BACK TO WORK

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Every­where we turn, the news that Ire­land is near­ing full em­ploy­ment is glee­fully thrown at us. In the space of four days in Jan­uary, two com­pa­nies alone – Face­book and Sales­force – an­nounced 2,500 jobs here. Nearly 1,300 new roles were cre­ated per week in the 12 months to end of Septem­ber 2018. In to­tal, 385,000 jobs have been cre­ated in Ire­land since 2013.

Of course, this is all good news, but the smil­ing faces at job an­nounce­ments do not paint the whole pic­ture. While the re­cov­ery has reached some peo­ple in so­ci­ety, there are still thou­sands who are trapped in long-term un­em­ploy­ment. More than 8,600 peo­ple have been out of work for more than a decade, while over 700 peo­ple have been un­em­ployed for more than 20 years.

Some judge those in long-term un­em­ploy­ment with­out even know­ing their cir­cum­stances. Many women are in long-term un­em­ploy­ment due to fam­ily com­mit­ments such as child­care or car­ing for el­derly par­ents or sick rel­a­tives. Oth­ers took re­dun­dancy dur­ing the re­ces­sion but have been un­able to se­cure work since. Oth­ers still found them­selves out of work due to an ac­ci­dent, an ill­ness, or they moved to Ire­land and have found it dif­fi­cult to find work here.

Yet there is a stigma of un­em­ploy­ment which can cause peo­ple who are job­less to be trapped in job­less­ness. A study by US econ­o­mist Rand Ghayad found that com­pa­nies rate can­di­dates who have been re­cently made un­em­ployed much higher than they rank can­di­dates with sim­i­lar qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but who have been un­em­ployed for more than six months.

Un­for­tu­nately, this bias is com­mon in Ire­land too, ac­cord­ing to Paul Mooney, co-founder of Job­care, a char­ity that helps longterm un­em­ployed peo­ple ac­cess and re­tain work: “At a time of near-full em­ploy­ment, em­ploy­ers some­times for­get about the

Been out of the ca­reer

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re­cent re­ces­sion and its im­pact. There are good peo­ple still out there. Mainly, em­ploy­ers are in­ter­ested in why some­one has been out of the work­force – they’re most sus­pi­cious of un­ex­plained ab­sence.”

Those who are un­em­ployed should not lose hope, how­ever. Job­care worked with 450 un­em­ployed women be­tween Septem­ber 2017 and 2018. Of these, half of them have al­ready se­cured work. About three-quar­ters of these women were aged over 35 and had a third level ed­u­ca­tion, while a quar­ter were non-na­tion­als.

Those who have been out of work for long pe­ri­ods should not as­sume that every­thing they have done in the mean­time is not valu­able in a work­place en­vi­ron­ment. While it is a given that work has changed in re­cent years, that does not di­min­ish any skills, achieve­ments and con­tri­bu­tions ac­com­plished while out of work or pre­vi­ously gained in em­ploy­ment.

Paul says women are par­tic­u­larly prone to un­der­es­ti­mate the vol­un­tary and com­mu­nity work they do: “Li­ais­ing with a spec­trum of med­i­cal or sup­port bod­ies for a loved one, or­gan­is­ing a com­mu­nity group or vol­un­teer­ing on school coun­cils of­ten goes un­recog­nised and un­men­tioned when women are speak­ing of their worth­while ex­pe­ri­ence.”

To take the first steps, those who are long-term un­em­ployed should find fam­ily or friends or a group that en­cour­age them to cul­ti­vate and value their sto­ries. Then they will start recog­nis­ing their strengths and ex­pe­ri­ences and can trans­late these into skills that are val­ued in the work­place.

Can­di­dates should also prove to em­ploy­ers that they are will­ing to up­skill and spend time on train­ing and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment, as well as their dig­i­tal skills.

On the other side, em­ploy­ers might be reluc­tant to hire peo­ple who are un­em­ployed for a long pe­riod. They should re­alise that there are ben­e­fits to tak­ing what they might think is a chance on some­one.

“We find that peo­ple who have been long-term un­em­ployed can of­ten be more loyal and want to com­mit to and in­vest in your com­pany,” says Paul. It is im­por­tant to fo­cus on what these peo­ple have to of­fer, and con­sider their trans­fer­able skills. There might be a short-term cost for train­ing, but this can lead to a long-term gain of a valu­able em­ployee.

As well as that, there are gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits to em­ploy­ers who hire peo­ple who have been long-term em­ployed. One mea­sure – Job­sPlus – was in­tro­duced in July 2013 to pro­vide grants to em­ploy­ers who re­cruit longer-term job­seek­ers. Since then, 19,500 po­si­tions have been sup­ported through the Job­sPlus scheme. Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Wel­fare, nearly one-third (30 per cent) of those sup­ported were fe­male. It is a win/win sit­u­a­tion for both em­ployer and em­ployee.

For some, though, re-en­ter­ing the work­force is not just about find­ing a job from an open-minded em­ployer. They might have prac­ti­cal and lo­gis­ti­cal bar­ri­ers to find­ing work. This of­ten oc­curs in the cases of those who have been out of the work­force due to rais­ing chil­dren or car­ing for a rel­a­tive full-time.

“This can im­pact the level of re­spon­si­bil­ity the woman can take on in a role, for ex­am­ple. In some cases, it can im­pact the hours they can take on, where part-time work is a re­quire­ment. They can also face bar­ri­ers in terms of earn­ing po­ten­tial and whether it is fi­nan­cially worth re­turn­ing to work (af­ter cov­er­ing the cost of child­care, and so on). This is par­tic­u­larly true for sin­gle mothers,” ad­vises Paul.

In these cases, flex­i­ble work such as job shar­ing, flex­itime or re­mote work­ing would work well. These op­tions are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar here, and 41 per cent of em­ploy­ees in Ir­ish small and medium busi­nesses have smart work­ing op­tions avail­able to them, ac­cord­ing to re­search from Voda­fone.

Sue Mar­shall, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ir­ish re­mote work­ing com­pany Abodoo, says that smart work­ing can help peo­ple re­turn to work while also avoid­ing ex­tor­tion­ate child­care costs: “What peo­ple for­get to take into ac­count is if you are do­ing a two- or three-hour com­mute ev­ery day, you are pay­ing for two to three hours of child­care when you are not earn­ing any money. It be­comes un­ten­able. I can re­mem­ber friends of mine who gave up work be­cause they were not mak­ing any money.”

Smart work­ing, es­pe­cially flex­itime and re­mote work­ing, al­lows par­ents to work around the child­care prob­lem.

“You still have to pay for child­care. I’m not say­ing for a se­cond that you can care for chil­dren while work­ing from home, but you will only pay for child­care at the times you are work­ing.”

Abodoo prac­tise what they preach – Vanessa Tier­ney, co­founder of the com­pany, starts work at 5am. She wakes her chil­dren at 8am, drops them to school, and does more work from 9.15am un­til she has to col­lect them from school.

“She has re­moved that pres­sure. She gets a lot more qual­ity time with the chil­dren. She gets to do the school runs, to catch up with teach­ers, and she is not pay­ing for ad­di­tional child­care out­side of the nor­mal school or nurs­ery day,” says Sue. “That is ex­actly how it should be. Peo­ple should [be able to] work to fit around their own fam­ily and lifestyle.”

Long-term un­em­ploy­ment might seem like a huge hur­dle to over­come, but it is not im­pos­si­ble to break free from it. If you are plan­ning to get back into work, you must be­lieve in your­self and your abil­i­ties. Be­ing out­side of the work­force has given you a dif­fer­ent view of the world. This is an as­set. It means you will look at some­thing in a dif­fer­ent way to those who’ve been in the rat race con­stantly. Ev­ery com­pany is look­ing for some­one to think out­side the box. That could be you. Happy job hunt­ing.

“At a time of near­full em­ploy­ment, em­ploy­ers some­times for­get about the re­cent re­ces­sion and its im­pact.”

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