Redundancy strikes - what can you do?

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By Neil Harris

Redundancy affects many of us at some stage in our career, even those working in Education. Departments close. Organisations restructure to reduce costs. Contracts come to an end. But when it happens to you it is a deeply personal issue. ‘Why me?' is quite a natural reaction. We feel picked on, undervalued, lack appreciation for our skills and the efforts we have made.

It can be devastating at first but redundancy is an opportunity to make progress, to change direction, to try something new. For many it is the springboard to success. Yet when it happens those affected initially often experience very negative thoughts. They feel inadequate, imagining that others felt they were not doing as good a job as they could. They question their ability, look for someone to blame. Depression may even set in. Our work is a part of who we are, our status in society. Losing our job may present us with a loss of face, a lack of purpose and often a dramatic decrease in our self worth. It may take a few months to feel positive again but as soon as you do, then you can make progress.

Searching For A New Job

As the search for new employment quickly gathers momentum there are three key activities that are needed. First you must think positively about what to do next, not negatively about the past. No new employer will offer a job because you were badly treated, didn't like what you did before, or the people you were working with. They want someone who has the skills and positive motivation to do whatever it is they require.

Second consider in detail the skills, knowledge and personality you have to offer. By having a clear understanding of what you can offer you can convince your next employer that you will be an asset to the company. Select the key skills you consider you might need in your next job and think hard for examples of when you applied them in practice before. You will need these during the application and interview process.

Only when you have completed stages one and two should you consider the third; discovering which employers would want to buy these skills, knowledge and positive motivation. Many of us in academic life have been trained to focus our thinking. That's the way we do our research, complete our projects, organise our courses. But when you are redundant an important ingredient of success is to think laterally, broaden your outlook, consider all your options. It often helps to talk things through with someone else because you may be blind to many of the opportunities you could pursue.

Where Can You Find Work?

As a young researcher I found that only one other person in the entire country was investigating in a similar area. Concentrating on ‘my subject' led nowhere. But concentrating on my skills opened up all manner of opportunities. Having only one option, to find somewhere that you can do just the same thing you did before, will dramatically limit your chance of early success. It will also reduce opportunities for self development.

If you want to stay in Education it is wise to consider the entire sector, not just that small part of it you have been used to working in. Degree courses are now taught in nearly 200 institutions here in the UK. Consider opportunities everywhere- Russell Group- research led universities, other pre-1991 universities, post-1991 institutions, the Open University and our only private university at Buckingham. Each has a different set of characteristics and value systems. Consider moving to one in the same category as your previous one but don't neglect the full range of opportunities offered by the others. Some universities also franchise their courses into colleges of further education, which provides additional possibilities for employment. There are also many single faculty organisations that teach niche subjects such as business and law, some private and some public. The College of Law, for example, recently received degree awarding powers.

Opportunities In Business

Some degree disciplines give those working within them specialist knowledge and a set of skills that are particularly valued in the commercial sector. Engineering, mathematics, business and law all have their commercial outlets which can be considered. Proficiency in foreign languages and excellent writing/ editing skills are also valued in other walks of life, including the media, publishing and government. Many academics engage in consultancy work, often on a freelance basis and this can often be done even more successfully when not working full time. If you're redundant and seeking a job, don't delay networking with your contacts to discover any consultancy, part-time or temporary opportunities

If you're working in one of the service sections in an educational establishment- including finance, human resources, estates, catering and hospitality there are also plenty of outlets for your talents in the commercial world. Start with the relevant web sites and publications for your particular area of professionalism. Investigate the relevant professional bodies. Consider trade associations in your area of interest. These will lead you to employers who will have suitable vacancies.

Recruitment agencies can also be useful. Most have specialist areas that they cover, so you must identify those that have an interest in the area of your job search. Don't rely on them. They quickly lose interest if you don't precisely match their clients' recruitment criteria.

Having reflected on what you have to offer and discovered where the opportunities can be found then is the time to start making applications. How to do this successfully is detailed in other articles on this site. If you do it the other way around and apply before reflecting on what you can offer and what want to do, that is a recipe for failure. Taking the time to reflect and think through you situation in some detail will pay dividends when you reach the selection procedure.

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