A4e stands for ‘Action for Employment’. Quite simple when you think about it, however in researching the role pre-interview I seemed to not come across its meaning.
Whilst sat in the waiting area of which I am now in charge, it suddenly occurred to me that I did not know its meaning and was therefore sure to fail. As I sat there, panicking, I looked at the material adorning the walls and figured it out logically. Proud of myself I then just hoped that logic had in fact served me well (not something which happens often with my natural hair colour).
I suppose it must have done so seeing as I now find myself firmly in the role, however I am still not 100 per cent certain that it is correct! The sentiment fits anywho.
A4E is a private social-enterprise company concerned with social mobility through employment and education. Basically the people the job centre struggle with get referred to A4E who have a more interactive and dynamic approach to help them find work. These people then become ‘customers’ of A4E, a term I once found strange on first entering the company seeing as the customers don’t buy anything from us… but now fully understand and appreciate.
They are customers, because they are treated with the same respect that any client for any business should be accorded. To a degree, they are in control of their own path, and the staff at A4E are just there to help actualise, facilitate and encourage this journey. Also A4E are paid by the government per customer they get into work, so in a round-about way, it is the customer’s actions which make A4E the successful business that it is. The staff are kind of the sales team if you will (to roll with the usual customer analogy), but instead of selling the latest gadget or trendy attire, we sell life skills, motivation and attributes which are actually useful to people’s lives instead of cluttering them and affect their happiness long term as opposed to being a short term distraction.
Customers are referred to A4E from the job centre for a plethora of reasons. They may be long term unemployed and need a fresh face and an extra push. They may have some extra trouble in their life such as domestic issues, health problems, or substance dependence. Or they may have been convicted of a crime, and spent time in prison. This makes the job all of us do at every level, very rewarding, very challenging, and of course, at times, very stressful. But even after three short weeks, I can see that the first two far outweigh the latter.
A4E is not only a nationwide initiative which is part of the government’s Work Program, but also stretches across three continents; Europe, Australasia and Asia. Personally I think such a program in America could go a long way to helping solve some of their multiple problems but I suppose that would be like asking Romney to support free healthcare.
A4E obviously cannot succeed alone, another important part of the mission to decrease unemployment and improve people’s quality of life who are commonly and wrongly thought of as ‘the underclass’ (on which I wrote an extensive paper if you are interested) is the partnerships made with employers in both the public and private sector.
A4E although primarily concerned with employment, also crosses the boundary into many other policy areas including welfare (my office’s remit), education, health, legal and financial. As all of these factors can be barriers to long term employment and are all very heavily related. I am shocked that the good work A4E does locally, nationally, and internationally is so poorly reported that even I; a student of politics interested in the ‘underclass’ and social mobility, and striving to be a journalist, has never come across them. Tut tut media, but then again maybe I have found my niche?
The A4E catchphrase reads ‘improving people’s lives’ which I admit when I first read… I scoffed at. How could a private company possibly have that as its goal? In my mind it felt a little like the moment I found out McDonalds were actually sponsoring the Olympics. But it does, and you can certainly see it at the heart of the staff on the ground. The diverse range of training, advice and general support available is the perfect environment for society’s most vulnerable and outcast citizens to find themselves again.
The offices are a safe space for many too, with customers having access to refreshments, fresh fruit, computers and a friendly person to chat to outside of all their troubles. This alone seems to make a big difference to many of the customers I have spoken too.
I think what makes this company and this job so inspirational to me is that I could have so easily been sat the other side of that table, in the customer’s position. Terrifying thought. Which is also why I think I can see myself wanting to be an A4E employee for longer than this original six month period… even if it is something I return to later in life.