SHE’S worked as a chef and a cinema manager, but Brenda Elson found her forte helping other into employment.
Brenda, who set up employment consultancy Work4U earlier this year, grew up in Lepton and was one of the first intake of pupils at the newly-built Shelley High School.
“At school, I wanted to be a solicitor, but I ended up training as a chef,” she says. “I worked in the kitchens at Storthes Hall Hospital and later at a number of local restaurants, but when the family arrived it was a job that didn’t suit family life so I decided on a new career.
“I became manager at the Classic Cinema in Huddersfield and then I was made responsible for training staff and that is where I got into training and employment. I enjoyed working at the cinema. You had to pay full price for the popcorn and ice cream, but you got to see the films for free! You would get your regular customers, but you got to meet different people every week. School holidays were always fun when the cinema was packed.”
Brenda went on to work in the private sector, delivering training and education programmes under government initiatives such as the Youth Opportunities Programme.
She later joined Edgerton-based housing association Sadeh Lok to manage its employability programme Up and Working, but was made redundant at the end of March this year after funding for the scheme ran out.
“I applied for other positions, but the jobs market is very difficult,” she says. “After applying for several vacancies, filling out lots of application forms – and getting nowhere – I decided to set up on my own. I’ve worked with unemployed people for most of my career, so I thought why not continue and do it for myself?
“I am registered as a not-for-profit organisation, so I’m not in this to make money. I see it as something to support the community.”
Brenda was able to move into the stable block at Sadeh Lok’s Halifax Road site – the building in which Up and Working had been based. “Sadeh Lok have been brilliant,” she says. “It’s a great building to work in. It’s quiet and that allows me to get on with my work without any distractions.”
But she also spends a lot of time out of the office, networking with businesses, local authorities and other agencies as well as pursuing funding to run programmes to help unemployed people improve their prospects.
Her work involves helping jobhunters build up their confidence and discover the opportunities that do exist – as well as helping them with financial information about banking and living on a budget.
Brenda says jobhunters now need much more than a CV and a nice suit for the interview.
Unemployed people need more help than ever to find a job or to get involved in training, work experience or volunteering given the economic recession and the likely impact of changes to the welfare system, she says.
Many of today’s jobseekers have had little education, Brenda admits “A lot of people struggle with literacy and numeracy,” she says. “But a sympathetic employer may be wiling to address this. If you put someone into a job who cannot read that creates all sorts of issues, not least around health and safety because they cannot read the warning signs.
“Some people also have problems about punctuality and attitude. We can address these issues – ideally before they go out to an employer. By ironing out any creases, they maintain their employment rather than being back on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”
Brenda believes many unemployed people also under-estimate themselves. “A lot of people do not know what they are capable of doing,” she says. “People have skills that can be adapted to an employment situation.
“We have women returners with children who say they have no skills – but they can get the family up and to school every morning and that demonstrates organisational skills. They do the shopping, pay and bills and manage the family budget. These are all transferable skills. Many people are lacking in confidence. They think they are going to get another knock-back. Our job is to built them up.”
Brenda says employers should not dismiss jobhunters for lack of academic qualifications.
“Many employers are looking for experience, but should also be planning for the future, upskilling their existing staff and deciding how they will manage if their business does expand.