Finding inspiration from adversity: The Smart Works Career Coaching service

It was around one year ago today that we first developed our new service to help women back into employment. Born out of necessity to respond to an immediate need, the Smart Works Career Coaching service has now become a vital way to reach women who are further from the job market. 

In May 2020, the sheer scale of the pandemic was beginning to show itself: this was not a blip that could be erased by the never-failing spring sunshine we seemed to wake up to every morning. People’s livelihoods were being torn apart at a rate many of us had never witnessed, and the women we exist to help were at the forefront of the devastation. Our phones were ringing with women who had their interviews pulled and were back to square one. We heard from other charities we work with that we were looking at a tidal wave of unemployment and disaffection. Our immaculate wardrobes, our stylists, our interview coaches and our welcoming centres were suddenly out of reach to those who needed them most.

This was not an easy position for a charity that prides itself on offering tangible, visible support to get people back into work. We wanted to do something to help. It is hard to write this without sounding pompous, but the over-riding sense from everyone in the Smart Works community was that we had a moral duty to act.

This was the inspiration for the launch of our Career Coaching service.

Launching Career Coaching

Pre-Covid, the Smart Works service focused on helping women who have secured an interview go on to get the job. The pandemic made it apparent that securing an interview was just as significant a barrier to employment as getting the job offer. In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that it took us a pandemic to realise this, but once gained, the insight was not wasted on us.

We knew we had a world-class team of coaches with skills that could help re-frame a person’s aspirations in a relatively short period of time. And so we launched a new service, focused entirely on helping women secure an interview. The sessions are tailored for each individual and are powered by the quality of the coaches we have to deploy. Clients may use the time to help set up a LinkedIn profile, create a CV from the ground up or learn the building blocks of what it takes to write an outstanding cover letter. Above all, each client finds a safe space to identify what is holding them back, and so what they need to succeed.

Quietly at first, and then with increased confidence as we saw the impact, we began offering our service to more women. We held training sessions for our coaches at our Smart Works centres across the UK, developed the training materials we needed to embed the service, and carefully monitored the results.

The results

In the last 12 months, we have delivered 745 Career Coaching appointments. 67% of clients were invited to an interview within two months and 86% felt more confident about their job search. Against a background of severe economic disruption, this is a result which we are incredibly proud of. In the words of one of our coaches, the sessions often act as a “lightbulb moment”, providing “a path of activity, structure and hope.” Most importantly, in the words of our clients, the sessions have shown to be an important moment on the road back to employment:

“I found the experience beneficial as it encouraged me to ‘reframe’ a negative period into something positive”

 “My coach was a fantastic mentor – knowledgeable and empathetic with solid suggestions for moving forward.”

 “My advisor made me feel at ease straight away. She was enthusiastic and gave lots of relevant advice. I now feel more prepared and confident to go out and apply and have interviews.”

This is what inspires us: knowing that our service provides a friendly voice of support and expert advice on what can be a tough and lonely road.

The future

The future for female employment has rarely looked so precarious. The statistics continue to speak for themselves. The Office of National Statistics tell us that a quarter of a million UK women lost their jobs between December 2020 and March 2021. And whilst the pandemic is something we have all experienced together, it is women who have often born the brunt of both the increased domestic pressures and the significant reduction in traditionally more female dominated job opportunities.

Against that backdrop, it is more important than ever that our charity has found a way to extend the scope of our services, and reach women who are that one step further from re-entering the workplace. Career Coaching becomes the entry point to our interview preparation service, allowing us to widen our net and help women in more vulnerable positions.

In fact, one of the joys of the last few weeks has been to see the women who have secured an interview via Career Coaching then come to see us in person for dressing and interview preparation. Even better is the call a few days later when they let us know they got the job.

Out of the adversity of the pandemic came the insight we needed to help more women reconnect with their potential and transform their lives.