Take a seat!

*sigh* it’s that time again – you know, the one that comes round annoyingly twice a month and involves signing your name and swearing on the badly photocopied piece of paper that you’re looking for work, when not wasting your time in  the job centre. Today was “Spring into action Jobs Fair” day though. Be still my beating heart, I can hardly contain my excitement. I was told this would be a compulsory part of my signing on though, so I turned up especially early. So early in fact, I had to queue to get into the building as soon as it opened. This is 10am, for anyone who thought that the job centre might ironically have normal working hours. I even managed to avoid the eye of the security guard-come-receptionist-without-a-desk as I went in, thereby avoiding having the pointless conversation about which of the other two beige painted floors I was heading for, the one with bad carpet, or the one with domestic abuse posters everywhere. Unfortunately avoiding the eye of the security guard also meant I avoided getting a sheet of badly photocopied paper that told me what Job Fair company stands were located on what floor of the building. So, up to the domestic abuse I floor I went to hand in my “work plan book” for signing on. Still early for my appointment, UF (unnamed female – never engage with the unwashed, remember) grabbed my work plan, turned her back on me and barked at me to take a seat. That was tricky, as all the seats had been removed to make space for a jobs fair. I’m going to have a small rant about the value of following a process when it’s there to help, whilst still allowing space to use your own thought process when it doesn’t, in this and my next blog, there doesn’t seem to be enough made of this balance in life. So I stood and waited. As it happened, I was stood right next to the First Group stand, staffed by people who took one look at me and also turned their back on me. Apparently, I do not look like a potential bus driver. It’s a shame. I was once overcharged for a bus ticket for my youngest son, making the journey more expensive than a taxi. When I pointed this out to the driver and requested a refund he closed the door on me. Not, closed the door after I left. No, he physically closed the door on me with my body in the doorway at the time and called the police. When I wrote to the managing director of First and complained I was offered a month’s free travel on the buses. I politely declined his generous offer. I avoid using the bus now, particularly since taxis are cheaper for a whole family and cycling is cheaper for just me, but I would have loved to have asked the recruitment guys what the officially training manual recommended under such circumstances. I gather from the managing director that the driver had at all times followed the company policy process by not giving me a refund at the time.  Alternatively, as a regular train commuter for 14 years, for over an hour every day, I could have asked them what training they provided for staff who were struggling to be “on brand”.

Anyway, my musings were diverted by a very kindly looking UF who asked me if I would like to take a seat. I smiled and said I didn’t. She looked panicked but managed to give me a sheet of badly photocopied paper and asked me if I knew that there was a Jobs Fair on today. I thanked her and remained standing. Still clearly concerned about my height perhaps, she pointed out 3 occupied chairs approximately 3 metres away. As she explained, these are nearer to where my name would be called to sign on and perhaps I’d like to sit over there. I took two steps towards the chairs and she seemed happier, at least she stopped asking me to take their chairs. James then called me to sign on and once I had sat down, he said, “well I can see this will be a quick one”. Unemployed and at the job centre; surely, this is the only time that phrase can be welcome. Eight signatures later and I’m even registered on the electronic system. Farewell use of my Montblanc pen on alternating Wednesdays. Perhaps I should offer to do the cost analysis for the benefit of the electronic system over paper and pen. Then again………… I don’t think they could afford my day rate with all the money they’ve spent on domestic abuse posters literally papering every inch of the beige walls and electronic signing systems.

So, duly signed on, what to do with 15 minutes to kill before going to the cinema? Ask the nice people at the Learning Direct stand if they provide software coding training of course.

So, what to do with 14 minutes and 50 seconds to kill before going to the cinema? Ask the Firebrand guys what their IT skills training looks like. As an aside, I feel the need to explain my IT interest further…… I went to a very old fashioned, all girls, private school that was sold off to Roedean during the recession. The land and buildings were then sold again, presumably because the sum of its parts held more value than the whole as an educational establishment. When the school was established over 150 years ago, its mission was to turn girls into young governesses. When I attended, until 1989, its goal seemed unchanged. The school certainly did not envisage a world where writing an app would be a more useful skill for me to know than the art of choux pastry. I digress, in short, Firebrand’s training looks expensive. I asked if there was any funding available from the government to attend their courses. The very smart and helpful man looked at me, perplexed. Perplexed is better than panicked, but no more informative. “We’re a commercial company, the only money the government provide for people to attend our training courses is through an employer taking on an employee, who then attends our courses”. I didn’t have the energy to point out that if the company was paying for the employee, I failed to see how the government was involved at all. I did point out that everyone he would be meeting at the Job Centre today would be unemployed, so he may struggle to sell courses, for which you either need £2,450 or an employer.

It didn’t matter, he’d already launched into a description of a two year apprenticeship which would start by placing me at the first level of customer service for people with IT queries. I have a mother and two parents-in-law, I feel I have enough experience already to skip this step and thanked the man for his help on the apprenticeship, but perhaps that wasn’t for me. He continued, however, telling me that as an apprentice for two years, my employer would pay for me to go to Cambridge and attend several quite intense residential courses, the longest being 9 days duration. I gave up. I have a PhD and MBA and at times like this, you just have to bring them out, both guns firing. I pointed out that “intense”, and “long duration”, was not an issue, but the requirement to be several hours drive away from home for days on end, with three children to look after before 9am and after 3pm, every day, was more of an issue. Eventually I managed to extricate myself and left the domestic abuse floor.

I was briefly tempted by the first floor stands – waitressing, kitchen jobs, care in the community, housekeeping and landscaping jobs. I even briefly flirted with the idea of signing up as a volunteer “to assist in the care of people with brain injuries”. However, I figured that if I didn’t have any patience with the job centre staff this was unlikely to be a forte. Instead, I drove out of town to watch the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is a very predictable, but quite beautiful film, portrayed by a stunning range of actors, demonstrating that with determination and enthusiasm, there is no time or place in your life that prevents you from starting a new career: you just need a supportive environment.


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