Educated woman WLTM the boss of my dreams

At Jobcare’s Network to Getwork event, unemployed, highly skilled professionals can ‘speed date’ with potential employers


In the old Labour Exchange Building on Gardiner Street, Jobnet facilitator John Paul Smith gathers a crowd of people around him.

“Who’s feeling excited?” he asks.

Some hands shoot up.

“Who’s feeling not so excited?” he asks.

A few more hands shoot up.

“Who’s feeling anxious?” he asks.

Even more hands shoot up.

Participants in Jobcare’s Network to Getwork event vary in age, gender and nationality but all wear white name badges, all are unemployed or underemployed professionals enrolled in a seven-week Jobnet programme, and all are here to network with prospective employers in an event that’s been likened to speed dating.

Their potential “dates” are, as Smith speaks, gathered upstairs in the Exchange’s main hall mingling around high tables, wearing yellow name badges. At one end of the room a screen displays the names of Jobcare’s industry partners. On the other sits a long table with coffee, tea and pastries. Pinned to the east wall are profiles of all the participants. Each laminated page has a photo, an outline of a CV and a pithy ‘elevator pitch’: “Pressure makes diamonds” reads one. Occasionally a “yellow badge” comes over, peruses the wall of profiles and take a photograph using a smart-phone.

While the businesses mingle, the participants wait downstairs. “Then we bring them up,” says facilitator Peter Johnson. “Like debutants!” !” Jobcare is celebrating its 20th birthday this year (it was cofounded in 1994 by chief executive Paul Mooney). It’s traditional constituency is unskilled, longterm unemployed people. The Jobnet programme, however, caters for skilled professionals who never thought they’d be unemployed and who, in a stronger economy, wouldn’t be. A lot of the work they do is about rebuilding confidence, says Johnson. “They often don’t realise how skilled they are. There’s one financial manager here who asked ‘should I mention in my CV that I once managed a fund worth €2 billion’.”

Downstairs, 60-year-old Patrick Hession tells me his elevator pitch “I make sure business operations run smoothly”. A one-time army officer, he has a strong background in senior management, but has been unemployed since 2011. “It affects your self-confidence. People say ‘What’s wrong with you?”’ when you think you’re grand, but you’re wearing unemployment on your back and it’s dragging you down.”

David Lewis worked for 20 years with the same aeronautical maintenance company. In 2009 it closed and he has since bounced between short-term contracts and educational courses (including one in web programming). “It was like having your identity taken away,” he says. “Once you were ‘David Lewis operation support manager’ and now you’re not. It was devastating to be honest with you.” His former chief executive is a guest today. “I’m probably more nervous about meeting him than the others,” he says.

Many of the participants are younger. Elena Selvatici, formerly a teacher, wants to become a personal stylist. She gives me her card (everyone has cards). Alan Peirce, who has just completed a degree in zoology, is checking an updated guest-list on his smart phone.

He doesn’t see anyone related to his industry. “I think I’ll probably end up going abroad to get experience,” he says.

Pep talk
Smith calls them around and gives his pep talk. He says that nerves are natural, tells them to be themselves and gets them to do breathing exercises. Someone near me laughs an embarrassed laugh. “If you think it’s silly,” says Smith, “this is a technique used by Navy Seals.” He finishes with: “We’re here for you guys. Go on and have fun. Let’s go!”

Soon the yellow badges and white badges are mingling in the well-lit hall upstairs. If the white-badges linger for too long they get a gentle nudge from Jobnet facilitators. “We considered having a bell,” says facilitator Tom Mitchell, “but we thought that might be too formal.”

Branden Bettger travels from Cork every morning on the 5am bus to participate in Jobnet. He’s pursuing a PhD in UCC, has worked in IT and PR, been in a Christian alternative rock band and spent time as actor. He currently works in retail. “It’s getting harder to make ends meet,” he says. He’s interested in talking to people from the tech sector and is “passionate about using digital media in education”.

Pat Claffey spent 20 years developing software with Oracle. “My job moved to a low-cost location,” he says. Did he feel betrayed? “After 20 years you know the culture of an organisation,” he says. “As someone said, if you’re 20 years there, you’re part of the culture of that organisation. You know the rules and you know the risks.”

Rami Jawhar, here representing Facebook and casually dressed in jeans and a waistcoat, spent some time unemployed in the past. “I understand how hard it is for people who feel the pressure of unemployment . . . These people have no reason to feel less than anyone else. I just met someone with 20 years working in Oracle. I felt intimidated by his experience.”

People start to relax. “Earlier you could feel the nervousness churning in the room downstairs,” says Trinity English graduate Matthew Walker. “All of a sudden everyone was unsure of themselves. They started speaking really quickly ‘Do have your business cards?’ Some were trying to outdo each other with how much they’d researched the people coming. Some had lists and priorities and colour coordination. You know how it is, there’s a competitive nature to the market itself.”

At this stage everyone is chatting amiably. “I don’t understand why they’re trying to help us,” says Anjola McElroy, a fashion designer trying to build a career as a fashion buyer. “It’s really good that they’re trying to help us.”

“It’s not as American as I thought it would be,” says Noeleen Donaghar, an office administrator. “I was worried it might be like a 1980s’ American yuppie thing.” Jobnet has helped her regain the confidence that “ebbed away with each rejection, each ‘Thank you we’ll keep your CV on file’.”

‘Definite upturn’
Brendan McGuinness, who took early retirement from Guinness a few years ago, was at a similar event

18 months previously. “The mood was very down then,” he says. “There’s a definite upturn now. There are more companies here.”

A man is photographing profiles with his phone. His name is Mark O’Connor and he’s with Acorn Life. “I’m looking for raw material to be moulded,” he says. “We’re looking for people who’ve run their own businesses or have been made redundant and are interested in going into business.” Some participants fear ageism but he is specifically looking for experienced people. “The last three people I recruited, one was 48 the other was 52 and the other was 62. Life experience appeals to me.”

Afterwards, Richie Smith from Hays Recruitment wonders “Why are they here? These are highly skilled people . . . But there’s always a story. Some people are just unlucky. Some just don’t know how good they are. I know there are people here who will be in work within a month.”

For those fortunate enough to have a job, it’s sobering. If these well-educated, hardworking people have trouble finding employment, any of us could. And though the economy is apparently recovering, a trend for short-term contracts and outsourcing suggests periods of underemployment could be in all of our futures. This is hugely problematic for those who see their job as part of their identity.

Matthew Walker is the only participant I speak to who doesn’t know what he wants to work at, but he also seems surer of himself. “Sometimes in a group you find yourself a little bit of the odd one out, with a career path that’s vague, but I’ve learned not to take on the expectations of others,” he says. “Now every time I think ‘What am I doing? I have a son and a wife!’ I take stock and realise that it’s okay. I don’t know what I want to do, but I do know who I am.”

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