"The best things about my job are the autonomy, the clients, and the people I work with"

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Employment Specialist

This work is about realising that there is no dead-end, it’s about being creative and finding a way around any barriers.

I like change, I like things being different and varied. I like learning.

I can’t say my job is a chore at all – I love it!

I’m an Employment Specialist for West Sussex Employment Services. I am co-located in several Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust services to provide employment support on behalf of Southdown.

My role is to help people find work or retain their jobs because they might have gone off sick and now need adjustments or a phased return.

This work is about realising that there is no dead-end, it’s about being creative and finding a way around any barriers.

I work in Early Intervention Services (EIS) for Bognor and Worthing and Chichester and Midhurst. This is a service for people that have experienced psychosis and are recovering from psychosis.

I provide the employment support for the Assessment Treatment Services (ATS) at Bognor, the Assertive Outreach Team (AOT), and the Recovery Service at Bognor.

I also do forensic work as part of a pilot project. Forensic work involves people who might have been in prison. For example, I am working with a murderer and people on the sex offenders register and all have to disclose this when looking for jobs.

I don’t really have a typical day but I do have a typical week. Within that week I make sure I’ve attended an EIS team meeting to catch up on cases with other professionals. On an average week, I’ll have about eight meetings with clients where we meet for about an hour and afterwards I will update their action plan or write a contact session. I’ll have supervision with my manager once a month and I’ll do quite a lot of joint meetings with lead practitioners. I work with such nice teams – they’re really lovely!

Clients get referred to me if there’s been a conversation about employment with their lead practitioner. They will fill in a form together and when I’ve received it I’ll text them to introduce myself and let them know they’ve been referred to me.

When I provide employment support for clients I emphasise that I work for Southdown. It settles their mind a little bit because they speak to so many NHS staff about their mental health. I do tell them I will liaise with their lead practitioners as we do partnership working here.

We meet clients in the service bases first for safety, confidentiality, and comfort. And then after that we will go to cafes. In the summer I’ll meet them on the beach, in the park, anywhere that’s suitable for them if we’ve already addressed their private and confidential information first.

At the Early Intervention Services (EIS) there are two therapy dogs. I’m quite looking forward to the summer when I can take the dogs for a walk with clients whilst dropping off their CVs.

The EIS is an outreach team which can go to a client’s house if they live too far away to meet at a base, or don’t have enough money to travel. I’m not allowed to do a home visit unless I’m with a practitioner. But by joining these home visits, it does mean I get to see a client more often.

If a client wants to return to their place of work, I mediate a conversation between them and their employer – I’m there to keep them calm, focused, and engaged in a meeting.

We support people through an approach called Individual Placement and Support (IPS). We look at what support they need to get back into work. For example, helping them with their CV, looking at their transferrable skills, and supporting them with job-seeking each week.

I will also support clients to go out and about in the community to help them leave the house and get confidence. During our sessions, we’ve gone Geocaching and played Pokemon Go!

It’s great because at the same time, I’ll say to a client, “Let’s take your CVs and we’ll find hidden treasure and drop off your CV at some shops!”

It makes it sound too much fun doesn’t it? But I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t.

Geocaching builds tenacity and determination. I remember one time it was a really horrible rainy day. My client was having a low day so we went Geocaching and spent ages looking for treasure around this tree!

These fun creative activities help build rapport and they can help clients get out of a rut. We often get stuck doing the same old thing every day so doing something different really helps. I encourage clients to do social things because to get them into work, they also need to have a social life.

As long as we stick to the IPS principles – that the client has a lead practitioner, we’re safe and use our lone worker personal alarm, then we can design the support around the individual.

A lot of the young lads in Early Intervention Services talk about computer games and that helps build rapport too because I play computer games! It also helps that I’ve got teenage children!

The IPS approach is time-unlimited which is helpful because it doesn’t put pressure on people - the nature of mental ill health means they might have a period of not feeling well. Everything’s their choice so they look for jobs they want.

I think there needs to be a lot more education for employers. I don’t think people know enough about mental health. The media plays a big part in people’s ideas of what mental health is or looks like.

One client who wanted to retain his work had been working for a company for about eight years but was recently signed off sick with anxiety due to the amount of work he’d been given. He had a breakdown.

He wanted to talk to me about his options – we looked at going part-time, early retirement, applying for another job, and compensation. For him just having that conversation with someone and exploring the situation was amazing for him. Through coaching, he now knows there are options.

People with mental health challenges might have different ways of seeing the world and different ways of working. I’ve got one client who hates working with people and so she found a cleaning job in a holiday park which means she doesn’t have to see people! There’s a job for everyone!

As an Employment Specialist, I have to meet certain outcomes, for example I must support 19 clients into paid employment each year. I also have retention outcomes, work and voluntary outcomes, and education outcomes to meet.

I don’t think about them cos I always know I’m going to meet them! I enjoy a challenge and the IPS model works. That’s how we meet the outcomes.

The best things about my job are the autonomy, the clients, and the people I work with.

I have depression and it helps me manage knowing that if I am having a bad morning, I can work from home. I’m rarely sick or ill and I think autonomous working helps that.

I struggle being in one office all day, I feel trapped. Because my job is so wide-ranging, I’m meeting lots of people in different teams and driving a lot, it adds enjoyment and variety to my day. It makes me happy. I’m pretty lucky!

Being able to put what I want in my diary so that I can add different things into my day is so important. In my old job I was very time-bound and that caused a lot of stress.

The challenge of this work can be poor employer understanding of mental health challenges.

I’m proud of my outcomes and reaching them early. I’m also proud that I studied for a Certificate in Education and Training. I work as a Peer Trainer at Sussex Recovery College twice a year and I use those skills that I developed.

I was a single mum and hadn’t worked for years as I was looking after the kids. I decided to go back to university and did a degree in Criminology and Psychology and absolutely loved it.

I then started volunteering for a mentoring service in prison. I used to visit the inmates in prison and find out what they’d need when they were released. I’d meet them at the gate on release and then support them in the community. I loved it! I was good at it.

I then worked as a Careers Advisor based in Ford and Lewes Prisons. When the service was ending and we were looking at redundancies, I started job-seeking and found this job at Southdown!

I was worried because I didn’t know much about mental health, just my own experiences. But then I realised that lots of people in prisons have mental health challenges.

I got the job and then did a short course at Northbrook College on mental health. I researched a lot on the Individual Placement and Support approach and have also learnt so much from the teams I work with.

Since then I’ve completed a Level 2 in Counselling course and via the NHS I did the Certificate in Education and Training so I can teach in small groups.

 

Our specialist employment support helps people access and retain paid work, complete education and training and get involved in volunteering. Employment Specialists work in partnership with Mental Health Recovery Teams in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to provide support tailored to individual needs, goals and aspirations.