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supporting welfare to work providers

Common barriers

overcoming barriers

Good practice indicates that listening and careful questioning are the key skills in helping people overcome barriers. Whilst it is not always possible to remove each and every perceived barrier, simply helping your 50+ customer look at the problem in different ways can build confidence, self-awareness and motivation. Go to Confidence and motivation and Building rapport. for more information.

You may find this checklist of good practice skills useful.

  • Listen to their story
  • Clarify the barriers they have described
  • Feedback any positives that you have heard
  • Ask open questions (which invite a longer rather than a short ‘yes’/ ‘no’ type response) in an empathetic manner
  • Identify whether they are willing, desperate or reluctant to work
  • Focus on providing supportive advice and activity if they are willing to work.
  • Consider using group sessions and volunteer-based / peer support, particularly if support is required over longer periods.
  • Suggest that their skills for employment can be drawn from their life experience as well as paid work. Many skills are transferable
  • Identify with them any areas of personal interest
  • Encourage them to draw transferable skills from all aspects of their lives
  • Use information, case studies and referrals to specialists to help develop new ways of looking at their employment potential
  • Identify what further skills development is required

In some cases, you may need to refer your customers to organisations providing specialist support. See the Networking and referrals section.

Try testing yourself against these examples before looking at how you might help your 50+ customer overcome their barriers. What would you do? How would you respond to your customer?

Testing yourself

1.“I couldn’t go for this job because I don’t have IT skills and I have never worked in an office. I am too old to learn new things.”

Your response:

2. “Yes, I can drive but don’t I need a forklift truck licence? And anyway, I have to get there by train.”

Your response:

3. “I know what I can manage at home but if I went to work it might make me ill again.”

Your response:

4. “There are no jobs in coal mining any more and you can’t expect me to work in a call centre!”

Your response:

5. “I have caring responsibilities for my elderly parent and need to be available at short notice.”

Your response:

Is it possible to remove the barriers? You may find these suggestions useful in helping your 50+ customer look at their problem in a different way.

6. “Employers are rejecting me because of my age. They don’t even bother to acknowledge my job applications.”

Your response:

Suggestions that could be useful in helping your 50+ customer look at their problem in a different way.

1. “I couldn’t go for this job because I don’t have IT skills and I have never worked in an office. I am too old to learn new things.”

Men and women often express their skills differently. Women tend to undersell themselves and need to be encouraged to present themselves positively without dismissing valuable skills they may take for granted or fail to recognise. For example, a carer may be able to offer evidence of skills in being flexible, problem-solving and in time management. Given support and with the addition of IT skills and a work placement in an office, more options for employment become possible. Work placements allow the employer to see the person not the age. Provide examples of older customers who have successfully acquired new skills and learnt new things.

2. “Yes, I can drive but don’t I need a forklift truck licence? And anyway, I have to get there by train.”

This customer requires a range of clear information that could assist in re-evaluating the possibility of this particular option. Connect to what motivates the person: perhaps getting the job, earning an income, having a qualification. The objections will seem less important. Explore the underlying worry about travelling or the demands of an early start to the day.

3. “I know what I can manage at home but if I went to work it might make me ill again.”

Longer-term illness can become a way of life. It is reasonable that a person could be concerned about their mental or physical ability to sustain new demands from the workplace. Small steps that support the practice of regular attendance, success in learning something new, and interacting with a wider range of people can form the basis for the customer to grow in confidence that they can make a change to their life.

4. “There are no jobs in coal mining any more and you can’t expect me to work in a call centre!”

Sometimes more mature people are reluctant to consider the possibility of change. With your support, their self confidence and self awareness can develop to make use of relevant information and to match themselves to other options. Identifying transferable skills that may come from outside work can highlight the potential to find employment in another sector. Mentoring and peer groups are useful tools to aid this process.

Fixed ideas about jobs for men or for women can be challenged through the use of successful case studies, for example men working in child care.

5. “I have caring responsibilities for my elderly parent and need to be available at short notice.”

Like younger people with childcare responsibilities, mature people may have caretaking duties for an older parent or relative. This is part of the customer’s story and will need to be explored sensitively. The customer may need assistance to find other sources of help to combine caretaking responsibilities with a working life. Employers may already have schemes in place to accommodate child and eldercare, and the customer can be encouraged to plan how to manage their responsibilities whilst holding down a job.

6. “Employers are rejecting me because of my age. They don’t even bother to acknowledge my job applications.”

Ageism can be a problem, although age discrimination in employment is now unlawful. But not receiving a reply is the norm these days and probably has nothing to do with the customer’s age. Many applications are reviewed and sifted by computers in the first instance. Mature job applicants need to make sure that their CV and application form are exceptionally good and they need to network and use their contacts to find work.

These case studies illustrates how advisers helped 50+ customers overcome various barriers.

Case study 1: overcoming barriers (BEST)

Joe had worked in the construction sector for almost 30 years before becoming unemployed three years ago, mainly because of back problems. From the very first day he felt uncomfortable and even angry at being sent on a New Deal course, saying, “I am 53 years old, what the hell can you teach me?” Joe was especially annoyed by some of the behaviour of younger clients on the same course.

The first thing I did was explain what we could offer, to show Joe that what we offered was nothing like school and to emphasise that he would not be treated like a schoolkid. At BEST we have found that the best way to help more mature jobseekers is through the creation of a group of all those aged 50+. Joe immediately preferred the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of this group.

In the following weeks, I had several one-to-one discussions around Joe’s individual training plan and to identify how his barriers could be overcome. This was the approach I used:

Barrier 1: no experience in using a computer
“It’s too late for me to start learning now and I don’t need it anyway!”

Solution: I encouraged Joe to see the learning as fun, and highlighted that he wasn’t the only one in the classroom who has never turned on a computer before. We then ran a computer session purely for those who had no basic IT knowledge. Slowly Joe began to enjoy using a computer and felt more confident learning a new skill.

Barrier 2: difficulty gaining a job in the construction sector due to a bad back

Solution: After several discussions we discovered that a career in care work might be something that would suit Joe. He wasn’t sure about this but we set up a placement in a care home for two days a week, really just to introduce him to the care home environment. Joe had some excellent feedback from the care home manager and really enjoyed the experience. He asked to increase his placement days to gain more skills and knowledge working as a carer for older people.

During the 10 weeks Joe was with us he became more confident and greatly improved his motivation. A week before the end of the New Deal course, the manager from the care home offered Joe a part-time post. Given the same support and guidance, we at BEST feel that many older jobseekers can be successful in finding suitable employment opportunities.

Case study 2: overcoming barriers (PCMI)

Portsmouth Craft and Manufacturing Industries (PCMI)

PCMI is part of Portsmouth City Council and is a department which has for many years managed and delivered a wide range of Welfare to Work, employment focused programmes for all types of customers, including those aged 50+.

Our customer thought his working life was pretty much over, having suffered a series of heart attacks which ended his employment abruptly. He had received Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to keep him afloat, but his GP told him he wouldn't be able to sign another sick note after his current one had expired. At the age of 59, he came to us as a mandatory referral from Jobcentre Plus for the Pathways to Work programme. This is a specific programme for those receiving ESA or incapacity benefit because of a health condition to help them find work.

He was really down when I first met with him, wondering what on earth a man of his age could do for work. It was not just his heart that had been a problem either, he was also virtually deaf in one ear.

While we were putting together an action plan I discovered that he had had lots of different jobs over the years: delivery driver; mechanical engineer, warehouse work, taxi driver. I stressed that if he could do something like that in the past there was really no reason he couldn’t do the same in the future. We needed to find something he could do within the constraints of his health issues which did not involve too much heavy lifting. We hit upon the idea of light delivery work.

To help him look for and start to apply for this sort of work though, we needed to work on his motivation which was at rock bottom. I took a dual approach to this. Through the Pathways process, I gave him a financial incentive by telling him about the £40 a week he would be able to claim for a year if he found at least 16 hours of work a week and earned no more than £15,000 gross under the Return To Work Credit (RTWC) programme, and I was able to refer him to our in-house confidence building and motivation workshops. The combination of these two actions resulted in success. Soon after completing the workshops he found work, using his contacts, as a self employed driver for two local companies. He was able to claim RTWCs after we had sorted out all the necessary paperwork around business planning and forecasting. It is not as straightforward for those moving into self-employment as it is for those in employment!

I am still in touch with this customer as part of our in-work support protocol, and the difference in him is really noticeable. He often tells me that he really feels that his life has changed for the better.

Case study 3: overcoming barriers (Vedas)

In the post-industrial town of Burnley, Lancashire and its surrounds, many 50+ jobseekers are faced with the prospect of career change and up-skilling if they wish to carry on working into their later years.

Jobseekers who were apprenticed / trained in industries once prevalent in the region may need some extra help in recognising how their skills can be updated and redirected towards the jobs market today. Statistics show that an older jobseeker who loses their job will face greater difficulty in returning to the workplace, with fewer than less than 1 in 5 (18.7 per cent) of over 50s finding employment within three months.

One organisation in Burnley that has engaged with the need to upskill and retrain people at risk of long-term unemployment is Vedas, who combine training and personal development with focused employer engagement.
Vedas started as a commercial recruitment agency in 2000. Through Lancashire Colleges Consortium they become involved in the ESF Social Fund and are now active in the Innovation, Transnationality and Mainstreaming Demographic Change strand. The synergy between the Vedas commercial arm and the funded back to work programmes is very important, providing flexibility for qualified jobseekers and those looking for less-skilled work.

With their local partnership organisations, Vedas have established employment pathways to cater for older jobseekers . Referral from Burnley Jobcentre Plus or Next Step careers advice and guidance (through Burnley Council Employment Development Team or self-referral) is the beginning of the journey for many 50+ jobseekers.

Vedas' Age-No Concern (A-NC) project aims to improve the employability and motivation to work of people aged 50-64. As well as giving people new knowledge and skills to compete in the labour market, the project also matches their new skills to an employer's needs.

Close employer engagement enables Vedas to take the fear out of career change for older jobseekers. In Licence to Skill, candidates are able to visit employer premises for an introduction to a particular job role. Benchmarking the job roles and guaranteeing an employment interview for all candidates who reach this benchmark has made Vedas a ‘one-stop shop' for jobseekers referred from Burnley Jobcentre.

Lesley Burrows, Managing Director of Vedas, explains that skills are important but the personality is decisive. Vedas' staff are trained in delivering Personality Profile Analysis (PPA) with clients. PPA provides an insight into how people behave at work (questions such as what are their strengths and limitations? Are they self starters? How do they communicate? And what motivates them?) and is the basis for all Vedas' training.

The Personality Profile Analysis enables people to become more aware of their work style and how they interact in situations. Vedas' claim that the accurate matching of jobseeker's personality and skills has led to sustainable employment (measured at 13 weeks) in 95 per cent of cases.

The Life Coach Questionnaire (LCQ) contains six questions and general comments and is an opportunity for the Vedas coach to have an informal discussion with a client about their best and worst experiences of looking for work. This informal discussion helps to establish trust in the provider-client relationship, especially important if the coach wishes to challenge a client's perspective in an effort to help them move forward.

Altered Images is a series of three workshops at weekly intervals aimed at 50+ jobseekers who have been unemployed for several months or longer. Naturally, confidence and motivation levels can be very low.
In small groups of four to 12 participants, Altered Images workshops last up to three hours and help clients set goals for themselves and start to rebuild their confidence and self-belief.

Basic presentation and communication skills can present particular difficulty for the 50+ jobseeker: for instance, making a simple telephone call for someone who has never had to communicate using the phone. Their reluctance to contact a referral partner or employer by telephone could be seen as lack of interest when it is more often fear that they will be unable to manage the telephone contact or indeed the job.

The series of workshops led by coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, Kerry Price, plays a large part in transforming the experiences of older jobseekers. (NLP is the practice of understanding how people organise their thinking, feeling, language and behaviour to produce the results they do.) The emphasis is on positive mindset, regularly reinforced through discussion and exercises (eg, Sun Dials, Positivity Stars and Then, Now and Next). Taking the customer back to an earlier time when there were fewer restrictions in their life, the techniques provided help to rebuild the client's self-belief, showing how behaviour can affect the results they obtain. These self-development sessions are interspersed with individual life coaching sessions, if required.

Irrespective of their background or levels of seniority, real friendships have been formed from the peer support obtained during the training, confirms Project Manager Lindsey Danson.

In the final Sharing Experiences interview, participants feed back about the programme. This enables Vedas to discuss work readiness and progression routes (employment pathway or referral to another provider able to meet a participant's identified needs, for example: training, more personal development).

Mentors are available to every jobseeker that needs one. Distinct from the job coach, whose skill set is helping people in their employment search (CV, interview techniques), a mentor can offer ‘soft skills' support in the crucial period when work has been secured and a client is adjusting to working life again.

Sustainable employment is measured in Vedas' targets and staged payments. They claim their success in the welfare to work arena is due to the strength of their programmes and the skill of delivery staff, professional engagement with employers and maintaining good relationships with their network of local providers.

Altered Images

Sundial segments used to introduce yourself and start to identify positives about yourself and other members in the group, eg Who do you look up to and why? Two facts about yourself. What did you want to do when you were a child? What do you want to achieve?

Positivity Stars
Positivity is a theme promoted throughout the workshops with positive actions and comments (about self and others) rewarded with stars, and prizes at the end of the training. The positivity is catching! This is an extremely important - and enjoyable - part of the programme, highlighting the importance of thoughts, feelings and their impact on behaviour.

Then, Now and Next
Encourages candidates to reflect on their past and what they have done and achieved. And what they want to move towards. This is the start of building up a skills bank for each person, identifying the skills they already have, setting goals and having a future plan.

Case study 4: Overcoming barriers (Pertemps People Development Group)

George (52) is a former member of Royal Army Medical Corps where he spent most of his working life. During his military career he gained a number of qualifications but they seemed to have little relevance to civilian life. He was a highly decorated paramedic but after dealing with people who had been blown to pieces and those who had been severely wounded, he had had enough and wanted to do something else. He left the army in 2002 not really knowing what to do. After trying a number of different jobs, he came to Pertemps.

When George left the army he found it difficult to adjust to civilian life as his career in the army had been so structured. In addition, he had developed an alcohol problem.

He admits that regular drinking was normal in the army, although at the time it did not have an adverse impact on his work or his life. Since leaving the forces, however, his drink problem got worse, particularly when he worked for a time as a publican. When he was forced to leave his last job, he hit his lowest point. He broke up with his wife. At that time, he was referred to Pertemps.

Of central importance to George was the intensive one-to-one support he received at Pertemps. Pertemps staff found a number of charities who support people leaving the Forces. His wife didn't want to give up on him and contacted Al-Anon, a charity providing support to those affected by someone else's drinking.

Pertemps staff phoned George almost every day to support him through this very difficult period. Their individual and personal approach contributed to a turning point in his life. George gradually started to believe in himself and took the initiative. He realised that he had a lot to offer and that there were many opportunities. He started to explore what he could do and would often email his key worker with various ideas, using her as a sounding board, asking what she thought about this or that.

George was approached by an ex colleague to ask if he was interested in re-training to become a Health and Safety Assessor. After further discussions with his Pertemps coach, he enrolled in an Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH) course to get the necessary qualification and has started work as a freelance consultant. His job involves driving so he has even more reason not to drink.

George is now reunited with his wife. He is determined to stay off alcohol and to maintain the new direction in his life.

 See this list for organisations supporting ex-Service personnel.

This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.