There were only five of us on the course and from the outset you could tell that everyone was hating the fact that they'd been forced to attend and we were all acting a bit defensively. We were a bit of a random bunch: me, a 19yr old girl who had A Levels and had worked in a bank and done a number of other temporary jobs, a personal trainer who had a degree in nutrition, an older guy (probably late 50s) who had been a machine operator for 23 years before being made redundant and a woman who had no formal education as she'd never finished school but had successfully ran her own business (shops selling baby clothes, accessories etc.) before the recession until times got tough and she stopped to take care of her autistic son. Our tutor was a really nice guy and he empathised that none of us really wanted to be there, we all had other stuff we could be doing and we just had to jump through the hoops and tick the boxes that the job centre wanted so we could happily go on our way. He understood what it was like to be in our position; he'd worked as a quantity surveyor for 30 years before being made redundant and had retrained to teach adult literacy, maths and IT. The saddest part was that he was actually going to be made redundant as the company he worked for had ran out of funding for all the tutors. I hope they don't end up sending him on the course! The group immediately relaxed a bit once we realised that he was on our side.
Probably the most pointless part of the course - for someone educated beyond GCSE - were the literacy and maths tests. I understand that these need to be done as some people tell a few white lies to the job centre and imply that their maths and literacy are better than they are, but if people can prove they have GCSEs or A Levels or a degree, it seems like a waste of resources to make EVERYONE do them. But, as Dave the tutor said, we must jump through the job centre's hoops! We then had to update our CVs, so we had one to fit the template that the job centre likes, and spend what seemed to be an endless amount of time filling in booklets and forms to prove that we could successfully fill in an application form, do a covering letter and think about our skills and short and long-term career goals. There was a lot of duplication of information and the idea of filling in an application form by hand is ludicrous in this day and age, but apparently the job centre likes a lot of paperwork. However, I'm being slightly cynical here as someone who is IT literate. The older guy on our course had never used a computer in his life, so part of these exercises were great for him as Dave the tutor helped him type up his application form and covering letter so that he now has saved templates to use if he needed to apply for jobs online. In a way, I feel lucky that I'm confident with applying for stuff online and I do 99% of my job hunting on the internet. I can imagine that having limited IT skills would greatly affect your confidence and make you feel that you had no chance.
We also had to sign up to the government's Universal Jobmatch website, which I must admit I'm not impressed with. The search facility is rubbish and there doesn't seem to be a way that you can easily narrow down your search and I actually found a vacancy still up on the site that I knew for a fact had closed some weeks before. Slightly annoying. However, I must do what I need to get all that lovely free money.
The best part of the two days was a presentation we had from someone from the National Careers Service. She was a properly qualified careers adviser and had loads of great tips for job hunting in the local area for people with all types of skills and abilities and for searching a wide variety of sectors. We also had to do some personality tests as part of this, which interested me because of the work I did for the Librarians and Personality session at Library Camp London back in March 2013. An added 'fun' part of the personality test was that it linked you to a type of animal. Mine was a Clown Fish and here is the description of this personality 'type':
Clown Fish are energetic, creative and busy fish and ENFPs usually share these qualities. Clown Fish live amongst anemone but don't feel their stings due to a clever coating on their skin. ENFPs too are often thinking of new and clever ways of doing things, preferring variety and action to peace and quiet.
I'd have much rather been a lion or panther but, then again, Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films and the description above seems pretty positive so I'm fine with being likened to a Clown Fish. I was very impressed with all the information from the National Careers Service and I've discovered that there is a weekly drop-in session held every Friday at Thornaby Methodist Church where a qualified careers adviser from the National Careers Service is on hand to give you advice on CV building, job searching, interview techniques and more. Another great bit of advice is that there is often additional help and advice available from charities such as the Five Lamps, if you're local to the Thornaby or Stockton area. They can help with funding towards courses and also help you apply for jobs or volunteering opportunities and offer financial assistance for setting up your own business. For those who aren't local to Stockton or Thornaby, it is still worth investigating your local National Careers Service branch for helpful tips and advice and possible local charities that can help with funding. They are independent from the job centre and anybody can use their services, not just people who are unemployed. The one in Middlesbrough is on Borough Road near the Army Recruitment Office.
The search continues...
This week, I'm still on the hunt for jobs and I have another application form to send off in the next few days. This is for a proper library job in a sixth form college, so it's a job I would really love to do. Fingers crossed!
Later this week, I've also booked to do a mock interview with the careers adviser I used when I was at uni. The great thing about uni careers services is that alumni can usually use them for up to 2-3 years after they graduate and I can't stress enough how current students or recent alumni should take advantage of this service while they can. I got loads of help with doing application forms and my CV while at uni and without this help I never would have secured my graduate trainee job months before I graduated - meaning the pressure for job hunting was off and I could concentrate on my academic work. If you're reading this as a current student I strongly recommend that you give you uni careers office a visit. Even if you're thinking that your CV is fine or that you don't need any help because chances are, you probably do. It's so competitive to find jobs these days, particularly if you're searching for a graduate job, and any free advice or help from experts should never be turned down.
Onwards and upwards!