“I would say to Welsh government, if you value your Careers Wales service, please fund us properly”
UNISON Cymru Wales caught up Neil Parry, is a careers advisor, based in Aberdare to see how Careers Wales staff have been working during the coronavirus lockdown. Neil is also branch secretary of UNISON’s Welsh Government branch.
Tell us about your job during the pandemic
Careers Wales staff have worked through the lockdown, working from home to support people; young school leavers into education and training; unemployed people, people furloughed and those made redundant.
We’re offering telephone interviews and video interviews to clients and helping them access funding for retraining to give them a better chance of getting into work.
Pre-Covid, our work would have been face-to-face with clients, supporting them through a number of interviews. Since lockdown, contact is now by telephone, texts, emails and video conference.
If you are in a room with a person, you can gauge their understanding or not of something you are explaining. So you might reiterate points to make things clear and you would show people the information they would need to see on the internet.
Now, after speaking to a client, you must put everything you talked about in an email with links to make sure everything is understood. This takes us a lot longer, as much as double the time per client. We’re seeing up to five clients a day and we offer them an hour’s telephone or video appointment.
What do you think the outlook is like for young people?
Unfortunately, I think widespread unemployment is likely and that will mean fewer opportunities for young people in particular.
Thousands of people are being made redundant across the country and employers recruiting will be swamped with a relatively experienced pool of people looking for work as well as young people trying for their first job.
Career Wales advisors are highly qualified and regulated by the professional body and we’ll do our best to help.
How do you work at Careers Wales?
Looking for work can be worrying, particularly if you have to provide for your family. We can offer reassurance and explain the options open to the client.
For other clients, it can be an exciting time too. They may have been thinking of changing career for a long time and redundancy has offered the opportunity to do so along with the extra funding from Welsh government.
Our jobs are interesting and varied. No day is the same. The bit I enjoy the most is how you can practically help people.
In this line of work, you have to be personal, empathetic, knowledgeable about labour market information and guidance techniques. You need to listen and find what the person’s actual needs are rather than what they say first off. For example, they may say they want to be X and we can dig deeper and tease out more information to learn how we can best help.
What’s your view of how Careers Wales workers have responded to the crisis?
Absolutely brilliantly! The IT department equipped us for the move from the office into homes and managed it really well. Health and safety colleagues organised good adaptations at home and specialist equipment. Careers advisors have continued to offer the public a good service despite a new way of working.
As a union, UNISON has been heavily involved in planning to re-open and we anticipate that four of our larger offices will open in mid-August. Schools return in September and we are sorting risk assessments now so our careers advisors can be in there, present in schools.
Where senior managers at Careers Wales were reluctant to offer home working pre-Covid, now it’s been proved it can be done so there won’t be as much reluctance in future and that means more flexibility for staff.
What’s your message to the government?
To Welsh government, I would say, thank you for the way you’ve handled the Covid-19 crisis putting people before profit. They have been steadier and safer in opening up the Welsh economy rather than the haste with which the UK government has moved. Welsh government has done a better job.
I would say to the Welsh government, if you value your Careers Wales service, please fund us properly. At the moment stand-still budgets year after year for the last decade mean trying to find an inflation-led pay rise for UNISON members is practically impossible. Below inflation pay rises are not fair and Welsh government needs to include enough additional money in the budget allocated to Careers Wales to afford at least inflation-linked pay awards.
How are you going to celebrate the end of the lockdown?
Last week, my wife and I spent three days in a hot tub in Narberth! It was very nice. We walked on Amroth beach and got to paddle in the sea. That was our celebration of the end of total lockdown.