WHILE the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on so many things we used to take for granted, life must go on. For many, that means finding a new job or starting out on a first or different career path.

If you’re a young person from a background without advantage or someone who missed out on learning opportunities at school because of childhood trauma, how do you get a break in life? Maybe you got off to a bad start when you were younger; how do you get on a better track?

This much we know. Helping individuals develop personally doesn’t happen by punishing them with pernicious benefit sanctions. Treating people out of work with hostility and indignity is a broken policy from the Victorian era. And yet, this approach remains at the heart of the UK Government’s unemployment policy.

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The experience of Gerry Keogh at Unlock Employment in Govan provides an essential antidote to those who would write-off many out-of-work Glaswegians. His community-based social enterprise has helped 63 clients find work during lockdown. In the preceding year, Unlock Employment supported 120 people in the Greater Govan area secure jobs.

In the past two years, this small organisation has helped local people bring in wages of almost £2.5 million. It’s a remarkable success story, not least for an organisation now comprising of one member of staff and two volunteers. I asked Gerry to explain the inspiration and thinking behind the creation of Unlock Employment.

He told me: “My motivation was born of frustration at the seeming lack of real support services to help people into employment, especially ex-offenders. All available support services offered packages of support tailored to particular funding streams, therefore an individual had to ‘fit a support package’ to receive support.

“Our concept was to provide support for the wider local community to get into employment but not through a streamed employability fund. I wanted to build an employment service that had no limits on the client base including ex-offenders, refugees and long-term unemployed. If you need help and you really wanted to get back into employment, then Unlock Employment would support you with this.

“I started out on Twitter offering support for any ex-offenders as I’m an ‘ex-offender’, who needed help to get back into employment. I used my lived experience along with my employability managerial experience in Birmingham and Northern Ireland. It wasn’t an elaborate business plan, all that I did after I’d left prison was meet clients in coffee shops and libraries.

“Within six months I had a space to work out of within The Hub in Govan. This was through Govan Housing Association and led to picking up the contract to deliver the Govan Jobs Match through Govan Thriving Places.”

For Gerry, it’s essential to treat clients with respect as human beings and put their needs first and foremost. Digital exclusion and poverty are massive barriers for communities across the UK as employers and public services have moved on to digital platforms.
Digital exclusion has become more acute during Covid-19 due to shielding and social distancing, with vital facilities like local libraries having to close temporarily across the city. Gerry gives me examples of how Unlock Employment’s digital lending library has enabled many clients to secure jobs.

Lending clients the tech to access online courses and providing them with mentoring support to apply for vacancies and to prepare and participate in video interviews during lockdown has resulted in life-changing outcomes for local Govanites. 

Glasgow Times: Unlock Employment is based in The HubUnlock Employment is based in The Hub

A lack of self-esteem and confidence can also prevent people securing employment. For those who think there’s no point applying because they’d never get a job, Gerry said: “A mother who’s brought up her children for 15 years may have more experience and work ethic than some who’ve been working for 20 years. A client who’s been volunteering for five years in a local charity shop can have more customer service and management experience than a lot of people doing the same job for 10 years.

“Transferring these skills to a CV and embracing what you do in life are important life-skills. We have to change how people think about life-skills and what they can bring to an employer.”

Sadly, Unlock Employment receives no core financial support and recently lost temporary funding for an employment digital champion. Demand for its services have increased due to the economic impact of Covid-19.

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Without doubt there’s a pressing need for the community-based support that Unlock Employment provides across Greater Govan. Gerry’s ambition is to replicate his successful employment support model in other parts of the city.

As we begin 2021 and the roll-out of vaccinations, the challenge will be to help more people get back into work. For the most disadvantaged in our communities, Unlock Employment represents the break in life they never had. Get in touch at unlockemployment.org

Let’s hope more funders can give Unlock Employment a fair break too.