to tell us all about going to interview is on holiday and has left no notes on the topic, so the chap taking it has spent ten minutes googling interview skills. In an indictment of the course so far, the scribbled notes he’s produced from those ten minutes are far superior to anything else we’ve been told. Still substandard, but a definite improvement.

We’re told we’re not in tomorrow, Friday, because he has no idea what topic he is supposed to be covering. It’s nice to be guaranteed a full afternoon to jobsearch, but it doesn’t say much about the quality of the planning. Apparently we’re back on Monday for a further week’s worth, although details are sketchy. He even had to ask if we were on the first or second week of the Gatherings. If Ian Duncan Smith really wants to sort out the unemployment statistics, he could stop wasting his time on the botched Universal Credit and just overhaul the Jobcentres to ensure efficiency.


Week Two

Session Five

More on applications and interview skills, which, as per usual, we’d covered on the course we’ve just done and I’ve done several times before. Nothing tomorrow as they’re doubling up the work for Wednesday, as there’s so little of it; but we do have homework to further waste our time – filling in a pretend application form.

It’s mentioned that we’ve already covered this on the course.

“So, you should be extra confident,” the tutor says.

“Or, will be extra frustrated,” I respond, irked.

She immediately asks how long I’ve been unemployed and says, “Well, obviously whatever you’re doing isn’t working.” (Well, certainly, in a literal sense that’s true – what I’m doing is sitting in a room wasting my time when I could be jobsearching. In the sense she means it, well, I’m doing exactly what they’re rehashing, so her words must be an indictment of these ‘Gatherings’.)

I’ll have to leave out the rest of what she said as I made a formal complaint about it. Suffice to say, it reflected the non-existent levels of professionalism we’ve come to expect from the Jobcentre. I can honestly say I have absolutely no confidence or trust  in the Jobcentre at all.


Session Six

Today we moved from useless rehashing to just plain useless. Now, I don’t find mock interviews at all useful as they lack the adrenalin and import of the real thing, so I wasn’t going to be too satisfied with today, but, oh dear… We have to interview each other (half today, half tomorrow, in order to string this farce out). So, it’s not only mock interviews, it’s mock interviews mostly by people who are nervous and don’t really know what they’re doing. Then, to make the exercise especially futile, rather than giving the interviewees feedback (rather the point of the exercise, one would imagine) it’s the interviewers who are asked how they felt about it and are given the feedback! Ridiculous!

The only potential explanation I can think of is that this was meant more as a confidence building exercise than an attempt to improve our interview skills. But, if that’s the case, it’s a waste a time as not only do I feel as if my jobsearch momentum has been well and truly halted, but one of my fellow attendees (who was also on the course) has had their confidence trashed over the course of the Gatherings by the constant threats of having our money stopped to the extent they were on the verge of tears as we waited to go in. Not that I could blame them, given my agitated I was feeling.

Surely the aim of the exercise is to make sure we’re ready for work, not grind us down so that we lose our confidence, lose our momentum and are on the verge of nervous breakdowns? Unless the real aim is just that, in order to save money by stopping our benefits the moment we fail to meet expectations?


Session Seven

Those who were interviewed yesterday return to do the interviewing. No more helpful, but at least comments are directed at the interviewee today. The session barely makes it to twenty minutes, and a good chunk of that time is devoted to the staff member pausing to tell someone on work experience what we’ve been doing. A waste of time, but the least worst waste of time since the gatherings began.


Session Eight

Having already been reduced from ten sessions to eight, the Gatherings ended with a whimper rather than a bang as nobody had any questions concerning the course, leaving us to complete our feedback forms and, then, leave. Needless to say, I gave them fairly lengthy criticism. I then met with the team leader who apologised for the incident the other day and the poor quality of the course and who did actually seem interested in trying to improve the Gatherings, as well as offer me some practical assistance. I left somewhat mollified and hopeful that things might improve for future attendees, even if, as is usually the case, the staff are straightjacketed by the demands of their superiors. I was also able to book an appointment with my advisor, with the hope that I might be able to move onto their self-employment scheme and leave the Jobcentre behind. We shall see…

If nothing else, I was sorry to see the end of the Gatherings… plus, I’ve had two apologies in as many weeks from Jobcentre staff – a distinct improvement in itself!


Final Thought

If the Jobcentre put its staff to work actually helping us into work rather than wasting our time, we would probably all be employed. But, that would actually require them to do some work, wouldn’t it? Instead, they concentrate on ticking boxes.


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