'Tis the season to give job seekers a break

'I am campaigning for those who have kept their jobs during the pandemic to help one other person find work'

December 22, 2020 13:54

When the vaccine is finally distributed, we must never forget the duty we owe to one another.

In early December, I happened to catch a Talk Radio debate about the cancellation of Christmas. Gloom reigned. But then the impressively feisty Canon Alison Joyce of St Bride’s piped up to say we need Christmas especially this year as it is the point in the calendar, she said, when “we go beyond ourselves”.

At Christmas, a valuable set of myths resurface — and not just of the baby in the manger on the silent night. We also have our modern additions: we gave our heart mistakenly last Christmas, but still plan its relocation this time; or we dream, with Bing Crosby, on landscapes carpeted white, and the fire within.

The most relevant in 2020 is still Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). It is a myth of transformation, and a more universal tale than many might care to admit. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, don’t many of us have more than we need? And might this be true not just in terms of the money we’ve acquired, but also in the opportunities we have?

Sometimes in 2020, it was possible to come across heart-warming stories of people helping one another.

If you were to consider his fearsome reputation, Sir Martin Sorrell might not be the person you’d most expect to accept a cold call from a job-seeker. Perhaps he is – at least in terms of his public image – a modern version of Dickens’ Scrooge. But I recently came across a LinkedIn post by Sarah Levy, an advertising professional, who managed to get some face-time with the great man.

Levy was understandably star-struck: “I was nervous beforehand. It’s like a would-be golfer setting up a call with Tiger Woods; or a young actor having a chat with Steven Spielberg.”

What ensued seems to have been a learning curve for Levy, but one which she obviously relished. She spoke of Sorrell’s briskness: “I could see rightaway how important his time was – and he straightaway began asking me about the Manchester media scene.” Levy is admirably honest about the nature of the call: men in Sorrell’s position tend to place considerable value on their time, and so you need to be at the top of your game.

After her conversation, Levy drew the following conclusion: “And perhaps most importantly, he took the call when others might not have done.”

In fact the entire post is well worth reading if you want a sense of how the economy should be working once we have done the washing up after that pre-ordered turkey.

The year 2020 will not recede so fast. Vaccines aside, 2021 will also have its share of struggle. Recessions usually take time to show through in the data. We all know about the hard-hit hospitality and aviation sectors, but redundancies are being announced across the board – and we won’t know the economic impact of London’s move to Tier 3 as we’re delivering our solo renditions of Auld Lang Syne.

Throughout the crisis, big companies have had the ability to pivot, and it’s no surprise that the FTSE 250 remains on a steady trajectory of recovery. In some cases, as with Sir Martin’s current venture S4 Capital, companies are growing, especially in the tech sector. There has never been a more important time for organisations which are thriving to do their duty.

When you look at the numbers, it’s not only the unemployment figure which causes concern; it’s the youth unemployment statistics. Joblessness today is an intergenerational issue. According to a recent House of Commons briefing paper, youth unemployment increased by an alarming 125 per cent between March and September 2020.

What does this mean? It’s that sense that if you’d been more senior you could have ridden out the storm. That if you’d left university a decade ago, you could have realised your dreams.

In the Covid-19 era, employer inaction is tantamount to negligence. That’s why the Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP and I have set up the #LegUp campaign aimed at getting people into work.

To take part, all you have to do is get one person into employment. We all know of a job vacancy that can get someone unemployed back into the workplace. And we can all go the extra mile to assist those who – through no fault of their own – are suffering the mental and financial struggles which accompany the hardship of unemployment.

From my role as CEO of Finito Education, the employability experts, I know that’s not impossible. Yes, it’s grim out there. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, applying for each job. But with the right approach people can succeed.

Employers are watching young people closely. Did an applicant binge on Netflix over the summer, or did they deliver frontline medicine to the elderly or offer their time to their community?

But I would argue we also need to monitor our own responsibilities just as closely.

We’ve never been here before; I hope we never go here again. The furlough scheme continues to be a world-leading intervention, but over time it will prove unsustainable. The private sector needs to do its bit.

Speaking about the Sarah Levy call, Sir Martin told me: “Obviously the pandemic has been a traumatic experience for many people and it has exposed weaknesses in the government but it has played to S4 Capital’s strengths and we have been able to work online perfectly well.”

Welcoming, the #LegUp campaign he added: “My advice to young people is to be persistent and energetic and go where the growth is; I also mean geographically. Look at Asia. Join businesses that are growing.”

So if Sir Martin has time for others, why not begin today? Look around you. Think about those you know who may have had a tough break. Arrange a Zoom and don’t stop until you’ve got that person into work. The issue with a crisis is not just to survive it, but to be able to look yourself in the mirror once it’s passed.

Besides, doing the right thing always pays dividends later – often in ways we can hardly imagine. As Levy says at the end of her post: “The wheel will turn. When my time comes round, and someone looking for work needs guidance, I will remember the Zoom I did today with the man at the summit of our industry.”

A vaccine is now on the way, but we can’t be complacent. Let’s not forget what we’ve learned from this year about the obligations we have towards one another.

Let’s also not forget that in A Christmas Carol, a change of behaviour proves to be not only good for those Scrooge helps — it also proves good for him. Scrooge becomes loved in his community. At no point are we told by Dickens that his business began to fail because he had lost that hard-headed killer instinct.

To “go beyond ourselves” as Alison Joyce put it, is usually good business. I happen to know that Sarah Levy is now in employment — and I wonder if anyone reading this is now even more eager to do business with Sir Martin Sorrell than they were before. Season’s greetings.


Ronel Lehmann is Founder and CEO of Finito Education

December 22, 2020 13:54

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