by Colin Crooks
Let me tell you about a man I know….I’ll call him Ralph. When he hit 40, he realised that he’d wasted his life between drink and prison. He couldn’t remember the last real job he’d had. Worst of all he was barely on speaking terms with his teenage son. But now he wanted to change things.
As a kid he’d loved bikes so he volunteered to fix them at a local project. As the service caught on he became more confident and took more responsibility. The bike repair service went from strength to strength and soon he was on the payroll and after a while, his young boy started coming in after school to learn as well. Ralph says this was the first thing they’d ever done together and that their relationship had been transformed since he’d got the job. In about 6 months, Ralph had gone from being almost unemployable to being a great Dad and a highly respected workshop supervisor.
Ralph’s story illustrates why I believe that our efforts to deal with unemployment over many decades have failed. Our obsession with what I call in my book “supply side” solutions; training people for non-existent jobs, has distracted us from the simple, plain fact that there are not enough semi-skilled jobs to go round. For millions of people the supply side solution has largely failed. They’ve been sent to countless pointless interviews, had their CV rewritten sometimes dozens of times and been sent on too many poor training courses. But none of that has altered the fact that there are barely any jobs that they are qualified for. We urgently need to change the mind-set from that supply side mentality to a brand new, demand side approach i.e. we need to create the jobs first and develop give people the opportunity to learn new skills at work. These jobs need to be accessible to people with low skills and low self-esteem but above all they need to be patient.
Patience is the key to helping people from difficult backgrounds to become employable. Patience to explain the facts of work more than once, patience to give someone a chance when they keep coming in late, patience when they don’t call in when they can’t get to work. I’m not talking unlimited patience and nor am I talking charity: Wages need to be docked for lateness, disciplinary hearings need to be conducted as appropriate , but I am talking about being flexible and having the patience and the willingness to give genuine, locked in talent a chance to emerge.
Patience comes from belief. If you believe that there will be a good outcome you will work for it. If you don’t believe in that outcome you won’t. The sort of patient jobs that I am espousing need to be created by people with that belief. And thankfully, a new breed of business people is emerging who do have that sense of belief. They are people who’ve always believed in the positive aspects of others but who are now turning to enterprise to put their solutions into practice. We call them social entrepreneurs and they are the people who we should be investing in to create genuine solutions to such intractable problems as endemic unemployment. My book outlines why I believe that social entrepreneurs should be recognised as the true innovators who can make a real difference in communities and it sets out an outline for a charter for social enterprise that will give these extraordinary people the tools to make things happen so that more people like Ralph (and his family) can start to believe in the future again.
A serial social entrepreneur himself, Colin is the author of “How to make a million jobs – a charter for social enterprise“. Readers of this blog can purchase the book at a reduced price of £6.65 (r.r.p £8.99) by clicking here