Bulgarian Partnership visit to Newcastle

Keith and I were joined by a great group of people last week from Bulgaria when we spent five days in Newcastle exploring how our project on Sustained Employment would progress.

Bulgarian Project 2There was Elena Kiritsova who is the Chairperson of the Development of Personnel and Human Resources Service in Plevin District.  Elena thought that this project was needed with regard to people making proper career choices with the support and involvement of services and employers.  She said, “We expect to enrich our experience and give a good quality service”.  The expectation is to make this model one that is accepted by government bodies in Bulgaria.

The other partner represented by Chairperson, Penka Spasova is the Original Enterprise Support Centre which represents business members, education organisations, etc in the Plevin municipality.  They offer training and support to business enterprises, employers and those who are unemployed in the region.  Within this work they realise that good skills levels are very important and they would like to encourage self assessment.  Aneliya Rangelova, Silvia Tzvetkova and Aleksandar Krastev also attended and are Psychologists and Professors who teach in universities and also work in various specialist areas; Psychology courses at Plevin University and the Medical University, motivational courses for long term unemployed, primary schools raising pupil self-esteem, police who are suffering ‘burn out’, families at risk, people with chronic conditions such as cancer etc.  The expectations of being part of this project as described by Silvia is, “In a year’s time to have a detailed practical and theoretical course for medical students based on the Rickter Scale® model”.  Rick also came along and shared his development experience of why the Rickter Scale® had come into being and the impact it had even in the early stages, which was a very positive grounding to get us started.

We looked at a Social Survey which they had commissioned in Plevin around assessment and long term unemployed people (those who had not worked for longer than two years), employed people and employers.  They sampled 547 employed individuals, 500 unemployed individuals and conducted 101 employer interviews.  The outcomes were no different to those attitudes and barriers we experience in the UK.  In that, a small majority of unemployed people were optimistic about their future to get work, overcome problems and adapt to changes.  There were however quite a large number who share a pessimism for the future with regard to employment which leads to frustration and depression.  Salary was also identified as a motivational factor, but people didn’t connect salary level to skills and abilities.  It was identified that this  can be a huge barrier to maintaining employment and being realistic about job choices in the first place.  A lot of the individuals interviewed were against assessment.  From the outcome of the discussion we had this is around assessment being done to them, rather than with them. It was also shown that some employers are not enthusiastic about assessment, some feeling it was something dictated to them, especially local authority organisations.  Because we would like to encourage positive outcomes for the individuals it has been decided to approach those employers who are displaying quality standards similar to Investment in People for the time that this project will run.  Ground work will be required with employers to introduce them to the Sustained Employment Model and to demonstrate the advantages of working in this partnership to gain positive outcomes.  As the Job Centre in Plevin is the main source for referrals it has also been decided to do raise awareness of the model with staff there to encourage partnership working.  It was said that our first aim is to, “Open the door” and then build on the foundation to take this way of working forward.

The group were introduced to the Rickter Scale® through completing baseline profiles for themselves on the board, powerpoint presentations and examples of where and how we work.  Theory and practice was defined and a demonstration interview using the Rickter Scale® showed how to engage.  It also made clear the impact the use of the board can have around ownership, raising personal awareness and committing to an achievable action plan.  There was an introduction to the Rickter Impact Management System indicating the reports and outcomes it could evidence for individuals, funders and managers.

We visited Seaham to demonstrate the downfall of industry and the high rise of unemployment, especially in the youth of the area.  Later Jon Clapham, Job Centre Plus came and spoke with the group and gave a very interesting account of the work that he and his team had done in this area among others in working with families.  This is where there were at least two generations of unemployment and benefit claimants.  He said that it was the small things that stopped people moving forward, i.e. money management, social isolation in their own communities etc and because people had, “accepted their lot and didn’t know of any different way of life, that they thought they were okay”.  It had only been when Jon’s team started to work with them that they realised there could be wider choices and perhaps they had higher expectations.  He thought the use of the Rickter Scale® in this work had been invaluable.  The group recognised the similarities of the barriers to employment within their own experiences in Bulgaria.  They thought Jon’s work an excellent example of good practice.  Throughout the week we shared good practice and I used our model of the work done in Belfast to demonstrate positive outcomes.  This I feel is because of what I see are similarities of progression around employment, communities and positive identifications of a country moving forward.

We worked together to define an overlay tailored to this project that could be used to connect with individuals in employment, those unemployed and employers.  Training of the Rickter Process, Action Planning and the IMS will take place in October in Plevin and again will be customised to the specific requirements of this project.

The big question is, how did we communicate?  The answer is, with two very good translators named Stanislav and Milla.  Milla was especially helpful and understood the importance of getting our own Rickter language across.

As it was most of the group’s first time in the UK we had a cultural visit to Durham where everyone was impressed by the cathedral, and some by the fish and chips!  There was also some shopping and pub visits to hear live music after the work was done for the day.  The week went very quickly and by the positive feedback given, we all felt that we have a great foundation established for this model to grow on.  Rick returned on Friday and surprised us with a cake which his daughter had made.

Bulgarian Project 1

It showed the Bulgarian Flag with Rickter to demonstrate our partnership and we also used it to help to celebrate Silvia’s birthday along with some treats from Bulgaria.  A very unique way to finish our time in Newcastle.