When working for the dole works

You know Work for the Dole is working when you overhear a group participant telling a friend they are at ‘work’.

Note, the ‘at work’ statement is NOT inter-changable with ‘at a course’, ‘painting stupid walls’, ‘working for the dole’, ‘bored senseless’ or ‘volunteering’.  They declare they are at work, working and simultaneously imply a sense of belonging, being happy to be there.

When you hear someone actually utter the word ‘work’ you’ve reached the status of providing a meaningful and engaging activity in my books.

This post is an insight to my personal account of coordinating 7 work for the dole projects (involving pretty close to 100 participants throughout) .  Projects which had many successful outcomes from (the desired) employment outcomes, to enrollments in training courses, engaging in volunteering opportunities, starting small businesses, stimulating friendships and building self-esteem.  Then there’s the community benefit on top.

Throughout these 7 projects I’ve met participants who are ‘down on their luck’, transitioning from school to somewhere else, battling against the stereotypical expectations of their life choices, trying to work out what to do in life, approaching retirement, getting ready to start a family, looking for new skills and connections an many combinations of all of these factors and more.  But I’m yet to meet the illusive ‘dole bludger’.

Working for the Dole is inconvenient.

Not only do job seekers have to turn up to their Work for the Dole activity for a good whack of your potential working week, they still have to meet a whole bunch of compliance, participation in meaningless activities (a friend of mine has to attend ‘group’ interviews with her job service and in front of up to five strangers speak of her recent employment seeking activities).  But that’s OK because they will earn an additional $20.80 per fortnight to…???  (I’m not sure what that incentive is about in real time).

In the community I live in I regularly see people hitch hiking just to get to relevant employment seeking appointments.  I can’t even fathom how our society can think that’s OK.

Nor, in my book is it OK to exploit people be they job seekers needing a little incentive to get off their posterior, those who need a little encouragement in the ‘right’ direction or people who are genuinely interested in gaining a new skill set.

And I fail to see how Work for the Dole experiences that are not directly linked to jobs or at least a pathway towards a job are anything BUT exploitative.

OK, so if you’re going to paint a community hall that’s a great community contribution but how many job vacancies are there for painters?  Or, perhaps we could take a little step to the side for builders laborers or interior decorators.

I do believe the argument surrounds ‘preparing’ people for the workforce i.e. participating in a simulated work situation teaches an individual to get to work on time, wear the correct outfit, communicate in an effective and appropriate manner, be safe in the work environment, work as a team and so forth.  Here’s the reality.  If the individual doesn’t connect with the project they will JUST BE ANGRY and in the worst case disengage from ‘the system’ entirely.

And when someone decides to disengage, or to ‘fly under the radar’ the still need to earn money somehow so why not break and enter?  Sell drugs or other contraband?  Borrow from friends and family? Neglect important expenses like medication or appointments or stop paying the rent.  This is the reality of life for many Australians.  People who don’t want to live like this but through the situation they find themselves feeling they have no other choice.  In the worst case, ill fitting Work for the Dole projects can actually cause much more harm than potential good.

Don’t believe me?  Check the success rates of the last program roll out.

Still, I maintain that Work for the Dole can work.  These are what I believe to be the key ingredients of success:

* Meaningful:  The program is relevant to the needs of the individual job seeker.  This is expressed at the outset and monitored throughout the engagement.  I also recommend participants have a job title which reflects where they see themselves in the job market into the future and can be identified on their resume.  So what if that ‘job’ doesn’t exist in the project – work together to retro-fit the role into the program.  (For example when I coordinated a program putting together an arts directory a budding writer became the newsletter editor, the computer technicians in the room data-based, web linked, researched etc.).  None of these roles existed we created them as the need arose.

* Supported by external services: Why wait until there’s a crisis?  Invite complimentary services along as guest speakers or to work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ (Stuart Holmes, the Nambucca Valley Men’s Shed) to build a relationship and raise awareness.  If the individual doesn’t need the service someone they know probably will and they can provide a referral.  Let’s understand that turning up on time is not the only helpful skill for being employed – it’s also important to have self-esteem, somewhere to live, healthy relationships and appropriate medical attention.

* Real and not made up: Who DOESN’T want to do something purposeful with their lives?  The whole notion of participating in something that is useless, naff or otherwise going to be shelved once it’s completed just makes people feel like they are filling in time for no purpose at all.  If participants are working on a community project showcase them to the community, link them with other volunteers, show them the love and above all ensure they know how their work is valued.

* Enable a contribution:  In this context a contribution to what is done and how it’s being done.  Participants come to projects with life experiences that are often very transferable to the work environment.  If it’s not about technical skills perhaps you can engage participants in motivating other staff, working behind the scenes in some way, sharing their local network of contacts etc.  When your participants are enabled to make decisions and contribute to the project not only are they engaged but they are able to exhibit and nurture leadership skills.  In turn this builds confidence to take the next steps on the pathway.

* Lead to a job:  Even if the link is esoteric projects MUST somehow build pathways to a job.  It could be that the project is directly aligned to industries needing employees, or if that’s a little too logical include opportunities for visits to workplaces, guest speakers who are local employers, help participants to complete employment applications, link with job interviews, have conversations about getting work and how it really happens (i.e. knowing local people).

Work for the Dole can work, I’d love to hear about your experiences. and  HERE’s a model for your consideration…

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