I'm not an employment counselor


In these programs emphasis on growth and stabilization of the economy is misguided without an environment in which job vacancies await the trained worker. Prime Minister Trudeau is reported to have said that many jobs remained unfilled because of excessive wage demands of the unemployed and their unwillingness to relocate. However, a job vacancy survey... indicated a monthly average of only about thirty-eight thousand five hundred full-time positions available at the end of 1971. With an unemployed population in excess of six hundred thousand, this represents less than seven per cent of the unemployed. No manipulation of qualifications of the supply of labor at present without work can possibly result in a sizable reduction in their number.
Harish C. Jain et Robert J. Hines
Current Objectives of Canadian Federal Manpower Programs
Relations industrielles, vol. 28, no. 1, 1973, p. 125-149.

So, a guy walks into a bank with a contact sheet, a large envelope and a binder... which ought to be the start of a good joke, but it's not.

Back in the day, Jenny Horsman always had a section called “But I’m Not a Therapist” in her presentations on the intersection between violence and adult learning difficulties. In it, she would help us sort out what we could do to support our learners, what we could do to find additional support for our learners, and what we might think about in terms of staying true to our original role of adult learning provider.

These days, I sometimes feel the need to cry, "But I'm not an employment counselor."

On the one hand, I don't want to accept responsibility for helping people find meaningful work in the midst of a long-term economic downturn. It's not my interest, it's not my skill-set, and it seems like it would be too depressing for words.

On the other hand, I reject absolutely the business class' suggestions - and outright insistence - that the economic well-being of my fellow citizens depends on how well education services are provided. I don't employ people, I help them learn. I also don't get job creation tax breaks or a privileged seat at the table. I don't even know where the table is.

All of which might help Karen Farrar and the good folks at Literacy Link South Central forgive me for being exasperated with Workbook 4 of Essential Skills to Search for Jobs (2011).


The book starts with the story of Tony:

Tony had been unemployed for over a month before he got his first real break. He was standing in a long line at the bank with his Employment Insurance (EI) cheque and fell into conversation with the man in front of him who had just finished having his house renovated.
Turns out the renovator was short of workers, and renovation was Tony's trade. Bingo! The guy at the bank gives Tony his card, saying, "Call me tonight, and I'll give you the contractor's cell number."

“Great! Thanks!” said Tony, taking the business card and stuffing it into his jacket pocket.

After Tony had finished in the bank he walked out into the warm sunshine. He peeled off his leather jacket and slung it over his shoulder. The business card slipped from his pocket and fell unnoticed to the ground.
And so, when Tony gets home, he finds that he has lost a great lead on a job. Drat!

HoKay. The lesson here, obviously, is be careful with those business cards. Which is thin, I guess, because the author actually sets out four lessons:

Tip #1 - Create a document that contains all of the important information you have for your job search leads.
Tip #2 - Use a daily journal or notebook to keep track of your job search.
Tip #3 - Keep business cards and scraps of paper in one place.
Tip #4 - Buy a binder or folder to use as a Job Search Organizer. Use it to keep all of your papers together. During your job search you will have a lot of paper to deal with.
Now, these are good tips for sure. But there's a problem. You see, when Tony got home and took out the document he had created for important job search information (tip #1), he discovered that he had lost the business card. Consequently, when he opened his daily journal to record his job search progress (tip #2), all he could do was draw a series of frowny faces. Then, he put his journal back in the binder he used as a Job Search Organizer (tip #4), and reflected on what had gone wrong. Consulting his guidebook, he read:
If you don’t have a business card holder or if you (like most people) mislay cards easily, record the information on your contact sheet. Or, use a large envelope. Use a three-hole punch to make the envelope fit into a binder. Keep the envelope of business cards and pieces of paper in your Job Search Organizer binder.

Which is why, from that day forth, Tony took that three ring binder everywhere.

Turns out a decent wallet would have worked almost as well, but, what the hell.

You know, the thing about experienced drywall guys with no jobs is that they're experienced drywall guys with no jobs. What they need is a network or organization able to hook them up with somebody who needs them, even if only temporally.

The paperwork and the filings and such - that's good bread and butter stuff for guys like... well, me. Guys who make their money creating lists and ideas and inventive ways to present the same information (hustle all the time - always be ready for work - you don't know where the next job is coming from - get a plan for keeping names, numbers and addresses straight). But we ought not impose our comfort with filing cabinets and Rolodexes on others.

Nor should we pretend that Tony is the author of his own misfortune, or that it could have been prevented had he followed tips 1 through 4.

Like the lady said: most people mislay cards easily. Tony doesn't need tips. If he'd gotten the business card safely home, the rest of the paperwork is unnecessary; since the business card didn't get home, the paperwork is useless.

And here's the big thing - Tony doesn't need educational materials, essential or otherwise. Tony has a viable skill for which there is a market. What he needs is a decent employment agency with an up-to-date job board, a way to register his own skills and contact info, free phones, and a staffer who specializes in connecting workers with contractors.

In the 1970s, we called them Manpower offices - a sexist name, but a pretty good idea all the same.

The problem with them, of course, was that they couldn't remedy a shrinking manufacturing sector or the realities of seasonal work:
Subject to political pressure, the Department of Manpower has responded by withdrawing its apparent emphasis on economies growth and concerning itself more with the creation of jobs for the unemployed. For two reasons, the attention of the public is focused more directly on this department of the government than on the Bank of Canada or the Minister of Finance. First, the Department has intentionally created a high profile... and substantial publicity. Secondly, the public little understands the working of monetary or fiscal policy. Therefore, when economic woes befall the country, the public looks to Manpower and as indeed apparently do many members of Parliament. By imposing in this Department the herculean task of reducing unemployment, the government and public alike will tend unjustly to accuse Manpower programs of failing to alleviate problems.
Harish C. Jain et Robert J. Hines.


Did you see that? Manpower "created a high profile... and substantial publicity" which led the public and politicians to "unjustly... accuse Manpower programs of failing to alleviate problems."


In June of this year, New Brunswick lost almost 2,000 jobs, and those it kept had fewer hours (CBC: Statistics Canada reported 3,600 full-time jobs were lost in the month compared to an increase of 1,700 part-time jobs.). Worse, full time employment fell by 9,400 jobs between June 2010 and June 2011. As a whole, Canada gained just over 200,000 full time jobs over the past 12 months, meaning New Brunswick did worse than the nation on average. Then, in July, we lost an additional 1,500 jobs.

By the way, according to the Chronicle-Herald, "Nova Scotia shed 5,000 full-time jobs from June to July and saw the country’s biggest percentage increase in the unemployment rate during that time, according to new figures from Statistics Canada." So, that's not good either.

Think about that. Think about the authors writing that "no manipulation" of the qualifications of unemployed workers can "possibly result in a sizable reduction in their number." Then think about how politicians and the public will view us - the adult literacy field - if we continue to generate a "high profile... and substantial publicity" based on claims that training can alleviate unemployment.

I promise you, it can't.

It can't, and false promises will not help the long term viability of the literacy field - a field which actually can do some good - the useful, popular work of helping people get better at reading, writing and math.

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