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The Virtuous Working Circle – Starting With the Individual
A major High St retailer recently ran with the tagline that at (name of retailer) "...we start with you." It popped into my mind this week as I was reflecting upon the way in which paid work, both ‘starts’ from personal interests and aptitudes and also contributes to financial independence and valued social roles. Work is both an expression of individual talent and an enabler of shared social meaning – a virtuous circle of personal and social fulfilment.
Work as Well-being Determinant
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, 2014, recognises the importance of work for the individual. This has been enshrined within the concept of well-being within the Act, by identifying work as a 'determinant' of well-being. In other words, paid employment provides the individual with greater financial independence but also provides a role from which they obtain esteem, identity and positive recognition. In so doing, it becomes a major contributor to well-being.
This beneficial association between well-being and work, has a wider impact, however, than just upon the individual. I have in mind communities where particular trades and industries have become icons of values and cultural expression within those communities. This becomes a more complex relationship when the historical association becomes an impediment to the acquisition of new and more relevant skills.
Work and Culture
In Wales, we have lived out this dynamic over the past 30 years with the decline of the traditional industries such as coal, steel and to some extent farming, and the embodiment of the cultural values encoded within occupations associated with these industries. In the absence of suitable replacement occupations, dependency upon state benefits, low levels of aspiration, substance misuse and criminality can develop.
Currently, the efforts to save steel production at Port Talbot, represent the latest chapter in this story. Steel provides the area with a core of well-paid professional, technical and skilled occupations. In addition, it sustains retail and support industries to the population. On top of this, it gives the locality a distinct identity and sense of worth which is embraced by the people of the area. Everybody knows that Port Talbot is a steel town. But even with the current rescue package offering the industry a new dawn, it is incumbent upon the citizens of the area to look ahead, in partnership with their elected representatives, in order to plan for a sustainable future which might be less dependent upon a single industry. Future work planning needs to recognise individual talent to a greater extent, if only because the employment market is becoming increasingly diverse.
It has been difficult for many communities to respond positively to the major changes and upheavals associated with the passage of these core industries. In some areas suitable and sustainable replacements have been hard to come by. This can leave communities lacking a focal point for employment and community life, and leading to young people having to leave those communities in favour of the cities where the majority of employment opportunities exist.
Of course for individuals who need extra levels of help, training and in-work support, the challenges are even greater. Too often, they have found themselves locked out of employment. So what is now required is a coalition of the willing and able to provide high-quality training and support. Jobs Growth Wales is a major Welsh Government programme for young people to experience supported work placements, with a view to continuing the placement as paid employment. It is critical if the Well-being Act is to work that schemes such as this are made accessible to individuals requiring additional levels of support.
However, in addition to even exemplary levels of statutory support, there needs to be a commitment from businesses to meet social care 'halfway' and to give an opportunity to those same individuals. New identities, relevant skills and work roles require a focus on individual talent and potential... but potential needs to be given an opportunity to be realised.
We all look for meaning in our lives. Where individuals receiving care and support can identify talents with potential relevance to employment, we need to do everything we can to start at that point. From there, we can nurture the individual in a way which is meaningful and motivational to them, by providing training and placements which are relevant to their skills and aptitudes. That high street tagline “we start with you...” seems like a great place to start!
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