Belinda Aaron’s Story…

From a successful career all the way to the job centre – and even they couldn’t help! Belinda Aaron’s story and thought-provoking reaction as she looked for work is bound to resonate with some readers. Here’s what she has to say:-

I have always been a loyal Conservative since reaching the age when I was eligible to vote. This year like every other year I caught snippets of the Conservative Party Conference however this year 2015 was different because I wasn’t actually working. I followed various minister’s speeches with great interest, and was actually inspired by David Cameron’s keynote speech.

Highly visible on many of the walls at the conference location were the 3 words ‘Security, Stability and Opportunity which detailed the main themes of the annual conservative gathering in Manchester. These 3 words constantly resonated with me and brought to my attention that there is a definite synergy between the Conservative party and I.

From September 1988 to November 2013, I had been in full time employment and had enjoyed a secure and stable career. During those 25 years I had been employed by market leading, global healthcare organisations e.g. Smith and Nephew Limited, Roche Diagnostics, Coloplast, and Wolters Kluwer Health and had created and identified a vast number of business opportunities which in turn I had converted into company revenue in the form of sales and signed contracts.

All my roles have given me the opportunity of either directly or indirectly improving a patient’s quality of life through working with senior healthcare professionals in the NHS and private sector and I have achieved a tremendous amount of professional and personal gratification. My roles have been in the areas of sales and new business development and I have achieved senior status. My responsibilities have been in generating completely new business from prospect identification to contract negotiation.

When I left my job in November 2013 after 5 years because I was being bullied and harassed, I had delivered the top 3 UK contracts which also equated to the top 2 European contracts. I have worked in various healthcare sectors e.g. Surgical Product Specialist in Urology and Urogynaecology and Health Information Technology/Digital Health.

My parent’s top priority was always mine and my 2 sibling’s education. I was privately educated and I am forever indebted to my parents for the sacrifices which they made on our behalf. In July 1988 I graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a BSc (Hons) Combined Studies in Science degree, majoring in Biology and Chemistry. I commenced my first graduate job in September 1988.

Since November 2014 I have been religiously visiting my local Job Centre Plus on a biweekly basis on a Thursday. If I happen to have had an interview or attended a networking event on a Thursday the whole process of rearranging my visit has been extremely complex involving massive amounts of paperwork.

Attending the Job Centre in itself has been a life changing experience especially for me as it was unchartered territory. For just over 8 weeks I was eligible to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) which worked out around £71 a week and then these payments stopped.

Over the past 15 years I have been trying to save money for a ‘rainy day’ and also have been contributing to private company schemes. Approaching the end of the 8 weeks when I had been claiming JSA I had to complete a document which I recall being over 60 pages. On completion of the assessment of this document I was informed that I was no longer entitled to claim any type of allowance or benefit from the government because I had over £16,000 in savings and I had my own property.

I was completed astonished and stuck for words which I guarantee never happens to me in any scenario. I thought why should I be penalised because I have had a career for 25 years which has enabled me to save money and buy my first property. This seems extremely unfair. The only reason I visit Job Centre Plus now is to sign to receive my stamp which ensures that one day I will able to see my pension.

During the past 12 months I would estimate that I have applied for over 70 jobs while I also do volunteer work. The majority of which require a lengthy online application which can sometimes take between 2 to 3 days to complete. I am continually informed that I am over qualified and way too experienced.

In addition, although I have an enviable transferable skill set and over 20 years commercial experience I am still competing against candidates who may have only been doing that particular role for 2 years!

In February I was offered a job by an Academic Health Science Network, and the following week the job offer was withdrawn due to funding being withdrawn for that particular post. In September I applied for a role with a private healthcare organisation who are expanding into Manchester, the salary was less than a 1/3 of what I used to earn annually.

After 6 weeks of chasing up the progress off my application I was informed by a member of the company’s HR department that there had been over 169 applications for the role and a large proportion of the applicants were from a private hospital in the centre of Manchester which had recently entered into administration. To my surprise the HR employee questioned why I had applied for the role when I had had such a tremendously successful career to date and had achieved so much in the large global corporate healthcare world.

During one of my eye opening visits to the Job Centre I had my CV checked by a charming gentleman from The National Careers Service, and I mentioned that I was more than happy for him to amend or tweak my CV.  His feedback was that my CV was amazing and he could not comprehend that I was not in employment.

The point that I have encountered that I find frustrating is that if you are an individual in England who has always paid their taxes and worked, and does not currently claim any form of benefit, or Job Seekers Allowance or receives a penny from the government and is unemployed then the Job Centre Plus seems to have no processes in place which will facilitate employment.

I mentioned to one of my supervisors that I wanted to enhance my skill set by participating in a PRINCE 2 formal project management qualification, after a numerous weeks I was informed that as the course was run by a college in a different council area then it couldn’t be funded.

Oh how I am in awe of the Apprenticeships Initiative which is open to individuals who are between 16 and 24. This really is a revolutionary way of gaining employment. I saw the film The Intern starring Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Rene Russo.  If it can be done on the big screen it can happen in England in 2015. If I had my time again I am not sure if I would have gone to university! I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few facts:

  •  Since 2010 there have been over 2 million apprenticeships starts in England
  • 90% of apprentices stay in employment after finishing their apprenticeships (includes 2% self employed)
  • 82% said their apprenticeship had improved their ability to do the job
  • 79% said that their career prospects had improved

When I am sat in the Job Centre and observe the environment I often feel that I am only the person who desperately wants to work. Many others individuals seem apathetic and unenthusiastic.

On one occasion I was surprised to see a client sat in front of his supervisor. The client had no understanding of the English language and was communicating with a friend who was coming through loud and clear on the client’s mobile phone. The friend on loud speaker was in turn speaking English to the supervisor.

I couldn’t actually believe the scenario I was seeing. On visits to the Job Centre I am on first name terms with the security guards and have polite, thought provoking brief discussions with the supervisors, where I update them about my latest job applications and then sign to receive my stamp which ensures I will one day gain my state pension when I retire.

I regularly attend conferences and networking events and contact the organisers prior and explain that I am unemployed and quite a few have given me a reduced rate or arranged for me to gain entry free of charge. In June I attended The NHS Confederation Conference and in September I visited The NHS England Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester. In addition I am also active on Linked In.

Please, please listen to me Mr Cameron one of your loyal Conservative voters:

I really want to embrace the theme of your party conference, ‘Security, Stability and Opportunity’  however over the past 12 months I have not felt secure as my savings are becoming depleted, have not had stability and it’s very challenging trying to find job opportunities. There is a real need for an Adult Apprenticeship Initiative in England.

I am 47 and am far too young to retire and I have no desire to either. I would also be delighted to be an ‘Adult Intern’ for an agreed and designated period. As far as I am aware neither of these two options exist at the moment. I have discussed these 2 initiatives with my local Job Centre Plus. Guess what, the supervisors commented that these were fabulous ideas but they would not be able to facilitate them or assist me in any shape or form with establishing or implementing them.

When I am not completing long, online applications or spending hours and days preparing/researching for interviews and compiling Powerpoint presentations I am attending networking events and any local conferences for which I always negotiate free entrance.

When I am not involved in any of these activities, I am volunteering as I feel really passionate about putting something back into the community. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to engage and establish friendships with some amazing physically disabled and elderly people, some with dementia. Exposure to these people has provided me with a greater understanding of how these people live their lives.

In relation to government recommendations I would like the opportunity to suggest the following:

Introducing Adult Internships

Utilising my 27 years industry experience, the skill set I have established and my transferable skills. I am also a BSc (Hons) graduate


Job Centre Plus Recommendations

Providing assistance with participating in courses. I wanted to attend a PRINCE 2, an industry recognised project management course however I was informed that the course was only available at Stockport College and that Bury would not fund this. I believed that I lived in the region of Greater Manchester. Middle aged professionals like myself do not require help which involves showing how to construct an email or alternatively how to access/use the internet.

We are slightly beyond those stages and yet the job centre supervisors just don’t get it! I think now after a year of me unemployed they are just to coming to realise that they are unable to actually offer me anything which is going to get me employment above and beyond what I am doing myself.

I feel that having a designated part of the job centre for middle aged professionals like myself (is 48 middle aged? I wouldst say so!) so that we can ‘discover’ each other, engage. Perhaps we could assist each other with training on software packages for instance. Perhaps they have friends who we could network with too in order to broaden our horizons and widen our job search net. You never know we could possibly set up an enterprise together.

I also feel that us middle aged people could provide the skills to new companies who are starting up. Maybe the government could pay us something similar to job seekers allowance for assisting these start up companies.

Belinda’s story raises more than just the issue of women in their 40s and 50s finding work. It reflects on the lack of support provided by the state, support that is often freely available to younger, less qualified job-seekers. Why not make use of Belinda’s knowledge, skills and experience, not to mention her willingness to work? It doesn’t make sense..!

You can read how The Telegraph reported on Belinda’s story here.

All opinions in this post are of the author. If you want to comment please do so below, or contact me and share your experiences

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