My company advertised to recruit 150 people last year, to work full-time or part-time. We are Ireland's leading field management agency, requiring substantial numbers of people to work in retail, sales, merchandising, in-store demonstrations and a call centre.
Our success is based on the people we hire, and we had to work hard to find the people we needed. We interviewed over 2,000 candidates during the year, working with social welfare offices, with organisations that work to reskill those out of work and with various recruitment bodies.
The work we offer can be challenging, but many find it attractive. There are part-time and full-time roles so we have something to offer people at different stages of life with different needs.
We recruit many people at entry-level pay rates but there is plenty of opportunity to move on and to earn more through bonuses, commission and progression within the company. We don't need specific qualifications, we need a certain personality who we can then train.
Yet we struggle to fulfil our staff needs.
My frustration is that I know there are many people out there who could take on these roles and thrive at them, but they don't apply. I know other employers find the same. My experience is not that such people are 'work-shy'. It is that they either lack the confidence to take on a new role, or they are concerned that they will lose benefits and incur additional costs through taking up employment.
We need to help people get out of the Catch 22 situation whereby if you don't have work, you lose your confidence; and if you don't have confidence you won't get work.
It is alarming to see the speed with which confidence drains from people who have lost their jobs. Work does not just give us money, it gives a sense of a role in society, of confidence, of being "worth" something. Without work, many people have to become reliant on social welfare payments.
This breeds dependence. Once people become reliant on social welfare it is not easy to move away from it. If you are signed on, then to sign off again to take up work involves a risk and people in this position know from experience that getting signed on again may not be easy, and will take time.
There is also the concern that if you take up an entry-level job you will lose a range of other benefits. You will feel their loss in your pocket, and you may find it hard to reclaim those benefits again.
The cost of childcare is also a dramatic disincentive preventing people from going back to work. For parents in full-time employment, childcare for two children will easily cost €1,500 per month. This cost, together with the loss of benefits, makes many question whether returning to work is worthwhile. A short-term financial calculation can override longer-term career considerations.
So to move back into the workforce you need to believe your skills are good enough to allow you to keep your job. A central part of getting people who have fallen out of the workforce back into it is to show them how they can develop a new skillset that will help them to make a living again.
If you can sell yourself you can sell a product or a service. If you could learn office systems that were operated in the 90s you can learn those that operate today. In short, if you were able to apply skills to doing one job well, you can apply them to a new job with new skills too.
Training you to do so is the easy part and we have developed a training programme here at FMI called 'The Cycle of Development' which ensures continuous training and progression. It is not just potential employees who need to change their mindset, employers must do so too. Employers need to be less traditional about how they filter applicants for jobs. We don't discard people on the basis of an unimpressive-looking CV. We are very often surprised at how applicants who looked unimpressive on paper come to life during a conversation.
If people have a positive attitude and communications skills, then their personality can convince us at interview that this is the person we want, regardless of their ability to write a good CV.
Ageism must also become a thing of the past, not just for the obvious reason that it is against the law, but because it doesn't work. Some of our best recruits are older people with no formal sales experience but lots of life experience. To sell, you need people to like and trust you. We find that the ability to win that trust is possessed at least as much by older people as by younger people.
We all need role models. Take Richie Sadlier, whose promising professional football career was cut short by serious injury– he became an icon for those who want to up-skill or change career. His inspirational message has a resonance which he is prepared to share. Like him, tens of thousands of those out of work have skills they didn't initially identify. Many in business want those skills. The unemployed and employers must recognise those skills and put them to use.
NICOLA DE BEER IS CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF FIELD MANAGEMENT IRELAND. KICK START A NEW YOU IS A FREE EVENT ON THIS SATURDAY, MARCH 1, AT 10AM IN DUNDRUM.