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Challenges and opportunities the legacies of the year of coronavirus


By Alan Beresford

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NEW year, new challenges has been the motto for many of us and, for the Department of Work and Pensions' Jane Munro, this has been especially true.

It has been a year of change for Jane Munro, pictured here outside Forres Jobcentre, and her DWP colleagues.
It has been a year of change for Jane Munro, pictured here outside Forres Jobcentre, and her DWP colleagues.

Last May we talked to Jane, then an Employer and Partnership Manager based in Forres, as she and her colleagues put their shoulders to the wheel to deal with the unprecedented demands being put on the benefits system due to lockdown.

Like many of her colleagues, she had to abandon her usual role for a crash course introduction into the frontline world of dealing with new claimants seeking Universal Credit. Many staff joined millions across the country working from home, although DWP offices remained open to help support the vulnerable.

Since then, it has been something of a rollercoaster as lockdown eased then, from Boxing Day, was reimposed then eased again and we caught up with her again to see what has been happening.

Jane said: "From around the end of July to the start of August last year we started to ease out of lockdown and we were able to begin participating in meetings again albeit virtually.

"There were a lot of conversations that took place virtually with local partner organisations to see what services they were offering, and I ensured that the work coaches had the most up to date information to hand on how we could support our customers across Moray.

"I was working with lots of local organisations who could offer services such as online interview techniques, jobsearch support or writing a CV and we could offer these courses/provision to our customers to support them with their journey back to employment.

"Many new customers had never been unemployed before so we had to tailor support to their needs.

"We were also able to get some industry courses up and running, so in the latter end of 2020, we were able to offer Construction and SIA courses which gave customers across Moray the opportunity to gain some new certification to help them move towards sustained employment. Things were generally looking better until Christmas and then we were all back in lockdown again."

A packed agenda of new year events had to be rapidly put on hold, with those involving face-to-face components automatically out of the running until lockdown eases sufficiently.

"Although we’ve run a few online jobsfairs now with the latest one being a huge success, vacancies across northern Scotland were highlighted, and we also had a great response from local partners who wanted to be involved, too."

However, it has, to a certain extent, been a case of an ill wind blowing some unexpected good.

A partnership project with Chivas Brothers, Moray College UHI and DYW Moray to deliver a Sector Based Work Academy Programme for 12 customers, is being hailed a great local opportunity to support people with relevant certification.

Jane added: This is an amazing opportunity and if anyone is still interested in this opportunity, I would urge them to speak to their work coach.

"This course definitely will happen, it's just a case of when."

Another course which has had to change format to online was the Mentoring Circles groups, which are designed to support young people on benefits get into work. Jane noted that participants had really engaged enthusiastically with the format and that they would running more Mentoring Circles throughout the year. Those interested should get in touch with their work coach if they would like to get involved.

While 2021 began with another lockdown, it has also brought with it many bright opportunities, not least for Jane herself.

"There's been lots of changes and I've moved on from Employer and Partnership Manager role to a new role as Kickstart District Account Manager for the north of Scotland.

"Kickstart is a government scheme which, working with employers, offers young people aged 16-24 the opportunity of six months' work experience working 25 hours a week. These posts are paid at the minimum wage.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for eligible young people and we've got lots of local employers on board.

"We have some fantastic Kickstart opportunities across Moray for our young people – again I would urge you to speak to your work coach for more information on those opportunities."

There has been more good news for young people in Moray seeking new opportunities with the launch of the Youth Hub based in Elgin Youth Cafe.

Jane continued: "The Youth Hub is a really exciting project which aims to support 18-24-year-olds searching for work and help them move forward in the current climate we find ourselves in.

"We have over 30 partners on board and we'll be looking to provide everything from access to IT to training – something many young people have struggled with in this area – along with mock interviews, information sessions and employer events.

“By rolling out youth hubs across local communities like this one in Moray, young people will be able to access vital, suitable support from our work coaches in a range of settings helping to match them with local opportunities whether it’s more training or to help them move into employment.

"A DWP work coach has been seconded to the initiative and there will also be two Project Officers along with a Digital Literacies Key Worker to help, advise and support the young people of Moray."

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, which should hopefully should see a great many of the restrictions on normal life eased or ended, Jane said that while there were still redundancies coming through from the present lockdown, unlike it's phase 1 counterpart there are "lots of jobs" out there for the taking.

For those affected or about to be affected by redundancy, Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE), which his delivered by Skills Development Scotland, was an important resource for employees and employers alike. Among the many support measures is funding for retraining.

While the last 12 months has, if nothing else, taught us that nothing can be taken for granted, Jane nevertheless remained very positive about the rest of 2021.

She said: "Hopefully we'll get our courses up and running, especially those which need to have a face-to-face element.

"The Covid restrictions mean we can't do certain things but, as we've been doing since last March, we'll continue to do the very best we can to support our customers."


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