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supporting welfare to work providers

Setting realistic expectations and goals

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The direction and pace your 50+ customer takes on the journey back to work need to be based on realistic expectations. You should help them to set goals that will broaden their horizons and enable them to aspire to their full potential.

Realistic expectations

You can help them form realistic expectations by taking account of the following factors:

  • work aspirations and vision for their future
  • assessment results and identified barriers
  • level of commitment and motivation
  • access to required support
  • ability to cope with change.

While some 50+ customers lack confidence and under-estimate their potential, it is important to recognise that there are others who oversell themselves or expect to slot back into what they did previously. They can be unrealistic about suitable work opportunities.

There are a number of job-related factors that can affect your customer’s employment aspirations. You should consider them in coming to a view as to whether their aspirations are realistic or not.

Factors to consider in reviewing customers’ occupational aspirations

  • Availability of the job and / or level in the local labour market
  • Required skill set / qualification for the preferred position
  • Salary levels, patterns of work or employment terms and conditions
  • Job compatibility with required location or favoured hours
  • What jobs are actually available for which they may be suited
  • Levels of responsibility, stress or physical demands
  • Initial training phase and possible salary reduction during the transitional period
  • Potential for promotion, underemployment or downward occupational mobility.

To help your customers form realistic aspirations, encourage them to investigate the skills, qualifications and experience employers are seeking, and undertake some job-specific profiling and skills assessments.

You need to do this sensitively. Try to help your customers develop a positive and open attitude to wider employment opportunities and to consider the available career path options and the value of their transferable skills. You may find these case studies of interest.

Case study 1: expectations and goals

The case study has been provided by an employability programme adviser, specialising in working with unemployed people aged 50 and over.

Patricia’s story

Patricia was aged 52 when she joined the employability provision for a second time.

She had been a pub manager for over 10 years and then a wages clerk for five years before being made redundant and visiting the employability service for the first time. Patricia had then been assisted in securing a job as a skilled production operative in the motor industry. She attained an NVQ level 2 before being made redundant again two years later when the company closed their local site and relocated production to China.

She had not been able to find a permanent job during the previous 10 months and had signed on with a number of employment agencies. However, due to the recession, production and manufacturing had been badly hit in the local area and finding a similar full-time permanent position was proving very difficult.

Having worked so hard to make her last career change, Patricia was determined to continue to job search for a similar post on her own, but she was becoming increasingly despondent about securing work so she turned to the employability service that had helped her previously.

The adviser’s insight

Patricia’s story illustrates how important it is to provide a truly customer-centred approach when supporting people aged 50+ to return to work. It is vital to recognise that no two customers are ever the same and the need to tailor your approach to each customer. In Patricia’s case, it was evident very early on that she would not have continued to use our help if she had felt she was being pushed. We therefore focused on giving guidance and information that ensured Patricia felt in control and was able to make an informed choice.

At first, all Patricia wanted to do was update her CV. She continued to look for production work but was not successful. Although there were other measures we could have introduced, these were only going to be effective once she saw the need and benefit. We therefore decided to adopt a patient, measured approach. After a short time we suggested tentatively that she might consider broadening her horizons and think about changing her career direction as there were local growth sectors (for example, care and security).

Patricia required a lot of time to think her situation through and come to terms with the fact that although she could hold out for another production job it would probably mean prolonging her period of unemployment. It was a challenge to accept that she had another option: to review and rethink her career path.

Initially she was very resistant but agreed to complete a self analysis using the Adult Directions toolkit. She found this a positive experience and was surprised by the outcomes which highlighted a breadth of interpersonal skills as well as her practical abilities.

The programme suggested a range of occupations where her mix of skills was very relevant and although she had never considered herself to be a ‘people person’, the analysis indicated this. As a result, she agreed to explore jobs that involved working with people.

Patricia was also persuaded that she might benefit from finding out about other qualities and skills she had through completing the empowerment tool Promicad. This enabled her to be supported with improved skills-matching in her job search endeavours and informed her CV with additional information for her personal profile, key strengths and transferable skills.

Patricia considered working in the care sector. But, on being encouraged to ‘explore before you decide’, she liaised with people in the industry and opted to take a closer look at security work. We arranged a place on a security industry recruitment event where she was able to broaden her view of her options and she learned there was a shortage of female staff in the sector. She returned enthusiastic about setting a new goal of working in the field of security.

Broadening her perspective and expectations opened new doors for career choices. She completed the Security Industry Authority training and obtained her licence to operate.

After assistance with her application forms and some interview skills coaching Patricia secured employment and is now working for a large retail company as a shop floor, plain clothes security officer.

Case study 2: expectations and goals (Vedas)


Steve had been unemployed for 12 months and had received no feedback from numerous job applications made. He had kept himself busy, however, by keeping fit in the local gym and taking up cycling as he found this helped him stay focused and positive.

Steve received advice and guidance about job search from nextstep and was referred to Age-No Concern (A-NC), a project for clients aged 50+. During the A-NC workshops and nextstep sessions, Steve was able to set himself further goals and discuss training.

"What about training other people aged 50+ and advising them how to get fit?" Steve couldn't believe he hadn't thought of the idea of setting up individual peer support ‘get fit' sessions himself. So Steve spoke to a couple of people from Vedas and at the gym who could advise him on how to achieve his new goal.

Steve is now working as a volunteer going on bike rides with a variety of people helping them to get fit and set their own goals. He is also looking at starting a further education course which will help him get the qualifications he needs to pursue his ambitions in this area..

Goal setting
Each customer will progress towards their job aspiration at a different pace. You can make their journey less daunting by expressing it in smaller short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Realistic goals are especially important when 50+ customers are engaged on a long journey where there can be a huge gap between their job aspiration and the reality of achieving it.

Approach goal setting with a clear sense of what is achievable, given the supports available and the likely barriers. Your task is to set goals that are both challenging and within reach, even if not within the immediate future.

Broadening horizons
Make sure there are opportunities to review career aspirations at various stages of the journey, particularly when your customer is encountering difficulties or when circumstances change.

50+ customers frequently struggle to broaden their horizons and identify other options when they have to review their aspirations and goals. You can assist by showing them how to recognise their transferable skills, and how to apply this approach to help identify and secure potential employment. If your organisation is not IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance) formally accredited, you may be able to refer your customer to one such as the National Careers Service.

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.