Helping heal the pain of redundancy

IF you’re to face up to the future after losing a long-term career, you need sensitive and expert support, says John McClelland

Staff outside Hall's of Broxburn after the owners of the factory - Vion - announced its closure and the loss of 1700 jobs. Picture: Dan Philips

THERE has been no clearer indication of the tough economic times we have endured over the past few years than the countless business closures and redundancies across Scotland and the world. Media images of anguished crowds at the factory gates became a near daily occurance at the height of the recession.

I’m sure that we are all still shocked when we hear that hundreds of people will lose their jobs, resulting in a blight on whole communities.

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However, as more of us have now gone through the experience ourselves, I’m sure some have become a little “desensitised” to hearing such news and perhaps take it for granted that people will dust themselves off and find new employment.

But let’s face it, if you’ve worked for the same company for 30 years it’s never going to be easy to pick yourself up after a knock. The long process of surveying the jobs market and spotting where your talents may be needed is a daunting task. Not to mention the financial implications of redundancy.

What many won’t realise is that the Scottish public sector has been preparing for their situation since March 2000.

That’s when PACE (Partnership Action for Continuing Employment) was established with the aim of giving people in redundancy situations access to all the services and answers they need well before they’ve been handed their P45.

As soon as the first cracks start to appear in a company’s finances, we get in touch with the employer to offer support.

The rapid response approach allows us to get on site and speak to the employer as early as possible – in many cases before the staff know the redundancy option is even on the table. This gives us the advantage of having the time to assess the workforce, their skills and what they may need to move on.

And with our expertise in the jobs market, we can identify the skills gaps and where talents could be transferred for the benefit of not only the person, but the economy.

Over the years, PACE has worked with hundreds of clients and every case is different, but the wraparound approach of the partnership is a benefit that can be overlooked. As well as the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland, partners include the Money Advice Service, local authorities, colleges and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Many people, when they receive face-to-face support, can’t believe that one person can help them with information on the benefits they’re entitled to, as well as advice on starting a business.

A recent large-scale redundancy involving PACE was at Halls of Broxburn. That was particularly challenging, not only as it was high profile, but because many of the staff did not speak English. We had to develop materials in Polish and ensure we had Polish-speaking advisers on hand. We delivered around 90 presentations to almost 900 staff, set up on and off-site resource centres and held a jobs fair.

It was an intensive and unique situation, but it worked. We surveyed those we had helped and they were positive about the support, particularly the wide range of services available.

But it’s not always large businesses with hundreds of cuts; there are the smaller businesses that also need support, for example the recent case of Baxters in the Scottish Borders. Regardless of the size or location of the business, having knowledge of the local skills landscape is key to supporting staff, a one-size-fits-all approach would not work, the service is – and must be – flexible.

Redundancy is often cited as one of life’s most stressful experiences but in many cases people see it as an opportunity. A cliché, but it’s true. Understandably, we are often asked how many have been helped to find a new job but many forget about those who are not looking for a new job – those close to retirement who are delighted to finish up early or those who want to set up their own business. It can be a turning point in someone’s life and we’re there to help them plan for that next step.

In the past year, the PACE partnership supported more than 11,600 people and around 300 employers and a number of them will now be enjoying retirement or self-employment. Others will have found a new job similar to their old one.

It’s a huge figure and it’s important to remember we’re not talking about statistics but individuals – every one of those people lost their job.

Working with them can be emotional for our staff, it can be a challenge, but it can also be a positive experience as they will have helped someone move forward at a difficult time in their lives.

• John McClelland CBE is chair of Skills Development Scotland (SDS), who are the lead partner in the PACE initiative