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The Value of Integration

Posted by on October 30, 2014

The Value of Integration

A former SEI Awardee, Paul Mooney is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Jobcare – one of Ireland’s leading employment support organisations. In the build-up to our 2014 Awards on November 12th, Paul looks back on Jobcare’s 20 year history, and the role SEI played in their success.

 

This year we in Jobcare are celebrating our 20th anniversary – 20 years of skills development, of lives changed and of hope restored.

When I co-founded Jobcare in 1994, my conviction was that ‘Working Matters’. Yet the unemployment rate in Ireland stood at 15.1% and there were three generations of unemployment in some areas of inner city Dublin. Jobcare’s purpose was to help those people who were long-term unemployed to address their own barriers to employment and to secure suitable work. We knew that work would positively impact not just those individuals and their families, but their friends, communities and the economy as well. It was powerful to see that legacy of unemployment broken in families and a culture of work introduced to their children.

As the Celtic Tiger years took hold, with jobs in abundance, many of those long-term unemployed people secured work. However, I realised there were a group of people being left behind: those with a criminal record. That’s when I began to research and form the initiative that became Jobcare’s Trasna work programme – to provide work experience, training and support for ex-offenders, giving them the opportunity to forge a new path for themselves and their families and to re-establish themselves within society. As an SEI Awardee in 2007 (and later in 2009), I was so grateful for SEI’s recognition of our efforts and support in helping us launch this programme. This enabled us in January 2008 to establish an effective work programme tailored to the specific needs of this group, securing special funding from FAS for the first two years. We were able to provide a work programme of individualised coaching, training and education, centred round a framework of work. Since that time, over 100 ex-offenders have commenced Trasna with over 60% going onto work or full-time education. For most of these men and women, their time with Jobcare has been the longest period of time they have remained out of prison since their first sentence – only 9% have gone back to prison as opposed to the national average of 45% (the re-offending rate after three years).

We know that change is the only constant and the Irish economy certainly changed when we entered recession. The collapse of the construction industry meant a re-thinking and re-focussing for many of our Trasna participants. Funding cuts and a different jobs market meant Jobcare had to adapt in order to sustain the programme, including integrating our Trasna participants into the landscape of our other work programme.

Interestingly we were simultaneously seeing a new kind of jobseeker in the Irish jobs market – professionally skilled individuals and graduates who, because of the decline in the economic climate, find it difficult to secure work, yet have much to offer a potential employer. The impact of unemployment, of the sudden loss of income, of structure and of mental and emotional satisfaction that working brings, was having a profound impact on these individuals. In contrast to our original experience of people who were third-generation unemployed, we were now assisting people, many of whom were experiencing unemployment for the first time. And so we responded in 2011 by initiating and developing the Jobnet programme for professional and graduate jobseekers. Jobnet empowers jobseekers to market their skills and learn to network effectively to find employment. SEI again supported our initiative when Peter Johnson, our Jobnet manager, became an SEI Awardee for Jobnet in 2013. Of the 732 jobseekers who completed our first 16 Jobnet programmes, 62% have progressed to employment or further education.

So in the ten years of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, the journey Jobcare has taken with their support has fundamentally required innovation and enterprise in order to effectively meet the changing needs of the people we seek to impact. Jobcare’s Trasna programme does not currently look like we expected it would back in 2007. However, in exploring how to adapt the programme in response to the economic landscape and consequently integrating our work programme participants, we realised that we were in fact meeting a deeper need for these people. Our goal to reduce recidivism through meaningful employment and to support ex-offenders’ re-establishment within society is born out of their identifying skills, achieving goals, having self-esteem and hope restored and developing a new sense of themselves as people contributing to their families and communities. This re-framing of identity requires a reintegration, a levelling of the playing field, an equality of opportunity. By integrating our Trasna participants, they have the experience of working side-by-side, on an equal footing with other jobseekers from diverse backgrounds. Whether professionals, people with a disability or the “average” jobseeker, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone has their own individual challenges and that, with support, they can deal with these challenges and progress positively to work, hope and making a positive impact on those around them. Necessity may be the birthplace of change, but innovation can ultimately meet our original and core purpose.

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