O’Sullivan Centre workshop at Financial Counselling Australia Conference
The O’Sullivan Centre was invited to deliver a workshop at the recent Financial Counselling Australia national conference held in Hobart in May 2018. The conference organisers were seeking a workshop that focused on work preparation and the role that financial counsellors could play in supporting employment outcomes for the people they supported.
In the Conference program the workshop was titled: Work Readiness and was described in the following manner:
It is often said that work is the key pathway out of poverty. What is our role (as financial counsellors) in having conversations with our clients about this? Learn some additional skills and tips that will support clients to see the possibilities
Peter Gartlan and John Bonnice delivered the workshop on behalf of the O‘Sullivan Centre and about 30 people from the conference attended the workshop.
The workshop was designed to be an interactive discussion with participants and involved in the following elements:
- Setting the scene for the workshop
- Outline of why the need for financial counselling services to develop a focus on work readiness and employment outcomes.
- The challenges and key questions facing financial counsellors and their agencies included:
- Are community service organisations just the providers of support services or do they also have a role in addressing the underlying drivers of social disadvantage?
- Do community services organisations have a responsibility no matter what service they provide to ensure they are achieving employment outcomes for the people they work with?
- How do we build work readiness and support employment outcomes?
- Identifying what makes a difference in achieving work readiness and employment outcomes
Embracing work readiness and focusing on employment outcomes as an integral part of the work as financial counsellors depends on our ability and willingness to:
- Build the focus of work readiness and employment outcomes as integral to our work and our role as financial counsellors.
- Challenge our beliefs surrounding the people we support i.e. Do we have a belief in the capacity and skills of the people we support?
- Assess our capacity to support people’s aspirations and demonstrate a high level of expectation.
- Challenge our view of people we support – Do we see people as consumers and beneficiaries of services or as economic and social contributors?
- Build our practice skills – Willingness to develop our practice skills and build our practice frameworks (social justice, rights based, community development and strengths approach) that support this goal.
- Supporting work readiness and employment outcomes – is it our role as financial counsellors?
A key issue discussed in the workshop was the role of financial counsellors in supporting work readiness and employment outcomes. Is this a role of financial counsellors or does it fall outside the scope and service criteria for financial counselling services? Questions raised for the workshop participants to consider included:
- The WHO definition of mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.Do we not have a role in supporting people’s wellbeing and mental health and therefore supporting work readiness and employment outcomes has to be part of our work?
- By focusing on a narrow role as financial counsellors have we reduced our client’s opportunities to be economic contributors while expanding their roles as clients and consumers of services? If so, how might this affect the emotional and social wellbeing of our clients?
- Have we firmly placed the people we support in the client role that what they may have to offer as economic contributors is not part of our mindset?
- It is very common to hear a narrow definition of our role as counsellors/service workers. Rarely do we hear the view – that we are depriving our clients of their rightful entitlement to be economic contributors.
- Employment outcomesfor the people we support are impacted by the values and beliefs we hold about them
The workshop explored the paradigm through which we view people we support. How we view people will directly impact on whether we are able to achieve work readiness and employment outcomes. If we view people as economic and social contributors then the questions we ask and explore will go to this space.
Workshop participants were asked to consider the traditional viewpoint of how people who access services are seen versus a socially inclusive viewpoint. The traditional viewpoint sees people as consumers and beneficiaries of services and the socially inclusive viewpoint sees people economic and social contributors who have skills and expertise.
Workshop participants were encouraged to explore where they sit along the continuum of the traditional viewpoint versus a social inclusive viewpoint and the implications and opportunities to build employment outcomes if they worked from a social inclusive viewpoint?
- Checking our practice assumptions
Ingrained practice assumptions can impact on achieving work readiness and employment outcomes. Workshop participants were encouraged to consider the following questions:
- Do we make judgments about work readiness? i.e. people have too many barriers to be economic contributors and hold a view we need to address the barriers first.
- Do we lessen the chance of people being economic contributors by forming judgments about their capacity?
- What are the most usefulassumptions to take with you into practice that will support people on the journey of work readiness?
- In our practice do we always assume:
- All people have strengths and capacities.
- People can change and grow from their strengths and capacities.
- People are the experts on their own situation.
- The problem is the problem; the person is not the problem.
- Problems can blind people from noticing and appreciating their strengths and their capacity to find solutions.
- When people appreciate their strengths they are free to learn and grow.
- What works in supporting work readiness and achieving employment outcomes
A range of tools and case examples were presented which highlighted what can work in building work readiness and employment outcomes.
The case examples highlighted the approach of workers with a focus on building work readiness and employment outcomes. Learnings from these examples showed the following:
- Building work readiness is a simple process with simple questions.
- The process doesn’t have to be time intensive.
- The mindset of the worker was the key to the client starting the journey.
In addition workshop participants were encouraged to build their own repertoire and understanding of the areas they could explore with people to help achieve work readiness and employment outcomes. Crucial was being mindful to create the conversation about vocational and employment interests. Areas of conversation could include:
- Exploring people’s hopes and aspirations.
- Exploring people’s employment and educational aspirations.
- Exploring a person’s interests.
- Exploring past work experiences and what they valued in that.
- Exploring with people things that they would like to do but have never had the chance.
- Exploring opportunities for people to be active in the things that interest them.
- Work with and support people to link with vocational and educational opportunities (warm referral).
- Help people identify skills they have.
- Help people identify the knowledge they have and how they can use this knowledge.
- Exploring with people the starting points – What do they see as the beginning steps to work readiness?
Workshop participants were also encouraged to recognise that:
- The process is not a linear process with a designed set of questions.
- There is a need to build your individual approach and develop your own ‘menu’ of questions that you find works.
- The mindset of the worker is a key. If you demonstrate belief, hope and expectation then people will pick up on this and respond.
- What do we need that can help achieve work readiness and employment outcomes?
In final section of the workshop, participants were encouraged to identify the supports they as counsellors needed to help build work readiness and employment outcomes. In particular participants were encouraged to seek support from their teams and agency. Questions they could pursue with their teams and agency included:
- What are the opportunities for us as workers and our service if we were to incorporate work readiness and employment outcomes as an integrated component of our service delivery?
- Is there an action or actions we can take as counsellors that will enhance vocational outcomes for our clients?
Workshop participants were also encouraged to seek the advice from the people they supported on how their service could better support work readiness and employment outcomes. This advice can help shape and form what works in this space for them as counsellors and their service. Participants were encouraged to ask people they supported the following question:
- What is their advice on how our service and our agency could better support clients to get into work (paid and/or unpaid), and/or education/training?
In summary, the workshop was well received by participants and there was active participation and contribution to the issues and questions raised in the workshop. Following the workshop there was positive feedback about the workshop and the issues it raised for the participants.