Chief Executive and founder of the Employability Trust
I’m Bill Marley and these days I’m what they call, apparently, “a social entrepreneur”, – but I began my career on the factory floor, as a toolmaker. I was a young apprentice – just learning – when I was sent to work with the foreman on a new machine, measuring the dimensions to be drilled. I’d never done this before and I got one measurement wrong. The foreman swore at me, told me how useless I was and how much money that mistake had cost the company. After that telling off, I double, treble checked everything I did, but my confidence was knocked out completely and I’ve never forgotten how that felt. That’s why I want everyone who comes to the Employability Trust for help in getting back to work to feel valued, supported and cared for. That’s why I go overboard to ask people to do things – never to tell them.
That negative experience as an apprentice made me realise how someone in charge can thoughtlessly rob a young person of their self-confidence. But I’m not just a glass half full person, I’m a glass overflowing person, and I also believe we can make a difference and help someone get back their confidence and build a positive future. I believe that because I see it happening here, every day. The Employability Trust is my baby and I believe passionately in it and in the people who come here.
I’ve worked for most of my life in the manufacturing industry, some jobs have been more enjoyable than others, but I’ve had a lot of experiences that have brought me to this place and fed into my personal philosophy. That doesn’t mean I have always managed to get everything right myself. When I was a manager and started 90 new people off on three manufacturing shifts, I was shocked when about a quarter of them failed to turn up for a second shift. Then, when I looked a bit more deeply into their experience, I realised it was me who had failed. Some of these new starters simply weren’t ready to work a full shift in a busy, overwhelmingly noisy manufacturing environment. If they hadn’t worked for a while, or maybe hadn’t ever worked before at all, they couldn’t manage the physical demands of standing up for an eight hour shift. They desperately wanted to work but nobody had helped them to prepare, and they were left feeling totally inadequate.
I’ve met a lot of people like that, who had been failed by education and by society, and back in 2011 I decided I had to do something about it. Unemployment in the north east is a huge problem, but it’s not simply a problem for those people who are unemployed, it’s a problem for us all. What a wasted resource to have all these potential employees on the dole! So I decided to set up the Employability Trust, not only to support people into work but as a way of making our local industry more efficient and providing them with excellent, committed employees. And it’s succeeding – we have managed to get to the point where 95% of the people who come to us are getting jobs, either with us or with other companies.
Our pledge to our clients is that if they come to us for their 12 week work experience, we will help them to get a job and we will never give up on them. And now companies we work with are coming to us, with contracts to do work for them, and wanting to take our people on themselves. They love having our clients working for them because we have virtually zero absentee rates. Why do our people want to come to work? There’s no great mystery about it – it’s because we care and we treat each one as an individual. Some have a lot of problems, they may have gone through some bad experiences when they arrive, and that can make it hard for them at first. But if they stumble a bit along the way we are there to help them get up again, without making any judgements. The reward for me and for everyone at the Trust is to see what gems they become after just a few weeks, to see someone who didn’t feel able even to look me in the eye when we first met, laughing and joking with colleagues and full of self-confidence.
That’s why I want you to meet some of these gems over the next few weeks and hear their stories.
Operations Manager at the Employability Trust
I did a business degree at Teesside University and worked in industry, including our family playground equipment business, so I’m familiar with the commercial side of things. But I also know what a difference coming to work every day can make, and although earning money is an important part of that, everyone also needs to feel they belong and can connect with other people. The Employability Trust isn’t a classic organisation – we employ the people who come here, or we help them find jobs, but we also really care and nurture them as individuals. I’ve seen what a difference that can make, for a person to feel they have a place to be in the world.
After I had my children I was applying for jobs, but being quite choosy about the kind of thing I was looking for, when one of the Employability Trust trustees, who I knew, phoned me and suggested I speak to Bill Marley to see whether I might be interested in working for them. That was it really. After I had been for what I expected just to be an initial chat with Bill, I started working at the Trust the very next day and never looked back. It was five years ago that I came for that chat. I think I was only supposed to work 24 hours over five days, well that lasted for the first week!
My job title is Operations Manager and that means I do a bit of everything: interviewing potential clients, writing funding bids, payroll, making sure the invoices go out on time, networking events and so on. There’s no typical day at the Trust and that’s why I enjoy working here. The Employability Trust is a place where everyone is part of something positive. I feel that myself – I’m a firm believer in structure and I’ve been able to put effective systems into operation for the different jobs and invoicing. That helps everyone, because they know the systems and we explain exactly why they need to fill in separate sheets for every job, for example. Once someone understands the reasons for doing something, it’s so much easier to follow the process through.
I get to know the people who come to the Trust really well, because I’m always here at the reception desk and we have a chat as they come in and out. We don’t judge anyone and they know they can talk to me about anything – it won’t go any further. I never thought I’d be talking to people about so many everyday things as part of my job – how to get washing done, how to read their electricity meter, how to cook for themselves, but all those things are important. The conversations we have may seem quite random but you learn about people and their experiences – both good and bad – and they can be very surprising. It’s easy to lose the skills you had when you have no sense of achievement, maybe you’ve been told you’re no good at anything. But everyone here knows this is a safe place where nobody will judge you or use what you say against you.
What I love most is seeing how people change over the weeks and months, physically as well as mentally. We have had clients who won’t even make eye contact as they come through the door at first. To see them relax and start to chat to me when they arrive every day is so rewarding. They look like a different person and that’s what coming to work and feeling you belong achieves. It’s all about self-confidence.