The UK Young Foundation has worked with UK charity MIND to develop a resilience intervention program for men aged 45-60 who have been out of work for more than a year. It addresses ways in which some of the common challenges in engaging men were overcome.
"I had an interview recently. This was the first one that I had a reply to. I have 30 years in caring sector but I don’t have the qualifications. I have the experience. I don’t have the NVQ. I am working with Tydfil Training, we have to find 10 jobs a week..."
For older people, getting back into the workforce after extended unemployment can be a real challenge.
They face a number of interconnected barriers that together make finding work a real challenge and one that can very quickly damage their sense of health and wellbeing in numerous ways.
This project is a collaboration between the Young Foundation and the UK charity MIND that sets out to examine the barriers and opportunities for reintegration of unemployed men aged 45-60 back into the workforce. Importantly, it shows some of the common barriers not just to the men themselves but also to the program organisers in engaging unemployed men and how they worked around those barriers.
Major Barriers To Employment
As in all aspects of male health, there is no one 'unemployment experience' and that different men will face different personal and collective challenges navigating unemployment.
For instance, it was recognised that newly unemployed men will face different challenges to men who have been unemployed for an extended period.
Common barriers include:
- Loss of confidence, self-worth and identity after being unemployed for a long time. With little or no validation, these men can very quickly lose hope which sets up a cycle of rejection and continued despondency.
- Decline of major employment industries - when manufacturing is not replaced, it is difficult to make use of the established skill sets of local men and older age can pose barriers to retraining.
- Reluctance to retrain and unfamiliarity with new technology - for men who have worked in physical labour, manufacturing and traditional industries, using new technology which itself is advancing at a rapid rate is a major barrier. This plays out even in using online forms, office software and tools required to actually search and apply for jobs.
- Low paid roles are all that's on offer - when the only major employment opportunities are in low-paid retail or administrative roles, men face a loss of pride in the skills they one had and a justified reluctance to take such roles.
Challenges To Engaging Men
The study highlights some of the challenges that program administrators face in recruiting unemployed men to studies such as this. Already faced with numerous elements of lack of self-esteem, continued rejection and feelings of low value, to be part of a study on unemployment can mean feeling like there are no more options.
Practices that worked well and not so well:
- recruitment by leaflets and brochures did not work so well. What worked much better was word of mouth and referral from men in similar situations. Leaflets tended to be lost and did not reach the intended men but connections through helpful community organisations that were already working with men proved more successful.
- Understandable reluctance to be involved for fear of loss of welfare benefits, having to spend time on the phone and social stigma deterred initial involvement.
Recommendations For Service Providers
- Understand your target group - a group such as unemployed men will probably not seek out your services. Services must find ways to reach out to men and their fellow colleagues to create pathways to connection. This makes elements of referral really important - referral cards, contact cards, short leaflets that can be left with connected services, etc. Services must go where the men go rather than wait for them to contact the service.
- Be very careful with messaging - how the program is described and the solutions it communicates are vitally important. Use strength-based words such as 'employment prospects' and 'wellbeing' rather than 'job search' or 'mental health'.
- Involve the men you want to help - ask them what they need! These men are desperate to contribute and most have skills that can be immediately put to use even in shaping the program itself. The most successful men's projects make a lot of use of the men themselves.
- Appropriate types of promotion - printed materials, complex websites and handouts probably won't work as well as person to person communication. Create networks and use those networks. Involve other services that have already reached groups of men.
- Use existing assets and services - make use of what you already have. Use a community hall as a venue, bring in other services and use their expertise, involve the men. It's too much to start from scratch every time. Bring in family members and children if that helps.
- Keep it sustainable - work out early what works and document it, So often, projects live for only a short time (and MENGAGE is one way of documenting good projects). Think about how the program will keep going if it becomes successful or the organiser moves on, for example.