Peter Marks ran his family bakery business in north London for 22 years. But the combined competition from internet shopping and a new Tesco Metro forced him to sell up in June 2008. He continued to manage the store but earlier this year, it closed for good and the 51-year-old became jobless for the first time in his working life.
Marks is not alone. Jewish workers have been victims of “operations streamlining” or “office downsizing” since the recession hit, just like everyone else.
Independent charity the Employment Resource Centre (ERC) — which seeks to help unemployed Jews from all over the country find work — has seen an increase in applicants since the credit crunch hit last year. Its chairman Trisha Ward says membership of the north London facility has nearly doubled in two years, with 500 new applicants this year alone.
“The number of people who are being made redundant has shot up,” says Ward. “Our concern is that the recession is not over yet. While people are talking about green shoots we could be heading for a double bounce. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
With its free services including courses on CV writing, interview techniques, networking and one-to-one mentoring, it has helped 8,000 people back into employment since 1992. Ward says that the charity has recently been “working smarter” — improving its techniques and courses. And she agrees that the Jewish community as a whole is an exemplary support network for the unemployed.
Since using the ERC, Peter Marks now has a job — as manager of a grocery and in-store bakery) at a London University. The JC spoke to him, and two others, who are happier than ever, following redundancy.
Peter Marks, 51, of Borehamwood, landed his job at a London University campus grocery shop after attending sessions at the ERC. He is married to Deborah, a part-time book-keeper, and has three children.
He says: “I had two days’ notice to finish my job and had to look for new work. I was the main bread winner at the time. Initially, there was no money to be had. Now I’m getting some redundancy severance pay.
“Not having work to go to was an unusual situation for me. I have never had to claim unemployment benefit before. Obviously we had to make quite dramatic cutbacks in our lifestyle. We bought fewer luxury items, going out to eat was out of the question and our holiday plans were scuppered.
“I discovered the ERC because somebody had told my wife about it. They had seminars on things like interview technique. It meant I went along to my interviews in a different situation. Early on I had an interview with Greggs, the baker’s, before I had been to the ERC and I knew it hadn’t gone well. What I found out from the seminar was to bring out positives and not negatives. It made me feel like I had quite a lot to offer. They also recommend writing a functional CV rather than a chronological one, which means employers can look at your skills with relevant examples. As a result of that advice, I found my new job.
“I had to take a pay cut but this job does have a couple of advantages. It’s a safer employer and there’s a generous pension scheme. It’s stressful now because it’s a new environment and a new system, but maybe in three months’ time it will be easier.
“I now realise there’s no job for life. Being out of work makes you appreciate what you have got. We obviously became more resourceful to cope with not having money coming in. It’s amazing really how little you can live on.
“It did bring the family closer together. Being part of the Jewish community helps a lot. People always know people who they can introduce you to. It’s caring, and generally people are very helpful towards one another. That is the way it should be.”
Joanna Morrison, 31, had been working in advertising for nine years as an account director when she was made redundant in February, after returning from maternity leave. She is now the registrar and marketing manager at Hendon Preparatory School. She lives in north London with her husband, Ben, who works in fundraising. They have a two-year-old son called Louis.
She says: “When I went back to work after having my baby, I found it quite difficult. Advertising is not a good industry for working mums. You have to be available 24 hours a day and I was working four days a week but even on my day off I was still being called up. I just wasn’t happy.
“The company wasn’t doing particularly well and they had to make cuts. It was a real shame that I was one of the victims but in the end they did me a massive favour. I’m like a changed person now. They handled the whole thing very well but obviously it knocked my confidence. But I needed to do something. I couldn’t be a ‘stay-at-home’ mum.
“My husband was very supportive and financially we were OK for a few months because fortunately it didn’t take me very long to find work. I was offered the job in May. If it had gone on for months and months it would have been awful.
“I decided I didn’t want to stay in the advertising world, but because that’s my background, I steered towards the related field of marketing. I had a couple of sessions with a career coach who assessed my values and beliefs which was very helpful. It was then that I started registering with a couple of recruitment agencies in Edgware. The recruitment agent recommended I get in touch with the ERC.
“I was impressed from the start. They got me to see an adviser straight away. We had a good chat. Because I had an advertising CV he helped me make it more general. The ERC has a standard CV template.
“He also explained about the seminars, which have titles like Tools and Techniques for Today’s Job Market. The people who run the courses are very high-powered and really professional. It was brilliant, so useful. I was with a complete mix of people from different backgrounds. It gave me confidence and it made me feel like I wasn’t on my own. They got me my confidence back.
“After that I went for two jobs and got the one at Hendon Prep. I absolutely love it. I’m like an old hand now. Financially it’s not quite where I was, but in terms of being a happier person, it’s worth it.”
Sue Cash, 48, was an administrator for a Jewish charity when she was made redundant in July 2008. With support from her husband and a life-coach friend, she has set up her own personal assistance business, at www.ceassociates.co.uk, offering secretarial services. She lives in Kenton, north-west London with her two children, aged 10 and 19, and her husband, who is a policeman.
She says: “The official reason for my redundancy was that my job description had changed. They wanted skills that I didn’t have to do the job. Thank goodness my husband works full time and his job is safe, but we had to make various cutbacks. I had to say ‘no’ to lots of things, like the children going on Maccabi camp.
“It was my first ever experience of being unemployed — I have worked full time since I was 17 — and going to the Job Centre was the most depressing thing.
“My husband helped me work out what it was I wanted to do and my life-coach friend really helped me with ideas like going to networking meetings. They’re a very good way to meet different people and promote your business.
“She also helped me think about how to charge and how to advertise myself. I have now got two regular clients and I do other one-off projects like big mail-outs.
“I’m earning much less than I was but the business is growing and I’m much happier. It’s very exciting and rewarding every time I get some business. And I can fit it around everything else that I want to do — like picking my son up from school.
“I found the help the ERC gave on covering letters, interviews and filling out application forms — always a nightmare — very useful as I’m still applying for part-time jobs, and each time I pitch to a client, it’s like an interview. And they were really good at helping you be positive, which was crucial.”
The ERC’s tips for getting a job
● Be truthful. Any inaccuracies will come back to bite you.
● Always spin things in a positive light. Don’t dwell on weaknesses and turn the negatives into positives.
● Use everyone you know as a possible route to a job. Don’t be shy about networking. People don’t mind being approached and like being helpful.
● Always acknowledge people’s help and be polite. If they can’t help right away, they may be able to another time.
● Use appropriate people.
● Consider writing a functional CV (which is organised by skills) rather than one that is chronological.