THE web address to stick on the fridge

Once, it dealt with letters and parcels. Now a former Suffolk post office is the hub of a virtual resource centre for people who have lost their jobs.

Steven Russell

Once, it dealt with letters and parcels. Now a former Suffolk post office is the hub of a virtual resource centre for people who have lost their jobs. Steven Russell spoke to the force behind New Life Network

IT'S happening to too many of us, these days. Our line manager calls us in, explains times are tough, and regrets our job is disappearing. If we're lucky, we get some help in polishing our CV and leave with a little redundancy money to tide us over for a month or two while we hunt for pastures new. It's a shock for anyone - especially when there are mortgage payments to make and children to feed - and it's especially baffling and hurtful if your workplace and colleagues have become a second home and family. The world suddenly feels a cold and lonely place. Once the initial disbelief has subsided, we can give in to bitterness and rail against the greedy bankers who prompted the recession and the firms who have responded by shedding loyal staff in knee-jerk fashion . . . or draw a deep breath and take the first step in our new life.

One of the hardest things is knowing where to turn. Fortunately, help is but a click away with www.newlifenetwork.co.uk - a free resource centre that helps people find jobs, rebuild their lives after redundancy, identify a new career, launch their own business and develop their skills.


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It's the brainchild of business consultant Janet Davies, whose CV includes staff jobs with American Express International and NatWest. Four years ago she read a newspaper column called Aftershock - journalist Andrew Taylor's account of redundancy and life afterwards. Numerous readers identified with his plight and Janet discovered that, even in 2005, more than 2,000 folk in the UK were losing their jobs every working day. While employers could easily find information about making staff redundant, there wasn't much help for those on the receiving end or wanting to investigate options such as going freelance or starting their own business.

Janet met Andrew and talked about setting up the New Life Network to provide a “valuable and vetted” collection of resources “for all of those who know that redundant doesn't mean 'finished', that 'over 40' doesn't mean 'over the hill', that 'unemployed' doesn't mean 'unemployable' - and that fed up doesn't mean that you have to put up or shut up!”

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Edited by Janet, it launched in the autumn of 2005 and has been visited by thousands of people. Not surprisingly, the number of hits has rocketed in recent times: “Quadrupled,” she reports. There was a noticeable rise from last February and a massive spike in September. The site is run on a shoestring, with no money for promotion, so much of the growth is down to word of mouth in this time of uncertainty.

Four years ago we had a strong economy, and nearly half of the visitors to the site were researching how to set up in business. “What we have noticed over the past four months is a really dramatic shift in interest from becoming an entrepreneur to becoming re-employed.”

It's clear many managerial-type people are getting the push in this recession: about a third of those losing their jobs. “Of course, one issue with that wasting of talent is that these are the very people who really keep the economy afloat, because they're the ones that pay tax, pay national insurance,” Janet points out. We need middle- and higher-income folk to fund our social security system, which is something of a worry.

Is she optimistic on the jobs front? “Yes and no. I think there's more good news out there than people are being allowed to see. I think there's a lot of ambulance-chasing journalism going on . . .”

On the other hand, it's difficult to ignore the numbers, isn't it?

“Yes . . . but what I try and do is go 'Yes, it's awful; yes, it's worse than it's ever been.' However, those people who are better prepared, people who are prepared to think a little more laterally about what they want to do, those people who are prepared to take the trouble to understand what employers are looking for - to write a decent CV, to research in the right places - are more likely to succeed than those who just go 'Ain't it awful; I'd like to sign on the dole, please.' It was ever thus. It's important today to make sure you're the one that stands out in a crowd.”

It might sound a bit harsh and painful, but Janet thinks the winning qualities are resilience and proactivity, and thinking outside one's established comfort zone. The world changes and, like it or not, most of us need to change to remain in tune.

“We've just come through a period of unprecedented high levels of employment and high wages, and so on, so it has been a bit of a sellers' marketplace. I think people have got a bit lazy; but now they're just going to have to sharpen their act up.”

The important thing if the worst happens is to stay calm, focussed, and not make any rash decisions - because you're so worried about your future - that might later be regretted.

It's advisable to identify your niche, rather than adopt a broad-brush approach and send your CV everywhere. “There might well be jobs out there; you've just got to know where to look.”

People who can demonstrate the ability to make a business more efficient, boost creativity, improve the way staff are led, increase revenues and so on stand a good chance of being taken on. “They might not get hired for the same money; they might not get hired 10 minutes away from their home; they might not get hired at the same level or on the same contractual terms . . .” But it's still a job.

Don't think Janet is dispensing sage advice without knowing what it's like to walk on the less sunny side of the street. She's been made redundant three times during her high-flying career. “My jokey response is: 'You've heard of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral; I've done two restructures and a downturn.' Nobody's immune.”

In fact, it was economic turbulence that shaped the course of her life more than 25 years ago. She studied textile marketing at college and had been sponsored as a student, so confidently expected to become a graduate trainee in the rag trade. But a downturn intervened and openings had closed rapidly by the time she graduated in 1982. “I could have wallpapered my house with the number of 'no room at the inn-style' rejections that I got.”

With her then boyfriend working for Sainsbury's in East Anglia, plan B involved moving to Great Yarmouth. “I thought I could do anything: rent deckchairs . . . something for the summer's better than nothing.”

The local Jobcentre offered a temporary post in the finance office for Ladbroke's holidays. She wasn't looking for a job in finance, but it proved an unexpected big break. The role developed and Janet got two years' great experience before moving on.

She worked in Ipswich for Sainsbury's, in Essex for office equipment firm Pitney Bowes, for NatWest, American Express, and a company that helped major firms diagnose how well they were looking after their customers. Then she focused on her own enterprises, offering training and development.

Today, Janet is a “talent management” and post-redundancy careers specialist. She also writes about careers for websites and business publications and has recently appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Breakfast TV.

Home for more than 20 years has been a converted former post office near Bury St Edmunds. While she loves spells of working in London, returning to Suffolk is always a joy.

Of this recession, Janet says one of the dangers for folk who lose their jobs is that they can “fall off the radar” and find it hard to get back into their chosen field. She hopes business might learn a lesson from that. “We need to get better at re-absorbing talent back into the economy.” If numerous laid-off electricians and builders, for example, go off to run B&Bs or settle in other jobs, the construction industry would find it hard to pick up speed again when economic fortunes improve.

“Lots of organisations are now saying they can't do what they did in the past. When the upturn comes, they need to be able to get good people back: so industries are trying to get employers to say goodbye to their employees in a constructive way and genuinely retain a good relationship with them when they've gone.”

Changes to the employer-employee relationship had been happening even before the recession, she observes, and that trend is likely to continue.

There will always be companies who take on young workers, train them and benefit from them for years, but there's likely to be a growing number of contractors and freelance workers who spend time working for one employer before moving on to another paymaster. They might even employ agents to arrange jobs for them and sort out the financial arrangements - a bit like an actor's agent.

There is also likely to be a move towards greater staff ownership of and involvement in the business on which they rely for a living, along the lines of the successful John Lewis model.

The 2009 edition of Janet Davies's book Rebuilding your life after redundancy - the New Life Network Handbook 2009 is also available. It costs �10.99 and can be ordered from www.arimapublishing.co.uk

The New Life Network's four-point plan for rebuilding your life after redundancy:

Stage 1: Understand how you will support yourself/your family while you develop an alternative income stream.

Sorting out your finances is an essential first step. It's much harder to rebuild your life if you are constantly beset by money worries. Will you be receiving any severance pay? You may need between three to six months' pay to insulate you before you have secured an alternative income stream. Itemise your outgoings and look for immediate and longer-term savings to make it last longer. Have you made an appointment to register with JobCentre Plus? You need to do so as soon as possible - claims can't be made retrospectively. You don't know how long you will be out of work, and it could take a while to get an appointment.

Stage 2: Identify what that alternative income stream might be.

Have you been offered outplacement counselling by your employers to support you in this stage? If you have, make good use of it. If you haven't, use the NLN website to create your own outplacement programme. Is it likely you will be able to find a job similar to the one you have lost, if that's what you'd like to do? Might you need to be prepared to relocate or up-skill to find a similar position? Might you need/want to do something different? Will that require re-training or funding? How long might that take? Will it involve you setting up your own business?

Stage 3: Create your plan to achieve that alternative income stream.

List all the things you'll need to have in place so you don't miss out anything important. It will help give you useful direction and a sense of achievement as you go into your action stage. Remember the old adage: fail to plan, plan to fail!

Stage 4: Implement your plan.

If you are a job hunter, have you prepared a CV geared to the kind of job you want and which demonstrates to recruiters and employers that you have what it takes to do well? If you have that CV written, have you researched/registered with all the employers, recruiters and websites appropriate to the type of job you are looking for? Have you networked with friends, family, colleagues, professional associations etc to look for additional leads? Have you brushed up your interview skills? Are you taking good care of yourself mentally and physically, because job-hunting can be hard work? Are you pursuing your plan rigorously?

www.newlifenetwork.co.uk has extensive details about issues such as redundancy pay and claiming benefit, managing your finances, coping with redundancy, choosing a new career direction, books for potential entrepreneurs, free online personality tests, starting your own business and going freelance, and training and education.

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