Empowering Women for Work – Graduation24th May 2019
Starting a new job is a daunting challenge for anyone, but if you are aiming to do this after a significant absence from the workplace, the challenge can be utterly overwhelming. The reasons for absence can be diverse. Perhaps you have taken an extended career break to raise your family and now need to, or wish to, make a contribution to the household income. In some cases the same applies after caring for an elderly loved one. Maybe a period of poor health has necessitated a break from work, but thankfully your health is now improved and you can start to consider a return to the workplace. Debbie Sheldon, CEO at Work Avenue, understands these circumstances only too well, and for the last three months she and her team of employment professionals have been running Empowering Women for Work, a multi-disciplinary programme to take a group of twelve women on a journey back to work.
The women are diverse – all ages, backgrounds, and work histories – but all share a desire to address and overcome some major obstacles and become economically active back in the workplace as soon as possible after a significant gap.
CONFIDENCE. This was undoubtedly the biggest obstacle faced by the delegates. And it really shouldn’t have been. All were used to multi-tasking in a range of scenarios in their private lives for which there was no rule book and no training, and in each case they coped, and coped well, establishing relationships with people they did not know to make things happen. The professional facilitators at Work Avenue ran a series of workshops aimed at building self-confidence and self-esteem, helping each delegate to understand their own personal brand and what they could offer the contemporary workplace.
Said Meryll Gee, one of the delegates: “Before the programme, I knew I wanted to return to work but had no idea where to start. I now understand that I have excellent well honed soft skills which are completely transferable to the workplace. And even more than that, I now look upon my career break as having made me wiser, more reliable and focused on rebuilding my career in PR.”
Which brings us to the next obstacle:
SKILLS. For some of the delegates, there was a significant focus on ensuring that their technical skills were fit for the contemporary workplace, but the good news was that help was at hand. Emma May, Director of Operations and Employment, introduced a comprehensive and mandatory IT skills component to the programme to ensure that all delegates were not only fluent, but as a result confident in their use of technology. She explained, “Our experience of helping hundreds of job seekers each year tells us that everyone needs strong IT literacy, whatever career pathway you pursue. It was vital that this was a major component of our Empowering Women programme. And then we asked them to practise their newly updated skills by creating, with our assistance, a contemporary and elegant new CV.”
COHERENT NARRATIVE. Debbie Sheldon explained: “Employers want to hear a consistent and coherent narrative as to why you are applying for a role, why you are suitable, and what your career ambitions are. It needs to sound plausible, and to help with that, we arranged for each delegate a period of unpaid work to put into practice everything that had been covered in the workshops and training, and also to provide valuable material to boost their CV.”
Another delegate on the programme, Elizabeth Braun commented: “My work experience was amazing. Debbie and Emma really listened to my career preferences and were able to secure me work experience in a relevant field at JAMI, the Jewish charity for mental health. I absolutely loved it and learnt so much, even in just one week, and most importantly, I felt so much more confident that a return to the workplace will be possible.”
Meryll added: “My work experience in PR was amazing, not only for me, but also for my family, who saw me grow and develop in confidence. So for the whole household, this programme has been invaluable.”
Debbie added: “All our delegates worked so hard on the programme, and some of them faced real challenges along the way. But our work with them does not stop now. We are continuing to find them job opportunities and put them forward for interviews so that each of them will achieve their goal of becoming economically active and taking their place again in today’s workplace.”