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Unlock your potential during lockdown
Advice from RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity on how to keep your job search on track during the COVID-19 pandemic …
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has led to unimaginable changes in an unfathomably short space of time. From school closures and social distancing to widespread furloughing of staff and disrupted supply chains, no area of life has been left unaffected.
At RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity, the team have been working tirelessly to support ex-Forces personnel in their search for employment, and have a wealth of experience and advice they can share with anyone seeking help.
Says Kevin Grist (pictured above), regional employment advisor at RFEA: ‘These are unprecedented times we are living in right now and we are seeing massive shifts in employment trends – both in terms of how industries are operating (or not, as the case may be), through to types of business that are recruiting and how they are going about filling those vacancies.’
Which category of job seeker do you fall into?
‘As we progress through these changes, we are seeing two different types of job seeker emerging,’ Kevin continues. ‘The first being those who are actively job seeking, whether that be because of losing their job as a direct result of COVID-19, or for some other reason, which could be anything from long-term unemployment to health-related issues, lack of opportunities, etc. The second category is those who are either furloughed from work or are currently unemployed, but in a position where they are able to “sit tight” until things return to normal. The first thing I do with my clients is help them work out which category they fall into, and then help them establish what the opportunities are for them, based on their own personal circumstances.’
For those who are actively seeking employment, Kevin recommends the ‘three Ps’: patience, parameters and practice.
He says, ‘It’s important to be even more patient than normal, and not to be too disheartened if you don’t hear back about a role you have applied for as quickly as you would expect. Even an organisation with the most robust infrastructure will be facing tough challenges to its ways of working right now, so things are likely to take longer. We’ve also seen a significant shift in the volume and type of jobs on offer at the moment, with many office-based roles in particular being put on hold for the foreseeable future, so it could well be that your ideal job isn’t available right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in a few months’ time.’
He adds, ‘If a job seeker is in a situation whereby financial pressures mean they need to find a role quickly, we would recommend reconsidering the parameters of the job search, at least on a short-term basis, to help tide things over until the current climate improves. For example, while desk-based clerical roles are harder to come by right now, key worker roles such as delivery drivers and couriers are very much in demand. These are particularly good for ex-Service personnel with qualifications like HGV licences. Such is the demand for these roles currently, that many previous additional requirements such as a CPC licence, have now been relaxed, with applicants able to take the associated tests online rather than in person, which is speeding up the process considerably.’
Kevin also recommends that, within the parameters of their search, job seekers should think locally. ‘While we may have already seen a peak in demand for additional staff in supermarkets to help ease the panic buying situation we saw at the outset of the outbreak, we are now seeing more of a rise in demand for restaurants, cafes, farm stores and the like to offer local takeaway/delivery services to work around current social and business restrictions. Therefore it is worth thinking about which businesses in your local area are still operating, albeit in a different way, and how they might be in need of support.’
He also has key recommendations for any job seekers who are offered an interview. He suggests: ‘My advice is to practise, practise and practise again! Owing to the social distancing rules, interviews taking place now are likely to be conducted over the phone, or via video using apps like Zoom or Skype. While technology can be hugely beneficial, it can also take some getting used to if you aren’t already familiar with using the different platforms. Therefore, anyone currently undertaking a job search would do well to spend some time downloading a few options and trying them out, perhaps with family or friends, to get accustomed to the basics, such as how to connect, enabling microphones and cameras, time delays, etc.’
He adds, ‘Remember that the usual conventions of an interview still apply, even if it is being done remotely. If you wouldn’t dress in your pyjamas or bring your laundry along in person, it’s probably best to dress nicely and move your pile of washing out of shot for the virtual interview! Some clients I speak to are actually finding remote interviews working to their advantage, as they can grab a sneaky look at their CV or crib notes that they’ve pinned to their wall – which obviously you can’t do in a face-to-face situation!’
For veterans who find themselves in the position of not being in work or not under immediate pressure to find a role, Kevin stresses that the current situation can present a number of interesting opportunities for this group to take stock and reflect. He says, ‘The pace of life is such that we rarely take time to stop and consider whether the path we are on is the one we want. This can actually be very difficult to do by yourself if you’re not entirely sure and you don’t have much time available to think about it – so that’s where we come in. One of the things that is so important about RFEA’s work is that we really dig deep into what it is our clients are looking for.’
When were you last happy at work?
He continues, ‘I find a helpful exercise to do with clients is to ask them when they were last happy at work. It often generates some unexpected results – I’ve had clients having to think back to 20 years ago, or more, to identify a point when they felt happy at work. That simple question can be a brilliant starting point to look at if you’re reviewing your job situation or thinking about a career change, as you can then start to identify what factors were there to give that feeling of satisfaction, and it’s often not necessarily status or salary.’
Kevin advises that the next stage is to figure out exactly how much money you need to be financially comfortable and secure. He adds: ‘That can sometimes involve people deciding they don’t necessarily need the salary they thought, but that a lower wage would suffice and potentially reduce stress levels/working hours to facilitate more free time. This is a great exercise to do, as changing the salary band can then suddenly open up a job search quite considerably.’
Time to update and upskill
Part of the work RFEA does is to support veterans in identifying roles in areas of employment that they are interested in, but advisors can also help find routes to new professions that clients may not have considered. Kevin suggests that, for those considering a change, but who might otherwise be lacking core skills/direct experience of the relevant sector, the current period of lockdown could present a great opportunity to upskill by taking advantage of the many online courses, a number of which incur little or no cost.
He says, ‘For anyone who is finding they have more time on their hands than usual, now is a good time to dust off the CV and make sure it’s up to date, or look at taking up a course that perhaps might have been more difficult at another time. We appreciate it can be a bit overwhelming getting started sometimes, so our team are always on hand to help with CV development, to talk through options and provide help in choosing the course that’s right for you.’
Furthermore, many courses that were due to be classroom based have also now been moved to an online format. This can be especially useful for those with caring commitments, who will benefit from the increased flexibility regarding when courses can be completed. It also opens up training and development opportunities for anyone who would have previously found travel to be prohibitive.
Funding is still available
While there are many resources that are free of charge, such as distance learning courses, CV templates and personality tests to help identify careers to suit your personality, Kevin is keen to stress that, for those who wish to pursue an opportunity that incurs some cost, financial help is available.
He says, ‘It’s really important people know that the help they need is still out there. There might be more of a delay, as processing times may be affected by staff changes, but there are some brilliant organisations and charities who can provide help funding all sorts of things to help kick-start a new venture – anything from a new laptop to tools, upgrades to licences etc. Whatever it is, we can help you with your funding application, to maximise your chances of being successful.’
‘One of the biggest challenges at this time,’ he says, ‘is keeping motivated.’ Fortunately, ex-Service men and women can draw on their military experience to help stay focused during this time by finding a daily routine that works for them, being sure to include a balance between work-related and well-being focused activity (e.g. regular exercise and “downtime”).
He continues: ‘People who have spent time in the military usually possess a strong “can-do” attitude, and have a keen desire to keep busy and help. This is probably why we’re seeing such a huge uptake of veterans volunteering to support the NHS at the moment. It is precisely those sorts of skills and attributes that make ex-Service personnel so valuable to the workforce, both in times of crisis and beyond.’
- Remember that there are opportunities – and funding – out there.
- Carry on with your search and try to remain positive (even if things are taking a while).
- Keep going – this is only temporary and things will get back to normal eventually.
RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity exists to provide life-long, life-changing support, job opportunities, and training to Service leavers, reservists, veterans and their families, irrespective of circumstances, rank, length of service or reason for leaving.
Founded in 1885 and operating across the UK, we have the specialist knowledge and understanding to bridge the gap between military life and civilian employment. We work in partnership with other organisations and employers who, like us, respect and value the unique qualities and abilities of all those who have served.
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