Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The A4E Experience Part 3

As 2007 became 2008 I was full of hope. I had just finished a successful albeit brief stint working for Boots in Castle Mall. I had hoped that this addition to my CV would lead me to another job in the not to distant future.

Then it happened. The bankers lived up to their cockney rhyming slang name, the economy buckled, and the recession hit. I began to gradually notice the change. In 2007 I was averaging four to five interviews a week. A year or so later I was lucky to any interviews at all.

By the summer of 2009 New Deal had become Flexible New Deal, and because I had only worked for four weeks since February 2005 I began to appear on A4E’s radar scope again.

There was one slight problem. At the beginning of 2009 my right knee began to hurt like hell. At first I just took some pain killers and got on with things, but it got to the point where the pain was too much, which meant a trip to see the doctor.

The diagnosis looked quite promising. The doctor, who wasn’t my regular GP, told me that the fluid around my kneecap had become infected. So he gave me some antibiotics and sent me on my way. I completed the course as prescribed, and nothing happened. If anything my knee was getting gradually worse.

Which meant another visit to the doctor, and this time to see my regular GP, Dr. Oliver. He looked at my knee, prodded and poked it, twisted and turned it, and told me that it looked like I’d torn my cartilage. It was a diagnosis that was confirmed after an MRI scan a month or so later.

It was around this time that the Job Centre had arranged for me to visit A4E again, but because I was unfit for work that appointment was cancelled when I claimed Incapacity Benefit.

I underwent keyhole surgery to repair the damage the Friday before the August Bank Holiday. The date of the operation meant that I couldn’t go to my brother Michael’s wedding the following day. To say that I was disappointed that I couldn’t go would be understating the fact, but as the old saying goes, doctor’s orders.

I was declared fit for work again in October, two months after my operation, which meant that I was back on the job market. I was put forward for A4E’s work program again the following April.

The work program had undergone a radical overhaul since my time there back in 2007. Back then I had to attend a daily program at A4E’s office. The change to Flexible New Deal meant that I only had to attend either once a fortnight or once a month.

A4E had also moved offices. They’d moved from their large offices above the Virgin Megastore in Castle Mall to the slightly smaller surroundings of Oak Street, a short walk away from Anglia Square. I knew Oak Street quite well from my time in the wrestling business because The Talk nightclub was just up the road.

My first appointment was with my new advisor, a nice young lady called Nikki. She took me through the changes between non-flexible and Flexible New Deal. Apart from her I was now under the tutelage, if that’s the right word, of a few advisors with all manner of names, the kind of job titles that only seem to have popped up in the past few years.

I liked Nikki. She was okay. She knew her stuff, and after a couple of appointments we seemed to be getting along very well. The first problem soon appeared on the horizon though, and it was the first example of how my second stint with A4E would turn out.

I can’t remember the exact date, but the day before I was due to attend an appointment with Nikki I had a phone call from the office manager. My appointment had been cancelled because Nikki had handed her notice in. I had no idea at the time why she’d left, but I later found out she’d gone to work for Norwich Union.

For a while my case was handled by another woman called Camilla. She was one of those with the made-up job titles, life coach or something like that. What struck me at first about her was the amount of make-up she wore. It did seem a bit excessive. I found out a couple of years later that she used to work as an air hostess, so the amount of make-up kind of made sense then. (And don’t ask me how you get from air hostess to recruitment-type person. I have no idea.)

A few weeks later I was put under the care of Samantha, who was also the aforementioned office manager. I really didn’t like her. She was the kind of woman who spoke down to everyone. But what really upset me about her was her attitude towards me during one appointment.

The appointment took place around September 2009. My family had gone through a bit of a rough period. My Aunt Clare had died of cancer. A few weeks later my sister-in-law Natalie had died after years of ill health. A short-time after that my cousin Alex took his own life.

I’d been a bit down in the dumps, and applying for jobs had been the last thing on my mind. But when I attended my appointment with Samantha and she saw that I hadn’t done that many applications she gave me a right bollocking. She showed me absolutely no sympathy at all. It didn’t matter to her that three of my relatives had died.

Thankfully Samantha’s other duties meant that my case was given to another woman called Stephanie. I liked her. Unlike her predecessors she actually had a sense of humour, and unlike Camilla or Samantha she actually seemed to care about the clients under her care.

But despite Stephanie’s efforts to help me find work overall I felt as if A4E just didn’t care.

Whenever I’ve been on one of these work programs I’ve always been of the opinion that the relationship between the advisor and the client is of the utmost importance. It’s like any relationship, business or personal. The two people need to get to know each other, to find out what they’re about and what makes them tick. They have to learn how to trust each other.

That’s something I just didn’t have during my first few months back with A4E. I kind of felt like an old relative whose passed from family member to family member before eventually settling down in an old folks home.

A4E just didn’t bother to take the time out to find out what kind of person I was. That hurt not only my own self esteem but my confidence in them as a company. And my confidence in them would go on to take a further hit. But that’s another story for another time.