Belfast Telegraph

Networking is key to new life for the long-term jobless

By Eunan King

The number of people who are long-term unemployed — that is, for 12 months or more — probably now exceeds 100,000.

Past evidence shows that the chances of re-employment for such people diminish, the longer the period of unemployment. The traditional explanation is that being unemployed for a long time means that skills become stale or irrelevant.

However, research in Denmark in 2007 suggested that another major factor is that the long-term unemployed become increasingly isolated from the network of people that are in work.

This matters because surveys showed that employers recruit largely through informal networks.

The “I have the man for you”-type of recommendation, emanating from people known to each other, counts for more in filling jobs than formal interviewing and screening carried out by recruitment and other agencies.

The information about an individual from the network will contain all his social, family and work-related characteristics. No formal approach to recruitment can do this so thoroughly, or at such low cost.

Networks are channels through which information is obtained, problems tackled and business conducted.

Most people are almost unconsciously part of naturally-grown networks. These centre on work, family, social connections, education and so on. But if you are unemployed, especially long-term unemployed, your network is restricted. You are ‘out of the loop’. The natural networking environment provided by work is gone.

Former colleagues tend to drop out of your network because you now have less in common, and they may feel awkward or guilty because they still have a job.

Long-term unemployed people may feel a sense of failure and thus do not mix readily with former colleagues. Isolation brings its own social difficulties, quite apart from the obstacle it poses to |becoming re-employed.

Government schemes to “upskill” and “retrain” reach relatively few of the unemployed and, in any case, may miss the importance of being left out of important networks as a key issue for the long-term unemployed.

The key question, raised in the research in Denmark, is: why do some people get jobs and others do not? And the researchers suggest that formal avenues of |investigation of potential employees by employers are not regarded as highly trustworthy. Based on their surveys, 61% of companies always or mostly used word of mouth through employees to announce new job vacancies.

In 64% of cases, employers regarded recommendations from their own employees as “decisive” or of “great importance” when filling posts.

However, recommendations from employment agencies, educational institutions and indicated written testimonials from former employers were less highly regarded.

And all those surveyed felt there were particular risks connected with hiring those with a long period of unemployment behind them.

On this evidence, the long-term unemployed need “word-of-mouth” recommendation from existing employees to overcome the perceived handicap of having been unemployed for a long time.

The long-term unemployed need to strengthen their links to people who are employed. There is little point in having networks based solely on people who are |unemployed.

Networks are cheap to establish and maintain. There are benefits to be gleaned by employed people from having links to those unemployed, if the social awkwardness can be put aside.

Eunan King is managing director of King Research Ltd

Belfast Telegraph