Monday, 26 November 2012

The A4E Experience Part 1

I’m going to start this blog by telling you all of my experience with a company called Action 4 Employment, or A4E for short.

For those of you who don’t know, A4E were a company formed in the early 90’s by Emma Harrison, with the intent of helping people back to work. My first encounter with them began in September 2007 in Norwich when my local Job Centre referred me to them as part of the New Deal program.

My introduction to them began with an induction course. This was basically one of those things were a group of people from varying social backgrounds were thrown together so we could be told how the whole New Deal thing worked.

The sessions were run by a bloke called Dave. Sadly I can’t remember his last name, which is kind of ironic considering that there were three or four Daves who worked there at the time.

Dave was okay. He certainly knew his stuff, and treated everyone in the group with a great deal of respect. Sadly I couldn’t say the same about my fellow job seekers in the group.

As is usual with this kind of thing there were those who really didn’t want to be there, and they let it be known to anyone who would listen that they really didn’t want to be there.

My group contained many such people. If you can imagine the setting for a moment. Dave sat at the head of the conference-style table. I sat on one side in the middle more or less.

To my immediate left was a guy who carried around a huge holdall filled with mobile phones and digital cameras which came from several dubious sources. He was covered in tattoos, including the obligatory swallow on each side of his neck. He was a chef by trade who went on about how nobody was ever going to give him a job again because of his tattoos. This guy lasted less than a week.

To his left was another guy who spent most of his time looking out of the window “bird watching” as he put it. Castle Street in Norwich wasn’t exactly known for it’s ornithology. When we were given an exercise in how to fill out an application form he refused to take part, saying that he’d never filled out an application form for any other job. He never came back afterwards.

Sitting opposite me was a guy called Karl. He did last the week, but spent most of his time pointing at Dave with his pen in his hand and disputing everything he said. He poured scorn on everything, although Dave gave as good as he got in all of their exchanges.

The course wasn’t filled completely by morons and halfwits. There were a quite a few people who, like me, went in it with an open mind. For instance, to my right as a tall, grey-haired Scottish gentleman who was the spitting image of Catweazle (the children’s TV character not the professional wrestler) who knew quite a lot about computers. Next to Karl sat a Chinese guy called Peter who‘d worked as a teaching assistant. Peter was another of those guys I had nice chats with, although he did go on a bit at times. There were also a few others I got on well with but I can’t remember their names.

After the week-long course we were sent on our way into the wider office so we could look for work and communicate on a weekly basis with our various advisors. My advisor was a nice young lady called Kate. There were actually three Kates who worked in the office, and for some reason they all sat in the same corner. I think you can tell what we named that particular part of the office.

Part of the deal with A4E was that they were meant to find me a work placement where I could gain experience. When I had my first meeting with Kate she asked me where I’d like to be sent.

I pointed to the various signs on the nearby wall that listed where A4E had established contacts. The list contained the likes of HMV, Comet, Currys and Vodafone, and I said that I wouldn’t mind being sent any of them. Kate took down the details and passed them on to the relevant person in the office, the relevant person being a smartly-dressed bloke with ginger hair who looked like the younger brother of WWE wrestler Sheamus. He’s another one whose name I can’t remember.

Now before I go any further I must say that I really can’t criticise Kate. She gave me a hell of a lot of help and advice, and it was nice to have someone to chat with who showed a great deal of empathy toward the people she was trying to help.

Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the people who were meant to be finding me a work placement.

Sheamus’ baby brother left to work for another company about six weeks after my first meeting with Kate. Kate told me that my details would be passed on to someone else so that they could find me a placement.

My stay with A4E was meant to last three months, but as the weeks and months went on, and as I applied for countless jobs and countless interviews I heard absolutely nothing about my work placement.

After about two months I realised that while others around me had been given work placements those concerned with helping me out just couldn’t be bothered. I felt completely let down because the people who were meant to be helping me find work hadn’t done a bloody thing.

Two weeks before I was due to leave the A4E program I saw that Boots in Castle Mall were looking for staff. I picked up an application form, sent it back, and a week later I began work there on a short-term Christmas contract.

The day before I began my new job I went to the A4E office for what I thought would be the last time to fill out the relevant forms. However, one week later I had a call on my mobile asking me to pop in for a few minutes. But that’s a story that will have to wait until next time.