Let’s 'walk the talk' and get coaching
In the inaugural edition of the SEH Journal I put down a gauntlet about the urgent need to professionalise our industry and in particular to “coach” rather than purely “advise”. I had a good response (most of it in agreement) to what I had to say and a request from the DWP Select Committee to submit evidence about what the Private and Voluntary Sector thinks “works” in Work Coaching. It was a privilege to spend time collating evidence from real experts in our field, who are working at the sharp end, about what works.
Here I am going to give you a flavour of what was said. You can find the full submission on the IEP website http://www.myiep.uk/blogpost/1246261/253176/Best-Practice-in-Work-Coaching-with-Job-Seekers.
First we had to define Work Coaching and we gave this some considerable thought:
“Work Coaching should be defined in the context of developing labour market and job retention competencies. An effective Work Coach facilitates rather than directs and enables an individual to identify their own choices, goals and solutions to their specific personal, labour market and employment circumstances; taking in to account the employer’s needs and the opportunities in the labour market; usually applying techniques such as reflecting, building confidence, giving challenging feedback and using good listening techniques; providing practical experiences, and having a good coach/client fit.”
We then gave consideration to where Work Coaching is most effectively directed. It’s a moot point because good coaching is time consuming and expensive and we spend a lot of money on psychological assessments and personality profiling that may be only weakly predictive. Whilst it’s important to assess a client to establish “deficits” (such as low skills, poor health, housing problems, addictions), it is as important to understand what they believe about work, what it is, where it is and whether they can compete successfully for it. When someone makes a personal statement about themselves we know that correlates well with the likelihood of achieving. “How confident are you?” is a good starting point.
Where there was considerable consensus was agreement around the attributes of a successful Work Coach. “Work Coaches are not the same as Personal Advisers” was an often repeated sentiment. Good coaching was agreed to comprise of: a welcoming coach and environment; appropriate differentiation and clear terminology and instructions; customisation to an individual’s preferred learning style; appropriateness of interventions; diplomacy and a firm understanding of the local labour market.
Above all else good coaching supports the client to develop their ability to understand their own ability, predict their own success and utilise transferable skills; raises confidence; assists in making good job choices, successfully locate work, compete for and retain a job. Good coaches have a very specific skills set and are taught to coach. They are supportive, resilient, emotionally removed and empower the client, “The best do this instinctively, ‘You know why you take drugs’. It’s not about writing the client’s CV for them.” Good coaches have high aspirations for their clients.
What a successful coaching programme comprises of also drew much agreement. All agreed coaching is predominantly about building trust with a client and has to be balanced with well-focussed time. It should take a holistic approach exploring all the barriers the client faces, non-employment related as well as their employment prospects. “It’s coaching for life nor just for a job.” Comprehensive assessment is fundamental if the coach is to understand the client’s motivation, transferable skills and challenges. Unsurprisingly lower caseloads were considered to be more effective but not necessarily achievable under current contracting terms. First-rate employer relations were intrinsic to good work coaching settings with careful matching, warm handovers and extended relationships at their core.
Good coaching programmes make good use of the additional support and resources that are available. Examples cited were: imaginative use of the Access to Work funding; specialist job search software; proactive participation in best practice networks and Government campaigns such as Disability Confidence. Sharing delivery points (such as Jobcentre Plus, GP surgeries, libraries and social hubs) and linking to external support (such as mental and physical health coaches) were agreed to be beneficial.
Impactful coaching avoids co-dependence but encourages an extended relationship with clients, beyond the end of the programme. On-going social events providing peer support were found to be effective. “To be effective coaching support should be flexible, responsive, personally tailored and ongoing.”
Delivery an effective Work Coaching model isn’t an easy or an inexpensive option and is not without substantial challenges. Using coaching methodology to win bids but then diluting it or stripping it out all together from delivery obviously lessens the effectiveness of interventions. Some respondents said their delivery was more effective because it isn’t constrained by statutory funding. And therein lies the elephant in the room – we have to get beyond the rhetoric. I believe that a world class, professionalised sector working to coaching standards across public and privatised delivery will ultimately deliver better results but my concern is whether our funders have the will and wherewithal to pay for it? The debate continues…
Managing Director, Bright Sparks Consultancy Ltd
Fran Parry writes as an independent observer. She can be contacted via www.brightsparks.uk.com