Unemployment is one of the most damaging footprints left by the coronavirus crisis, with thousands of people losing their jobs and employers across the country having to sack staff or even close down their businesses for good.
In response, local organisations agencies such as Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) are offering support services and employment training – initiatives that will help people get back to work, such as improved IT skills and access to digital technology.
Erdington Local caught up with Ruby Begum, Employment & Skills Tutor at WLCA, to find out how they can help people looking for a new job.
EL: Can you tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities at WLCA?
RB: My role at Witton Lodge is to support and help people who are looking for work, and that’s where I provide one to one support and within a group setting.
Here at Witton lodge, we do a range of courses to help people back into work – for example, we offer customer services, CV writing, preparation for interview techniques and digital skills training.
EL: WLCA launched a training and support program to get people more confident with digital skills back in October, can you tell us more about these classes?
RB: The IT classes were introduced as we had identified – especially during lockdown – how people were struggling to keep in touch with their loved ones on digital apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook etc., because they didn’t have the digital skills to do so.
There were also a lot of services that had started to offer sessions via these apps, which meant that for those people who did not have the skills to use them they would be missing out on them. This was also a barrier for many people in the community in the job market where they were not confident to type up CVs, or to look for jobs on the Internet.
EL: Is it face to face; can people access the sessions remotely such as through Zoom or social media platforms?
RB: The face-to-face delivery is available on Mondays and Tuesdays in the mornings and via zoom or WhatsApp in the afternoon on the same days. My lessons are tailor made according to the learners needs, so it’s a very flexible program to access for them.
EL: How many people are currently engaged on the program at WLCA – and what age ranges have you found are using the service?
RB: We have had a very good response from delivering the IT Sessions and we are receiving new referrals every week – the majority of learners have been older adults, however recently we had referrals from people younger who want to take up basic IT training.
EL: Talk us through your approach to teaching IT skills, what would be the standard introduction at the WLCA IT support sessions?
RB: I like to apply the VARK model of teaching. As a teacher, I develop the sessions in different learning styles of visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic styles to adapt to the learners needs.
An example of an introduction to my sessions would be an icebreaker of an activity to get the learners comfortable and give them a chance to get to know each other. I will also guide my learners through the aims and objectives of the program – what to do and what to expect – and discuss any concerns or expectations from the learners.
EL: What are you trying to achieve with the sessions, what would be a ‘win’ for those attending?
RB: My aim is to support people in the community to become more aware of modern technology, which is much required now especially with the continuous lockdowns that take place. It is to help people become confident in using IT skills so they can become more independent in their daily lives.
For example, there is so much that they can do if they know how to use a laptop or a modern device: online banking, booking GP appointments online, learning new skills, and much more.
We have already witnessed success stories from some of the learners that have attended as they have now progressed on to attending our Internal wellbeing classes via Zoom.
EL: Do people need to have any previous experiences with technology to attend?
RB: No, absolutely not… the course is open to all ages and is completely free of charge. All we require is the learner’s motivation to learn.
EL: In your role as Employment and Skills Tutor at WLCA, how important is it for people to be IT literate when looking for work?
RB: I think it’s very important for people to become IT literate especially now. This is due to a lot of companies having interviews via Zoom, training for jobs is mostly conducted via Zoom also.
I have recently had a lot of referrals for people who have become unemployed due to this pandemic and who did not have to use any IT in their previous roles – for them the IT sessions will help to break barriers in finding employment.
EL: How about in their personal lives, especially during the recent lockdown and social distancing restrictions?
RB: The IT sessions were also developed to help people during lockdown to stay connected with their friends and families by learning how to use smart devices and connecting with others.
Most of my learners are very isolated with limited or no families. For them it’s been really tough in the last few months and the IT sessions have helped to connect to other support services online. For example, we have had success stories of people getting into volunteering, attending wellbeing sessions on Zoom and making new friends.
EL: Do you think new technology can come with its downside, are there negatives to the increasing reliance and use of IT when looking for work?
RB: No, I don’t feel there is any downside if I’m honest. I think we are living in modern times and everything is moving forward to digital, so now is the right time to learn IT skills that will benefit the community to become independent and more confident around digital skills when looking for work.
EL: The term “digital poverty” is often mentioned, relating to people who may not be able to afford or access the relevant IT. Can you tell us about the Digital -All services at WLCA?
RB: At Witton Lodge we have a great service called the digital lending library, this is a service where we have secured funding for tablets and laptops to help break barriers for people in the community around IT skills. The service is available for people either wanting to learn IT skills for work or to help develop IT skills to be able to use other services.
We offer tablets and laptops on a loan basis to help people get back into work. For example, we have identified that in the community there are a lot of people who cannot afford to buy laptops or tablets in order to do job search or apply for jobs. To help break this barrier, we offer the IT sessions and the devices on a loan agreement between the client and WLCA.
EL: What could be done on a larger scale, not just by WLCA, to address the deficit in access to IT and digital platforms?
RB: I would like to hope that most of the community organisations out there have noticed the gap for IT skills. It would be a good idea if community organisations could focus on securing funding around re-skilling the people of the community to develop IT skills.
This will help to break so many barriers for people – for example, improving confidence building and becoming more independent, accessing other services, being able to do things for themselves rather than relying on others. We are fortunate here at WLCA, that we are able to provide these services to the community.
For more information on the IT training at Witton Lodge Community Association, which is funded through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme, please call Ruby Begum on 0121 382 1930 or email her at Ruby.Begum@wittonlodge.org.uk
To find out more about the services and support offered at Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk