Reducing the barriers to networking in job-hunting

Posted on: 16th January, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

Fergal Conlon presents a novel idea to reduce some of the barriers to networking and affordable skills enhancement.

In studying statistics on job-hunting and unemployment, one factor stands out above all others — education (and training). No matter what age, gender, nationality, existing standard of education or what era you are in — 1951 / 1982 or 2014 — the single most effective activity a job seeker can undertake to assist getting a job will be investment in education (and training).

I was delighted to see Galway based Alison.com winning a prestigious award for its free on-line training. We have recently enjoyed an explosion in Mooc’s – [Massive Open Online Course’s]. These add to FAS / Springboard / NALA and a wide spectrum of FREE, accessible training available on-line, Irish and global. These resources can be a very effective tool to help job-seeking. Free, excellent courses are now available for every subject matter and every learning level. Google itself is the best library in the world, and is available to everyone, everywhere for free. In addition, traditional ‘distance learning’ courses have evolved to include on-line and interactive dimensions.

Barriers to enhancing education such as cost / geography / distance / timing / family commitments can now be significantly reduced by a determined learner in almost any circumstances and backgrounds.

The problem with on-line training and distance learning is that students do not benefit from the peer contact and social interaction associated with a campus setting.

Unemployment is also a very isolating condition. The loss of communication and ‘banter’ amongst fellow workers is one of the most damaging outcomes from losing a job. Networking remains a very important job-seeking activity, so combining networking and education will be doubly effective.

We have seen the phenomenal growth in Men’s Sheds and Coder Dojo movements. These projects have the common goal of bringing people together to share skills, learn from each other and increase social interaction (networking) to the mutual benefit of all involved.

So, our suggestion and challenge to you is – set up an ‘On-Line Learners club’ or  ‘study-buddy club’ in your local area. This would be a weekly or bi-weekly social occasion when on-line learners and distance learners come together in a comfortable environment, to work on their course in the company of peers. The purpose will be to discuss progress, overcome issues, share learning, exchange ideas and help each other achieve positive goals.

The venue should be a hotel, café, library or community building with comfort, warmth and excellent (free and fast) Wi-Fi. The venue should be free or cheap. A small donation to cover facilities or refreshments is appropriate, but charges should not be prohibitive to welfare recipients. We hope facility providers will see the benefit of the ‘On-Line Learners’ club by charging according. The club should elect officers to lead the project and communicate with all members on social media. Headphones will be essential to reduce noise impact and a set-time should be allotted for off-line conversation among the group during each session.

Peer support is well known to be a very effective strategy to assist difficult change and endeavour among adults. Think Weight Watchers / AA or other group session based activities. Peer learning – ie, sharing the learning experience is also known to be a most effective learning style. The on-line learners club will tap into these benefits.

One often hears ‘Networking’ described as an important job-seeking strategy. In the main, this means getting ‘out there’ meeting new people, becoming known, widening your circle of acquaintances, and seeking others to act as your ‘agent’ in the job-market. We know that more than 80 per cent of jobs are not advertised, but filled through other channels, in particular from within the networks of those already engaged in those businesses.

Working on developing your skills towards employment will greatly help your job-hunting. Doing so in a club, working alongside others will be even better. Moving from unemployment in to a job is not going to be easy. But you do not have to do it alone. Working with others will help you to stay the course and see projects through. Sharing the experience will reinforce the learning.

But this won’t happen by itself. Our challenge to you is to start the New Year by taking control of your future. Organise and promote an ‘On-Line Learners’ club in your area. We will be delighted to help any fledgling club. Please contact fergal@wcdp.ie if you plan to establish a local on-line learners club.

Fergal Conlon is Local Community Development Programme Manager with West Cork Development Partnership and Co-ordinator of the Job-Seekers’ Resource Centres in Kinsale / Macroom / Bandon / Clonakilty / Dunmanway / Bantry and Skibbereen. See www.westcorkjobsupport.com for more details.

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