Job-hunters reap reward of holidays

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The Independent Online
THE adverse effects of a long hunt for work are well recognised. Although the right help can minimise the resulting loss of self-confidence and motivation, it is almost impossible to escape it entirely.

Bill Pitcher, a representative on the advice, guidance, and counselling lead body for the Institute of Management Consultants points out: 'People's physical and mental activity tends to drop and they become withdrawn from the world. They become more and more inhibited about taking any risk, like filling in a job application form, for fear of failing.'

But CEPEC, a company specialising in outplacement training and career counselling, has recently come up with a novel approach to break this vicious circle. It sent two clients on a week's sailing holiday in the Hebrides. Both got jobs within weeks of returning.

The inspiration for this idea was David Charles-Edwards, a consultant counsellor and trainer for CEPEC, who spent a week bird-watching on the boat last year.

While on holiday, he realised that the boat was the perfect setting for a course he was proposing to run with a friend of his, and booked it for the following year. The course never materialised, so Mr Charles-Edwards found himself with berths to fill. At this stage he had a word with John Flouch, CEPEC's managing director, and they decided to take some of their clients. Despite the impromptu arrangement, he had a clear picture of what he expected his clients to gain. 'The sea offers a natural medium both for introspection and for forming close ties with one's colleagues,' he said, while pointing out that the boat was based on encouragement rather than the endurance test ideas behind some other outdoor activities.

The idea was to give those involved a complete break from the stress of job hunting. 'With this in mind, we invited men whose confidence was becoming undermined, who were at a crossroads in their job search, and who were looking for a fresh vision of what they wanted to do with their lives. We wanted to give them a wonderful week away from the pressures of looking for work. But more than that, we were hoping that the trip would help to shift them on a personal level and make them more focused and enthused on their return.'

Two clients, Simon Evans and Peter Crouch, went on the trip. Both had been offered CEPEC's services as part of a redundancy package by their former employers, so the cost of the trip was borne almost entirely by CEPEC. However, because of the unusual nature of the venture, and to ensure that both men were committed to it, they each contributed pounds 50 to help defray the costs. Because the remaining berths were taken by friends of David, there were fewer structured counselling sessions than Mr Charles-Edwards would have liked. But Mr Evans and Mr Crouch found much of value.

Mr Evans is in his mid-40s and was made redundant in January, when the British multinational for which he worked was taken over by a Swedish company. 'I had been making some progress in my job search, but I had had my fair share of disappointments too, and I felt that I needed a breath of fresh air. The trip was a tremendous mental spring clean; it gave me back my self-respect,' he said.

Mr Crouch drew the same pleasure from finding someone else who was literally in the same boat, but for him the trip was to provide even more profound results. He had been made redundant from his job as president of the international division of a large US service organisation in June 1992. Even though he had been invited to many interviews, none of them had been translated into firm job offers.

'I had been getting depressed about my lack of success, but in the course of my on-board discussions with David I realised that I was still extremely angry at the way that I had been made redundant, and that I must have been conveying this in interviews.

'When I got home I videotaped a mock interview in which my counsellor asked me all the most difficult questions he could think of, and I took the tape home to assess my performance. I was appalled by what I discovered; I was so defensive and bitter, I wouldn't even have hired myself. Since then I have been working on changing my attitudes. So quite apart from lifting what was a growing sense of depression about my failure to get another job, the Hebrides voyage gave me a practical insight into exactly where I was going wrong.'

Mr Charles-Edwards recognises that this venture was experimental, and that there is considerable scope for improvement. 'If we were to repeat the trip I would like there to be no outsiders, other than crew, on board. The ideal mix would be six clients and two counsellors. I would also insist on a little more structure to the proceedings so that each person would have half an hour to an hour of formal counselling every day.'

Initial responses to CEPEC's initiative from outside organisations have been encouraging. Anna Reece, head of communications for the Institute of Personnel Management, welcomes any enterprise that helps to improve the morale of the long-term unemployed. Barry Underwood, a fellow of the IMC, is similarly enthusiastic, although he offers a word of caution. 'There is no substitute for hard work at the beginning of outplacement counselling, and schemes such as these should remain supplementary to that.'