When Jane was referred by her Change Coach for Digital Support she was at an extremely low ebb. Her personal circumstances were not good; widowed she lived at home with her grown-up son, who was often abusive, and his partner; she had been out of work for some time. If all that were not bad enough, a few years ago Jane suffered a stroke which had affected her speech, hearing and movement in her hands and fingers.
Jane’s Change Coach and I discussed Jane’s situation. Her Change Coach was concerned that Jane may have been potentially suicidal. When I first met Jane she was putting on a brave face but it was clear she was in a very precarious mental state and often close to tears. In such circumstances it was hard to see how a bit of digital support was really going to make any impact, beyond maybe providing an avenue for job searching. What else could we possibly offer?
One thing Positive People’s Digital Support team offer has nothing really to do with digital at all. They offer regular contact with a friendly face. Something many of our participants, Jane included, rarely experience. This personal contact and regularised meetings began to give Jane the sense that there were actually people who cared about her and were able to offer her a helping hand on her journey back to a happier situation. I shared this with Jane’s Change Coach. These conversations and the working relationship between Trainer and Change Coach can make all the difference. Together we are able to devise a strategy that will best support the participant. Sometimes that will not focus very heavily on digital at all, sometimes it is having that other perspective that provides the way forward. In Jane’s case we agreed we would continue the digital support and try and use it as an avenue to a positive outcome.
Through our meetings I assessed Jane’s existing digital skills, which were minimal; her current access to digital devices, which was an ageing smart phone, and her digital needs. Because of the impact of Jane’s stroke she found the phone too small to operate effectively, though she could make calls and use some other basic functions. We decided between us that a tablet of some sort would be the best option as it would bridge the gap between the phone, with which she was already familiar, and a full-sized laptop. When I delivered Jane’s new iPad she asked, “How much would it be, and how she could pay?” When I told her there was no cost, this was supplied as part of the project, she was nearly in tears again. She couldn’t believe that such generous support was available.
Positive People is not just about handing out kit to people though. The important part is making effective use of those facilities to Build Better Opportunities. Again in consultation with Jane’s Change Coach I suggested we could use the digital element as a means not just of improving Jane’s job search and employability potential, but also as a means of emotional support and social inclusion.
I began by exploring the accessibility tools of the iPad with Jane, so she could make full use of what it had to offer. This included the use of voice commands, the larger screen which made it easier to use the app icons and other touch screen functions. Jane was now able to construct a CV, fill in job applications and write covering letters. Finding work was important for Jane both from a financial point of view and in helping restore her self-confidence and self-esteem. We explored how to effectively search for jobs on job-sites, setup and filter e-mail alerts and make on-line applications.
As we worked together I could see that Jane’s emotional and mental state was improving but I wanted her to be able to use digital as something more than just an on-line job-centre. I was especially concerned that if she wasn’t able to find work quickly, that she might think the whole thing was pointless and fall back in to her depressed state. Like many people Jane was, perhaps understandably, wary of social media and on-line transacting. I showed her how to stay safe on-line, how to maintain privacy and secure personal details and was able to demonstrate to her some of the potential advantages of purchasing online, paperless billing, booking appointments and so on. While she was not obliged to use all these facilities, having the knowledge and confidence to use them safely and securely was another step in building Jane’s digital confidence and, by extension, feeling more confident and empowered generally.
Jane was by now pretty self-sufficient digitally, what she didn’t know she now had the skills to problem solve for herself and she would no longer need my input. However, before we ended our sessions together I really wanted Jane to at least look at and consider engaging with social media. Social media generally, and Facebook in particular, has, perhaps with some justification, a bit of a bad press these days, which is something of a put-off for many people. Like many people Jane had a Facebook account but never used it or engaged with it. I wanted to show Jane that if she did not feel comfortable posting or engaging with others via social media that is absolutely fine, you don’t have to, but that there is a wealth of benefits available from just looking. We focussed on the many groups and pages that provide job opportunities. These are local and much more focussed than the national agency sites. Very often potential employers in these groups will be more open and willing to take on people without traditional qualifications or experience. The other aspect of social media I felt would benefit Jane was the potential to connect with, at any level, people and groups who had similar experiences and could offer support. Jane was surprised to find a range of people and organisations whose experiences mirrored hers. Simply reading their stories made her realise that she was not alone on her journey, there were others who had been through similar problems and come out the other side to lead happy and fulfilled lives; if they could do it so could she! Even if Jane never looked on social media again, she would always know that she was not alone, and she could and would succeed.
This was the last one-to-one session I had with Jane, but I contacted her a few weeks later to see how things were going. She told me she had had an interview but had not got the job and was feeling a bit down about it. When we are living it, it is often difficult to see how far we have come on our journey, so I reminded Jane how things had been when we started working together! She agreed she had come a long way. The distance Jane had travelled was obviously not all down to the digital support she received, clearly her own determination and resolve was what really made it happen, she just needed some guidance and support. Making sure that guidance and support was appropriate was also a joint effort. Without the relationship between Change Coach and Trainer we would be treading blindly, so it is really important that all elements of the support Positive People offers in co-ordinated and “joined-up”.
The last I heard of Jane her son had got his own place, she was house sitting her sister’s kittens, which were leaving a trail of destruction throughout the house….
……and had started her job chaperoning children on the school bus mornings and afternoons.