Suhail is a National Careers Service based in the community.
I offer advice and guidance to offenders in the community through London Probation Trust offices. I have worked as a NCS Adviser in probation for 21 months. I am mainly based at Ilford Probation Office which covers the Redbridge borough. I also work at Westbourne House Hostel in Newham and cover the community payback projects in the Newham borough.
I hope to empower offenders to plan and make career decisions, identify their strengths’ and weaknesses to then create achievable skills and work goals. Ultimately the aim is to allow the offender to take their career in to their own hands by providing them with advice, support and the know how to get to where they want to be.
Before working as a NCS adviser in probation I worked for a training provider who specialised in online flexible learning which mainly focused on basic skills (literacy, numeracy and IT). Apart from delivering training for adults in the local community the organisation also provided basic skills training for offenders in the community, mainly those who were ordered to carry out community service for the offences they committed.
I started as a basic skills tutor and very quickly became an Offender Learning manager for the organisation. It was important for the organisation to expand offender learning in the community because the organisation saw no difference between those who committed and were involved in crime to those who were not. For me it was the first time I was learning about probation and offenders in the community and how something like basic skills can have an impact to this client group. What I saw in my first year working for the training provider in probation was that many of the offenders lacked motivation and direction. They needed something to focus on and something to utilise the abundance of energy they had. This client group also needed to understand that very often they were making decisions in haste and without planning.
By offenders getting involved with learning they were able to reactivate their zeal for learning, apply time management skills to their daily routines, start to think about their long term goals and to start planning how they will get there. I got motivated when I saw how much enthusiasm and motivation somebody can get just from an exchange of ideas and discussing a plan of action to work on achieving a goal. The opportunity to work as a NCS adviser became available for me and I jumped at the chance to work directly with this client group. It is the challenge and the opportunity to see change in the community first hand which motivates me.
During a typical day I may liaise with Probation Officers to gain referrals of offenders that may require some sort of assistance, set up appointments with offenders in the probation office, and have initial interviews with offenders to build a rapport and gather information to assist in identifying their skills and work goals. I will follow up with clients who I have seen previously and gather evidence for positive outcomes if client has entered in to training or started employment. This progress then needs reporting back to the probation officers.
A client is able to have three National Careers Service sessions every 12 months. This can vary depending on the clients needs. Although the client can only be funded to be seen for three sessions every 12 months we would never turn down seeing a client who has already had 3 sessions. However many interactions it can take to get the client on the right track is what I say but I still keep in mind that the aim is to empower the client to take their career into their own hands.
Most of the clients who I see are ready to engage but many have a suspicious attitude which can be a barrier for them to engage with me. Usually this is very quickly dealt with once all is explained as to who I am what I do and the service I provide. The client’s reaction does change and the change is obvious once the client starts to open up and clearly demonstrates their willingness to engage through conversation and interaction. Of course sometimes you can get clients who take a lot longer to open up and eventually in my experience they all do.
In most cases you can say that clients are more willing to engage if they can see a positive light at the end of the tunnel and see that there is real support available for them. We currently have a team of 10 advisers working across the London probation offices. Although we are working to our own remit we always keep daily contact to interact and share ideas and experiences between us. We share good news stories and information on new referral links with training providers or job agencies. I also have a lot of interaction with the probation officers to have a continuous flow of referrals for me to see and also to liaise with officers on how our mutual client is doing. I work alongside the Moving On Case Manager from Lifeline who can assist with supporting a client to look for jobs, gain a CASKS card, obtaining funding for starting a course. I interact with Housing Support officers, local training providers and job agencies outside of my local borough.
Initially the clients who have had previous employment and have a good educational skill level are more successful more quickly because they have the experience and have some job seeking skills from before. Those who lack this type of experience feel trapped because they do not have any or have very little job seeking skills, low or sometimes no qualifications and now they have a criminal record. The questions that run through their mind constantly are who is going to employ me? Why are they going to employ me? Is it even worth trying?
I always tell clients that their career and future is based on what they do now and that no matter how much the question runs through their mind they will never know unless they try. By trying they may find they fail but gain experience from those failures and if they are persistent through those experiences they will with out a doubt reach success. I have a saying; “I am strong because I know my weaknesses” which I sometimes use to motivate my clients. Sometimes seeing clients individually can be frustrating as I feel restricted by time for each client. Usually many of the clients require similar support such as putting together a disclosure letter, information on how to apply for jobs with a criminal record, developing a CV and how and where to gain further support which may be available for them. It would become easier if clients can be regularly seen in groups and the support required across the board can be delivered in those group settings. This has been in my mind for sometime now and recently I have put this forward to my managers who currently looking in to how this would best work in the environment that I work in.
All advisers regularly meet up and share ideas and experiences and there are also adviser days arranged to meet with advisers from all different locations including those who do not specifically work with offenders. This helps in getting ideas on how to include offenders in with jobs and training opportunities regardless of their criminal records because it is easy to fall in to thinking there is only a few routes of opportunities for those with criminal convictions. In this type of job knowledge of local jobs, agencies’ training providers and local projects is key. Of course keeping in contact with these organisations and keeping a good relationship with them is also vital so you are updated with new information and opportunities. Having access to the internet is also very useful especially when you need specific information at your finger tips.
Very frequently I see clients who have the motivation and drive to carry out the action plans we agree on that will help start building their career and motivate them further to do more but bad financial circumstances get in the way. The challenge I face is helping them to overcome this barrier to then continue to work towards their goal. As an example a client I saw was very determined to start a fitness instructor course so he can gain a qualification and start applying for jobs within the sector. He would later work towards becoming a qualified personal trainer. He was receiving jobseekers allowances which as many of my clients do but most of this money is gone by the time they have covered the daily cost of their basic necessities of living. The course was a 1 month intensive course and was based in Central London and was about to start. At first it almost demotivated my client in knowing that so much money would be needed just for him to attend the course but he knew that having completed the course there were job opportunities available for him. This just made it harder for the client as he knew he could not finance the travel expense to complete the course. I spoke with a Moving On Case Manager that I work with who works for Lifeline who agreed to speak with her Manager to see if funding can be made available and after agreeing together that it will indeed help the client achieve his goal the funding for the clients travel expense was secured allowing the client to start and successfully finish the course. He later went on to start gaining working experience as a gym instructor and also started a course in personal training.
I think the outcome of our process is that the client’s realisation on the help and support available and the opportunities and routes to success are available if they take them. Most clients go through the process which leads them to move on to further training and education and employment as long as they are committed to a change and focus on their goals. Of course this has a huge positive impact on their life, the lives of their family, people around them and as a whole to the wider community.
From my experience I’d say to clients plan your future by setting goals for yourself to achieve but do not sit on those plans thinking you will start working on it later start putting the wheels in motion by working on them NOW.
Once you have achieved what you set out to achieve do not stop there, start another plan and set further goals to keep yourself occupied to do more. Give yourself challenges so that you stay motivated.