O.P.A.W. has received a blog entry from someone who is well experienced with the ‘client focussed’ nature of A4e. The author wishes to remain anonymous as the threat of future sanctions is a very real one when speaking out against the governments work providers. We thank the author hugely for the insight that this piece delivers.
As someone with previous experience of these companies who are providing work placements and training I want to set the record straight on exactly what people can expect. Not what the Government, or Job centre Plus or the work providers themselves will tell you. I have asked to remain anonymous; I’m scared to speak out about A4e as I worry about the sanctions that can be arbitrarily handed out. I know others feel the same but are also afraid of speaking out. However if we don’t speak out how are things to be changed for the benefit of us all?
I have experienced A4e on three occasions. I want to work; I live in the North of England; I have some osteoarthritis but I also have some I.T skills, a level 1 Health and Safety Certificate and am good with other people.
My first experience of A4e was in 2008. In 7 weeks I saw a different member of staff almost every week. Each time I saw someone new I had to go over the same information again; my name; background; previous experiences; health issues; what I wanted to do. It started to feel normal that I would be lectured; talked down too, feel demeaned; continually faced being told it was MY FAULT I hadn’t found a job!
Not all staff were that bad, there were one who had their own experience of being unemployed, they knew what it felt like but mostly I felt as though staff looked down on me for being unemployed.I thought A4e were supposed to be boosting my confidence, not undermining it?
The training centre was badly resourced. We were expected to do job searches with 60 or more people fighting to access a handful of old computers too slow to be of any real use; out of date newspapers to search for jobs and one telephone to call for application forms.
I attend workshops and training sessions to help people to find work, but I saw one tutor effectively bullying people for not trying hard enough. One occasion someone spoke to their advisor at the Job Centre about what was happening at A4e. When they got back it was obvious that there had been a telephone call, and a tutor ‘ripped’ into them in front of everyone for having spoken about their concerns with Job Centre Plus.
Another occasion the tutor lectured everyone in the room about the need for personal hygiene and what was the best way to wash clothes, apparently this involves boil washing everything.
I was told that A4e would find me a placement to give me some recent experience for my C.V. All that materialised was a stint on the A4e reception, but I wasn’t allowed to use the computer as I hadn’t signed a confidentiality agreement and nobody knew what the procedure for doing that was. So my experience of being a receptionist now means I know how to answer a door intercom! I left A4e still unemployed and feeling badly let down.
In 2010 I was sent to A4e again. Very little had changed. It was a hot summer and there was little ventilation in the building and only two electric fans to cool down a building with up to 100 people in it. There were five more computers, not really an improvement as there were more people competing to access them.There was also a security guard who would stalk the building looking for trouble. Why was a security guard required in such a place?
Even though I felt A4e had failed me previously, I wanted to give them another try in the hope I would move into work.
The induction session was led by very politically outspoken guy who was quick to blame previous governments for everything that went on. I was really uncomfortable with this, it was unnecessary and did nothing to help people move into work. I wanted to speak out but bit my tongue; I really wanted to get a job and didn’t want to get on the wrong side of staff at A4e.
Things started off positively, a couple of staff tried to help and were supportive, but not much had changed. I was told that there was a possibility of a work placement with the local Hilton Hotel, would I be interested? Of course I said yes, it seemed a great opportunity. I was told A4e would get it sorted out for me. Then the excuses came, “they haven’t got back to me”, “I can’t get hold of them”. Nothing came of it again.
All the time I was applying for jobs, sometimes two or three a day, I was writing speculative letters, emails sending out my C.V. all in the hope that eventually my luck would break and I would be offered a job.
I was sent for an interview for a placement, A4e promise that everything is personalised around you; placements are matched to your skills, but when I got there the company wanted someone with technical knowledge of website design. It sounded like they were looking for someone to do a piece of work for them, not give them experience in the workplace.
.I have a Health and Safety level 1 Certificate and as A4e offered training at level 2, I thought I could get a better qualification. A4e staff also suggested to me that as I was good with computers I might be interested in a ‘Preparing to Teach in Life Long Learning’ (PTLLS) Course in computing. It sounded really positive. Head Office would need to approve the funding. Whilst that came through I could peer support the other clients on how to use the computers as the staff member who was supposed to help clients never seemed to have the time to do it. I didn’t mind helping, I enjoyed it and thought it would help me and others but it got to a stage where the staff started to ask me to help them as I was the expert.
Newspapers frequently arrived late; C.V’s couldn’t be stored on computers (so called security and data protection issues). There was never any stationery (I eventually took my own supply of envelopes). Whenever you had a C.V. or letter prepared you had to take it to the staff member for them to sign it to show them you were applying for a job. It would be put into the internal post, we couldn’t post the applications ourselves.
I was sent for one job interview, at a place with no public transport connections and I do not drive. I managed to get my way there as previously someone had been sanctioned for refusing an interview. It wasn’t an interview, they simply asked me to fill in an application form which I could have done at A4e. The manager there saw I looked in pain through my osteoarthritis and called me a taxi back to A4e.
A4e then told me if I had problems with the distance and the lack of public transport that I could have said no to the interview. This is the first I knew prior to this and I was more worried about the fear of sanctions
After 13 weeks A4e couldn’t (or wouldn’t) send me on the PTLLS Course; and even though I had a level 1 Health and Safety Certificate they wouldn’t put me on the Level 2 course. I left A4e feeling badly let down yet again.
Then I was sent to A4e again! It was supposed to be another provider, and I thought that might be different, but no, there was a mix up and its back to A4e again for me!
From my very first appointment there was a mix up of dates, the wrong interview time, come back, we have double booked. When I did see their advisor she asked why I wasn’t working. I said “because there aren’t that many jobs out there”. “Rubbish, there are lots of jobs out there!”.
I was my fault.My application forms can’t be working; my C.V doesn’t have the right Boolean search for terms. I’m looking for the wrong jobs in the wrong places.
She asked about medical conditions. She dismissed my osteoarthritis as there is no evidence of it from the Job Centre. I said I could work part time or full time. It was supposed to be a one-to-one meeting, but it was in an open office within hearing of everyone else and with lots of noise and distraction. At the end she arranged for me to go to an application form session as that must be a reason why I am not in work.
It had nothing to do with current economic climate; dozens of people competing for every job; or major employers in the area moving away or closing down. Yet again A4e have left me feeling it is my fault I am out of work
I don’t hold out much hope for these new schemes, A4e state it’s now completely different. Yes it is, it’s mandatory. There are tougher sanctions and it can last longer. I might be called at any time. A4e could require me to attend every day, or once a week, or once a month, work 30 hours a week, whatever they want and if I say NO, then I could easily face tough sanctions! After all it’s my fault I’m not working. Isn’t it?