Scanning for jobs on the horizon

JOBHUNTING has never been easy and in these tough times it can seem harder than ever to find work.

Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment in the UK rose by 129,000 in the three months to September, bringing the total to 2.62m and pushing the number of young people out of work to more than 1m.

Working Links accredited trainer Frank Keogh delivers a course

Working Links accredited trainer Frank Keogh delivers a course

And work is undoubtedly hard to come by here in Hartlepool, with 4,270 claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance last month and 1,430, or 17.2 per cent, of people aged 18 to 24 signing on compared with an average across the North-East of 10.8 per cent and a UK figure of eight per cent.

But with the appliance of science, jobseekers can get a great head start according to the team at Working Links, which, since September 2009, has helped 753 Hartlepool jobseekers find work from its base on Victoria Road in the town, through a scheme it calls ‘Horizon Scanning’.

In plain English, that means looking to the future to anticipate what kinds of jobs may be coming up and when, before combining this with a comprehensive programme of training.

It is an approach which works so well that Working Links places a candidate in employment every two minutes across its 100 UK locations, which are mostly in deprived areas where work is hard to come by.

But, all the scientific ‘Horizon Scanning’ in the world is only as good as the candidate for the job, so the primary focus at Working Links is to take a scientific approach to preparing jobseekers to take their place in the workforce.

Employer services manager Helen Pendleton said: “There is a science to finding a job these days. Gone are the days when you could simply open up the paper and choose from a number of jobs in the situations vacant pages and almost be a shoo-in for the position.

“Before you can even get a foot in the door of the interview room these days you have to prepare yourself.

“You have to understand yourself and consider honestly whether you’re suited to the kinds of jobs you’re thinking of applying for.

“You have to consider whether you’ve got the right key skills and transferable skills, whether your CV is relevant for the job you’re applying for and whether it’s up to date.

“Do you understand the application process for the job and what is likely to be required of you at the interview if you get one?

“Have you thought about your appearance and the kind of first impression you are likely to make?

“Knowing exactly what employers are looking for is the key to success.

“Different employers have different approaches and styles and have individual requirements, and it’s important to understand those, just like it’s important to understand where – and even whether – employers advertise their vacancies.

“Many jobs are advertised exclusively online these days, while some jobs are not advertised at all and only become available through organisations like us because employers know us and trust us to deliver the right candidates for their jobs.

“Working Links aims to give jobseekers those skills to increase their employability and get them a foot in the door through the right kind of training, which is always specific to the skills employers with real vacancies are looking for.”

But even a great attitude is not enough in itself to guarantee a job and Working Links’ clients are urged to go the extra mile and undertake things like unpaid work experience placements to put themselves ahead of the pack in the jobs market.

Sally Fraser, who is also an employer services manager for Working Links, said: “Placements really give people a great head start and we’ve had cases of people who have impressed so much on a placement that even employers who made it clear at the start that there wasn’t an actual vacancy and didn’t expect there to be one, have created a vacancy on the strength of how well the client did.

“Getting a job is a full-time job in itself and clients who realise that undoubtedly have a head start.

“We aim to ensure that people who would otherwise struggle to get through the process of job seeking and interviewing for jobs are given support through training and with the practical side of finding work.

“The job application process often starts with sending a CV to a prospective employer along with the completed application form and Working Links helps clients with everything from basic literacy and numeracy, if needed, through to making sure their CV ticks all the boxes in terms of responding to what the employer says they are looking for.”

Working Links reckons that a three to six-week course can give clients the basic skills they need to start jobhunting in a more scientific way and give themselves the edge with skills they apply to any job application, regardless of the industry they are hoping to work in.

During that time clients are shown how to become more employable, as Sally explained: “Employability depends on a number of things. A good background knowledge of the industry they are going into and an understanding of the role of the particular job they are applying for, as well as a person’s general employability skills with things like knowing how to apply for a vacancy and how to conduct themselves at an interview, whether it’s a one to one, a panel or a full assesment.

“The trick is not to treat every interview the same way, but to understand what employers are looking for and treat the interview like a business meeting because what the employer is looking for is to get know you a little to figure out whether you are the right person for their organisation.

“Gaining those skills can often seem like a bit of a dark art to people who are struggling to find a job but really it’s a science.”

Soon to be added to the mix of Working Links’ scientific approach to jobhunting is a ‘digital inclusion’ element to ensure clients who may not be too internet savvy are operating on a level playing field in a world where job applications are increasingly done completely online.

For their part, Working Links applies a scientific approach to securing employment for its clients through its ‘Horizon Scanning’ and the relationships it forges with employers.

Sally explained that looking at previous ‘this time last year’ recruitment helps Working Links predict what kinds of vacancies may be coming up in the near future and links with organisations like the JobCentre, the local authority and other employers in Hartlepool, helps predict trends and pinpoint where the jobs are going to be.

And Sally says there is good news for Hartlepool jobseekers, with more hope here than in many other areas in the region.

She adds that although the number of vacancies is falling generally, the town does still have jobs up for grabs and compares well with neighbouring Middlesbrough, for example, which has seen a 39 per cent fall in jobs.

Working Links says that, despite the gloomy outlook for the unemployed across the UK, its focus on forging relationships with local employers in Hartlepool, coupled with real vacancies in the town and the scientific approach it takes to preparing applicants for those jobs means that there really is light at the end of the tunnel for local job seekers, who can give themselves a head start with the appliance of science.

Jobseeker Joy O’Donnell, 51, from Blackhall Rocks, recently joined 55 other hopefuls on a pre-employment course run by Working Links on behalf of a major high street chain as it prepares to open its latest store in Peterlee.

The Mail caught up with her on her first day.

After two years out of work, Joy said she was not surprised to learn that there is a science to jobhunting.

She said: “I’ve been unemployed for two years, and even though I’m a qualified classroom assistant, I just couldn’t find a job in my field of work.

“I worked in shops as a young woman so when the JobCentre referred me to Working Links I thought it would be a good opportunity and even if I don’t get a job this time around I know the course will help me with applying for jobs in the future and it will be good for my CV, which will stand me in good stead.”