Adventures at A4e

13 Apr

Adventures at A4e

‘Izzy, nothing is impossible…’ he tells me reassuringly, he starts to read one of the many motivational quotations that are stuck all over the walls and on the desk around which the group is seated. I stare back at him blankly, horrified. Then the man next to me starts reading out loud the Oprah Winfrey that is in front of him.

This was one of many surreal moments of an A4e training course ‘finding and getting a job’ that I was coerced into attending by my job centre advisor. She had told me that it would help me with my CV, however, it seemed that the trainer of the course had much grander ideas – he was determined to change my ‘being’ which was apparently what is preventing me from getting a job – rather than, say, an economy that is heading back into recession and a saturated job market. And so, for two days I sat with ten other unemployed people being told that we needed to ‘talk, breath, eat, shit belief in yourself’ and being compared to iPhones. The experience was like being in some sort of strange comedy sketch that just went on and on and at times bordered on feeling like a cult. Even the toilet signs were plain weird – the sign for disabled has a man with a broken leg that appears to be bandaged up with toilet roll.

Barbara Ehrenreich charts the rise of positive thinking in the US in her book Smile and Die – it seems that this is yet another US import, like workfare, that is being used to punish the poor. Does the government honestly think that sending unemployed people to these courses, where we are bombarded with pseudo psychology about positive thinking, will actually make any difference at all to unemployment? I would argue that they are actively harmful to unemployed people who spend the time being blamed for the situation that we find ourselves in and being offered ‘solutions’ that will make no difference whatsoever, and may even reduce one’s job prospects – for example we were told ‘no need to be nice and fluffy about it, tell them straight up. ‘I am the one you’re looking for.’ Like the Matrix – ‘I am the one’ – it was only when he believed he was the one that he became the one’. As well as being at best a waste of our time and at worst mentally distressing and incredibly manipulative, is this really good use of tax payers’ money who are paying A4e for this nonsense?

The entire course was simply one long motivational talk with very little actual real content. (Of course, even if it had been a course that was well structured with decent advice, this will make no difference when the problem is lack of jobs). The main point which was hammered home time and again was that if we believed we could get a job, then it would happen. It was simply our mindset that was the barrier and he seemed intent on us all having mini epiphanies there and then.

James had found himself unemployed for the first time in his life at the age of 60. He had worked in retail but despite his experience he could not find work now because of his age. The employers only want young people. His agent had confirmed to him that it was his age that meant he wasn’t getting past an interview and had suggested to him that he start lying about his age. But our trainer did not accept that it was age discrimination and a saturated job market that were the issues here, rather it was the barrier that James had created in his mind about his age. ‘We are a product…if we’re not talking and bigging up that product, then we can’t expect anyone to buy that product.’ ‘Age is not a barrier, the only barrier is here [pointing to his head] we create it’. He kept on ‘working’ on James as he said it ‘takes a bit of breaking down’ to create an ‘opening’.

I was getting really frustrated by this point with this focus on the individual so I said that it wasn’t James that was the problem, it was age discrimination, and that there was very little he could do about it, that it was an issue that we needed to address as a society. That young black men have an unemployment rate that is 50% so the issues here were discrimination and that however positively they thought, this would not change the reality. That we need to look at the bigger picture and not focus on the individual. He laughed at my idea that we should deal with this issue as a society and then he turned it all back onto me – ‘you’ve got all these hooks on you…it’s your way of being…you need to shift the way you look at it. You’ve got all this anger and frustration and that’s stopping you from getting a job. It comes across in your CV’. I’d just like to point out that he has never seen my CV. He later told me, in a personality assessment that he did for all of us at the end, that he liked my fire and passion and that he wanted to help me channel my fire so that it could shine brightly.

His attempts to modify our individual ‘beings’ in order for us to ‘create’ jobs through our new attitudes bordered on ludicrous at times. He picked up a pen and asked ‘what is this?’ ‘a pen’ I responded rather stonily. He then went around the class – whilst a couple of others stated that it was a pen, others caught on that maybe it wasn’t a pen… ‘it’s a tool’, ‘a writing implement’. He put us out of our misery ‘it’s a long piece of plastic with a small bit of plastic on top, and when you open it up, it’s a pen’. I honestly missed the point of this. He then stated a little later – ‘a pen is a pen, a cup is a cup’ much to my confusion and bemusement.

In an attempt to show us how it’s really done, he told us of his own experience getting his job at A4e. ‘When they said, ‘why do you want to work here?’ I said [pause for dramatic effect] Because I believe in human beings’’ There was genuinely a hushed silence. That explains why I don’t have a job yet, because at my last interview I told them I believed in unicorns. And he continued, ‘because I am part of the human race’. The man next to me was so impressed – ‘you out-foxed them there’.

Whilst at times, there were very funny moments, which I was able to tweet about which helped pass the time, the seriousness of what we were sitting through was brought home to me when he told us of another course that he had just started running called ‘Launch Pad’ for single parents, mostly mothers. The course involves 4 weeks in the classroom, 4 weeks in the workplace. In his first group of 7 – all of them got a job apparently. In the second group of 7 he said that they all went onto work placements. I am greatly concerned that the work placements sound like workfare. And I am horrified at the idea of this man ‘training’ single parents for 4 weeks. My mother was a single parent when she brought me up – she received pitiful benefits for the incredible amount of work that looking after me involved. She suffered from severe depression as well. The idea that she would be told the mantra of choice and responsibility and forced into work terrifies me.

Disabled people too may be forced onto these training courses. Will they be told that their disability is in their head and can be overcome by changing their attitude?

I spent two days being told to sell myself like an iPhone. I tried to point out that however many apps I had, or however many megapixels the inbuilt camera had, the market wasn’t interested. Instead of blaming the individual we must look at the wider picture at the structural causes that have caused unemployment, and act collectively to bring about real change. These programmes are incredibly manipulative and judgemental and a distraction from the real problems. They could cause real harm to vulnerable people. The trainer told me that anger was not productive, but we have every right to be furious at our treatment by this government and A4e.




Thanks to everyone on Twitter who gave me messages of support – it made the whole experience so much more bearable. I would really encourage others who find themselves sent on one of these courses to tweet and write about their experiences so that we can challenge this crap together.

I took notes so that job seekers could perhaps skip the course and get the main points here – maybe the government could just give us the money that would have been spent on the course.

‘I call it – what we know what we know (sic) – we’re just taught what we know’. To try and explain this a little more, basically, we are told these things, such as you’re too old, and then we believe them and don’t challenge them and that explains our position in life, rather than there being any systemic inequalities…I think that’s what he was saying.

‘but if you believe in yourself and believe in what you have to offer…then you create it’

‘you have to change the programme a bit…the way we talk about the product is the way we should be talking about ourselves…there’s nothing broken, there’s nothing to fix’.

Responding to my pleas to look at the reality of the situation using job statistics – ‘all those things in the way – they’re real, if we’re going out there to get a job, then we need to be the best…you have to think the best’.

His impersonation of an unemployed person’s day ‘You wake up, maybe a bit late, you have some breakfast, a cigarette, by the time you get round to job searching, it’s 11 o’clock, you do half an hour, then you think, oooh, I’ll make lunch and do it in the afternoon.’

‘one of our biggest enemies is ourselves’

To one member of the class ‘stop wasting your life…for you its responsibility…you’re lacking responsibility. Your life right now is a choice. You choose it to be that way, you can make it another way.’

‘how we use our words, how we language it, really matters’.

‘Each of you are professionals in your own domain. If you speak of yourself as a professional, your attitude changes…why not be a professional all of the time –it resonates…’

‘body language is real – it’s part of communication – it’s key’

‘The whole game is a conversation, [say to an employer] ‘this is who I am…If you want to be with the best, I’m the best’

how many of you guys look at a woman and think ‘ooooohhhh’ and then when they open their mouths and speak to you, you’re completely put off’.

On your CV ‘instead of writing excellent communication skills, write ability to communicate at all levels’.

‘you are the product – you either believe it or you don’t’.

Don’t use boxes on your CV ‘If I took you and put you in a box, what am I doing to you, how will you feel in the box?…They have their judgements – if you start to put boxes on it shows we’re restricted, we’re not explosive and out there’.

‘It’s like a date, you go out, you flirt…either you want to continue it or not. Your cover letter and CV is like your first date. You don’t tell them everything on a first date’.

And, finally, in our ‘Stay Positive During Your Job Search’ leaflet it informs us that whilst it is ‘unrealistic to think you will be 100% positive each moment of the day’ you should only allow yourself ‘thirty minutes, one day a week, to lament your situation and then get back to the search’.




72 Responses to “Adventures at A4e”

  1. Kay Fabe April 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    This is the new paradigm, everything’s the fault of the individual. If you’re out of work, it’s not because there’s not enough jobs to go around as clearly there aren’t, it’s your fault for not being enough of a pixie or whatever loonie explanation they’re offering today, and if you’re ill, it’s your own fault for not curing yourself. Underneath this palpable nonsense is the real reason for it, the transfer of money from the public purse into private companies from where it can all be nicely divvied up by the crooked businessmen and corrupt politicians (Grayling, IDS, Miller, Freud) who collude to do this. They should all be in jail.

    • johnnytheblog April 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Sadly it’s not a new paradigm really. It’s pretty well the sort of bollocks I was subjected to in the 80s during a long spell of unemployment. Reading the account above it strikes me that these people are barking mad! There’s almost nothing in their view of things which is credible. Self help is rubbish… It’s a structured attempt at thought control and brainwashing. A4e should be held to account for it. And if someone compared me to an iPhone I would punch them on the nose.

    • mike halligan April 24, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      sounds to me izzy the whole point of this was to be held against your will…and learn how to be talked at….and only respond to ask what your opinion is….still the MOTIVATOR has a job!

  2. dolescumtimes April 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Empty sloganeering and witless blandishments won’t get people jobs, unless you’re one of the fortunate ones in the ever expanding sector of bullshit provision for the unemployed. Great post, love it!

  3. nic April 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I’d laugh if it wasn’t so ridiculous. My experience with Calder involved being told by a twenty-something with a business degree that “40 was the new 60” but as I actually had a CV I could be fast-tracked. Fast-tracked to jobs in the police and the army for which I was too old and had no relevance to my CV…after an eight hour session which focussed on my tutor being so busy he could only prepare and discuss a fifteen minute maths test I started to complain. They offered me a job. On a four week unpaid trial. I gently pointed out that I probably didn’t fit the criteria; from my intake it was only the conventially attractive girls who’d had similar offers. Plus I wasn’t going to work for free.

    I was moved to a different site within the week and my attendance hours were doubled.

    Complaining to a sympathetic DWP advisor eventually resulted in a fortnightly signing on with Calder rather than a 16hr per week attendance.

    I came away from this experience with nothing other than an e-mail tray full of bullshit, a recognition of the nepotistic and illegal discriminatory practises, a lighter purse due to their lack of petite cash and an offer to be paid in kind to mow an advisor’s front lawn.

    Luckily, my “attitude” was present from the start. I don’t have enough fingers, toes or memory cells to recall the times I was advised to go with the flow by these lumpen sell-outs.

  4. Eric Greenwood April 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Loved your post, I hate with a passion the psychobabble that they spout.. I have a mental image of that so called tutor, coming in saying hokey, cokey pig in a pokey.. when you said he mentioned pens.. 😉 (pauline from league of gentlemen).

    If it was me and they said that “nothing is Impossible”, I would say, try lifting yourself off the ground with your ears..

  5. Bluebell Spring April 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    This sounds very damaging and manipulative. I think this kind of approach will upset a lot of vulnerable people. I can see it being used in a bullying fashion.

    You had the bottle and guts to speak out, but an awful lot of people I think won’t and will just go home and cry their hearts outs blaming themselves for not being able to get a job.

    Someone should do some discreet recording of these sessions and send it to channel 4.

    • Shackleford Hurtmore April 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      “Someone should do some discreet recording of these sessions and send it to channel 4.”

      This. Reckon it would either be a hit comedy or cause an outrage.

  6. Skint Sean April 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    I hate all that business jargon bullshit. It’s everywhere now – ever since news channels came along and started pumping out all that pro-business propaganda with absolutely no one there to balance the discussion even on the BBC (actually ESPECIALLY on the beeb) which has a legal requirement to provide balanced discussion.

    I found the part where you said the ‘trainer’ actually blamed one of the guys for his situation outrageous . They shouldn’t be able to get away with that.

    I’m on the Work Programme with Ingeous and I can’t figure out what it is they actually do. They keep feeding me this line that 80% of the people they get jobs (of course they don’t get people jobs, people on the programme get jobs for themselves) get them through sending out CVs and spec letters. But I’ve sent out hundreds, literally, in just the last few weeks and the best responses I’ve had are a few letters or emails that say the same thing “We don’t keep CVs on file. We advertise all of our vacancies on our website.” And so on.

    I’m a member of a group called the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network. It would be great if you could share some of your experiences on the forum on our website:

  7. Dee Ross April 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    would have walked out and claimed he was mentally abusing me.

  8. tinks April 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    Super and interesting blog post. Sounds like the Tutor has swallowed a self-help book and is being allowed to run riot doing psychological harm with his blue-sky thinking bullshit. You are correct employment problems are structural – ironic that productivity gains must mean fewer jobs; years of deficit spending mean that public sector non-jobs are no longer sustainable, not that they ever were. Instead of addressing the new reality, bashing the poor and unemployed remains the usual political game.

    If there are not enough jobs, they need to be shared; if there are too many unoccupied people then we need to offer more opportunities to contribute to society through volunteering (workfare schemes benefit corporates).

    A bit of positive thinking isn’t a bad thing, but it must be grounded in reality.

  9. Hedgehog April 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    I havn’t encountered anything like this…yet. A possible response if the speaker is diverging into propaganda or “The Secret” style nonsense is to stand up and challenge them directly and in person in front of the small (10 person) audience. Explain what the wider problems are and what your experience has been. Preferably have some statistics prepared beforehand which make it clear how many vacancies there are and how many unemployed in your area. Ideally, prepare some materials which other people can use in that curcumstance and make it available online. An articulate rebuttal to this sort of nonsense, backed up with statistics, is almost certainly not what they’re expecting.

  10. Douglas April 14, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    I got forced briefly on one of these courses by Reed but they got rid of me as even they could see I was too ill / was too much trouble to attend. Whilst I was there was given advice by “another person with a bad back” although when questionned she hadn’t even had one operation on her spine and an advisor for medical matters with no medical training. I just kept collecting evidence (dictaphone good) and reminding them that after being informed of my condition, they were personally liable for forcing me into activities that could worsen that condition. Also had ludicrous numeracy/literacy test (2+3= one of questions despite being trained quantity surveyor!) and same joke corporate claptrap – found laughing the best medicine for this – then point out the ludicrousness of it all.
    Record everything – it is your legal right although they will try to claim that that isn’t the case. Otherwise,without the evidence you won’t have a leg to stand on.

  11. Mrs Lionel Messi (@katabaticesque) April 14, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    you didn’t hit him. Well done! Seriously this could be gravely damaging to vulnerable individuals as you make clear. Horrible.

  12. Esther Nagle April 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    I’ve tried to reply to this several times, but I get so annoyed by it all I just end up utterly confused at how to react!

    Thank you Izzy, for confirming everything I thought I knew about A4E, and indeed, showing me that they are worse than I could have ever dreamed….

    This is all making me sure there are some really sinister dealings going on between the leaders of this country, and Emma Harrison………

  13. Spoonydoc April 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    IWhat a farce and how insulting. Is his impersonation of an unemployed person’s day based on how HE would or has behaved?

    Being unemployed does not imply a sudden loss of determination, responsibility and self control. Nor does it necessarily mean a life without routine and focus. The friends I know who have had the misfortune to become unemployed still got up at the same time and still were occupied throughout the day. In addition to jobhunting they took over household and childminding chores from their partners. A couple took up a regular cheap exercise like runnning or cycling.

    All did eventually find jobs but it took a long time. This in no way reflected on their abilities or “mindset” but in one case their age (many final interviews but job always given to younger candidate), others simply lack of suitable jobs (applied for everything going but rejected as “overqualifed”).

    • Hedgehog April 15, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      It’s basically about prejudice – a belief that everyone who is unemployed behaves or thinks in a certain stereotypical way. This probably arrises because the people who devised these schemes have no personal experience or contact with anyone who is unemployed. When people try to stereotype you in that way I think it’s a good idea to interrupt and point out their errors.

  14. izzykoksal April 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks so much for all these fantastic comments – after the two day course of brainwashing it is genuinely helping restore my sanity to read such grounded comments! It really does mean a lot – thank you! Thanks to those who have shared their own experiences of unemployment and these ‘welfare to work’ companies. This privatization of welfare, where companies are profiting from our unemployment, is really outrageous and it is really great that we are exposing and challenging them.

    There is a group called Boycott Workfare who are keeping a good eye on companies such as A4e, because as well as forcing people to sit through 2 days of pyschobabble they also force people on to workfare – to work unpaid under the threat of losing benefits. Their website and twitter are really great resources. @boycottworkfare

    They are planning to hold a ‘farewell Emma Harrison’ party when the results of the investigations into fraud at her company are released, as she may be on her way to jail. It may even be ‘farewell A4e’! This will be a chance to speak to people at A4e about their experiences and highlight workfare and the other dreadful things that go on in these places.

    You can find out about your rights on the Work Programme at the Consent Me website and twitter. @consentmeuk

    As a couple of people have suggested – taking in a Dictaphone to record all this nonsense is a pretty good idea. And using the internet to share our experiences is, as I have found, really really important – it really helped me to get out there what happened, to have such supportive responses, and to learn about other people’s experiences.

  15. wishface April 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    I’d be speechless if I thought this was anything other than standard practise at the likes of A4E. The whole industry is a joke. I bet the office had pictures of that dreaedful Harrison creature adorning the walls like she belonged in North Korea, not in a job supposedly helping people.
    I’m on the WP and I have to be seen by the Salvation Army of all people! Christians responsible for putting people into poverty (ie sanctions on benefits). I have meetings in a tatty old church hall like it was a pensioner’s coffee morning. I don’t even think they have internet access!
    This whole Work Programme stinks. It’s one big scam from start to finish (and it never ends, afaict. I bet even after 2 years they’ll be on your case sniffing out more opportunities for money making).

  16. Nina April 15, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Great piece Izzy, was particularly interested/disgusted by this: ‘Your cover letter and CV is like your first date’ and the general CV-isation approach taken to the ‘jobseeker’. Very well described in all its nauseating horror!

  17. greercn April 15, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    As a naturally positive person – currently unemployed – I am so glad you have brought a new job possibility to my attention. Honestly, I can see the bright side until the cows come home and spout platitudes (lemons = raw lemonade until the cows come home (do they?) Nah. My sense of humour would make it impossible.

  18. lisybabe April 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Disabled people too may be forced onto these training courses. Will they be told that their disability is in their head and can be overcome by changing their attitude?

    We get told that constantly anyway even when we’re not job hunting. It’s the principal behind Disability Living Allowance reform (a benefit paid for care and mobility costs regardless of work status. After all, if you need a wheelchair and someone to wipe your arse you still have those needs if you have a job).

  19. hannahchutzpah April 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Never had the pleasure of an A4E course but my 6 month assessment meeting (the day after my birthday) was such a victim-blaming load of hectoring that I wound up crying in a car park afterwards and seriously low for about the next fortnight.

    He asked why I thought I was still unemployed. I said the jobs market sucked. He said that wasn’t an excuse because some people had found jobs, so what could *I* be doing to improve. Have I asked for feedback? When I pointed out that “yes, yes, I know all of this stuff, I actually used to write jobseekers’ advice articles, but it’s a very difficult market at the minute…” he clearly felt threatened and went on the attack “that doesn’t matter now, none of that matters now, because you’re in front of me. Clearly it hasn’t worked. SO – what could you be doing to improve? Why haven’t you got a job yet?”

    I should’ve put in a complaint about the bastard. Leytonstone jobcentre, for the record.

    • Hedgehog April 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      Those moments are like a test of fortitude. There are plenty of small-minded and ignorant people around and the best that anyone can do is either to try to avoid them, or if that’s not possible at least not let them ruin your life. Chances are that the A4E stooge was reading most of what he said from a rehearsed script. What he said might not even be his real opinion.

    • wishface April 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      There is a fundamental imbalance of power in these situations and the DWP knows it. Whatever the claimant does will never be good enough, why? because they are unemployed! You could appply for 100 jobs a day and they’d moan at you for not applying for 101. Then you get all this bollocks about ‘the hidden job market’ and all these other myths they use to club us all around the head with. It’s just lazy pop psychology drivel. In many ways I’d like to think that if someone stood up to them pound for pound their arguments and their bravado would collapse. But of course there’s the threat of sanctions…

  20. Eric Greenwood April 15, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    It is ALWAYS your fault, forget the recession, forget the EU is imploding, It must be you because you would have a job.. since you havent got a job, it must be your fault.. otherwise you would have a job. I have stories from my three times at a4e, Horror stories..7 advisers in 7 weeks in the first time i went.

  21. greercn April 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Looking at all the comments and at the original post again, I am struck by how much this is similar to the techniques used by religious cults to break people down and get them to follow. Isn’t that rather sinister?

  22. John Brissenden (@jhnbrssndn) April 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Excellent post. While I was spared this during a lengthy spell of unemployment several years ago, the psychobabble and cultspeak is something I see every day in my work at a post-92 university. The senior management have surrounded themselves with a coterie of cyborgs with rictus grins who spout exactly the same kind of creepy nonsense you quote here. Which leads me to the conclusion that this is indeed a discourse embedded throughout the system. Now I’m off to read that Barbara Ehrenreich book.

    • ck April 16, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      This is literally Scientology for the unemployed and just like Scientology it is a complete con that generates money for the exploitative providers/owners of A4E,Igneous etc,etc.

      • Hedgehog April 16, 2012 at 11:23 am #

        I don’t know what methods Scientology uses, but there are well known psychological techniques commonly used by cults to increase cohesion and exclude critical viewpoints (ingroup/outgroup distinctions). Probably the overall intention here is to increase compliance with the scheme. By extolling the virtues of cultish thinking or behaviour whilst also encouraging individualised self-criticism via stereotyped portrayals a certain sort of social class division can be maintained (the virtuous versus the unworthy).

  23. mrtinkles April 16, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Well done for sticking out such a ridiculous exercise and for writing about it so well (and seemily with little malice – I don’t think I could have kept my temper!)
    This stuff may have been around for a few decades as johnnytheblog notes above – but it is definitely becoming more common. Something similar has crept into the VIth form college I taught at until recently (I was made redundant from there last summer). There must be a book or manual going round because I heard a speaker use that pen question with a bunch of 17/18 year olds in the context of applying to university. One of my colleagues had the nerve to comment that generally kids didn’t apply to uni by hand-written letter anymore…the women delivering the “talk” just stared at her for a moment before moving on to her next fortune cookie example.
    Seriously though, what bothers me is not just the time a resources wasted on this claptrap but the damage done to those who are forced to go through it. I was left worried that any of my students who didn’t get the place at university they wanted were being told it was their “fault”. At one point in reply to a question about how to maximise your chances of getting to Oxbridge she answered that it was “all about how badly you wanted it”.
    Perhaps it also helps if you mention (in your hand-written application) that you are a member of the human race…

  24. Michael J Nicholls April 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Y’know….mindless shit is mindless shit……..however you to try to dress it up.

    The economy is fucked; when people with degrees cannot get jobs, then what hope for the rest of us? All the motivational ‘self belief’ crap will not alter that.

    • Kay Fabe April 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      Quite so, but that’s not what this is about. For many people being in politics today is about looting the public purse. That’s precisely what this is. It has nothing to do with getting anyone into work that’s not there and everything to do with theft from the taxpayer.

  25. Tim April 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I have been on these vacuous courses myself, but thankfully have never enountered this level of psychobabble rubbish. Its a good thing because I doubt I would be able to hold my tongue. I did have one manager at another provider called Ingeus say this astounding thing when I suggested that I couldn’t actually discuss the issues I had with the programme productively since she was always obliged to argue from the companies point of view :

    ‘I AM Ingeus. I am its values an ideals’.

    Hard to know what to say to that isn’t it? Bloody crackpots.

  26. Gissajob April 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Enjoyed your blog and all the eminently sensible comments. I too suffered at the hands of a4greed and wrote about my (mercifully short) INSPIRE (yes really) course at the hands of self professed “master practioners in Neuro Linguistic Programming).
    See here:
    Scrool down to second post

  27. Grocky Groc April 17, 2012 at 12:37 am #

    and the biggest puzzle of all – if there are so many hidden jobs around and all you have to do is brainwash yourself into a Polly-Anna positive-thinking go getting monster – then what is the shmuck who’s spouting this nonsense doing still working in this low grade, low rent company teaching job search skills? They’d be out of there in no time at all… I wonder how these people sleep at night – they must be on industrial levels of anti-depressants.

  28. Delfromleicester April 17, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    Brilliant piece and so relevant to the situation i am in. After being made redundant for the 3rd time in 9 years i found myself unemployed and on the dole. After having no luck i was eventually sent on one of these A4E courses and am still attending and having to listen to the constant bullsh@t even tho its quite clear there are 300 people going for one job which is usually just above minimum wage here in leicester. To further rub salt in my wounds, i have an advisor that speaks very poor english and am constantly having to ask him to repeat his self. My brother who was also made redundant has to go on an A4E course too and its his letter on how to advertise yourself in a cv that is absolutely hilarious. It asks you to think of your cv as a cheese burger where YOU are the meat. so the top of the burger is address and date, the tomato is what you want from the company (ie any jobs goin ?) the cheese is your introduction, the meat (or veggie burger…choice is given) is your good self, the bottom salad is your exit and the bottom burger is your name and signature.
    Do these folks really expect us to compare ourselves to burgers ? Its a labour market not a meat market !

    • John Keen December 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

      Close, but neither…Its a “stock” market and WE are the stock…. nothing more….not people or human beings….. STOCK!

      As stated by government. Ref: IDS. WP commission Enquiry.

  29. Lewis Herlitz April 17, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    It was good to read the post and the comments. It seems to me that the issue is in the attitude and approach of the trainers. If there aren’t enough jobs, or people have specific circumstances then I think that, despite any barriers that exist, it could be helpful if people were encouraged to explore and talk about how they think about themselves, what experiences or skills they have, and if there are different and unexpected ways of moving forward. But all that has to be done respectfully and honestly to enable people to engage with such processes, and to feel confident about doing so. Its too easy to talk down to people or to make assumptions about how people feel or what they need.

    • Hedgehog April 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      I agree that respect is a vital ingredient. It shouldn’t just be assumed that people are unemployed because they are in some way inferior and need to be nannied. Thus far on the Work Programme, I’ve not seen very much evidence of respect being shown. Instead I’ve seen false accusations being made, and a style of administration reminiscent of bullying or harrassment.

      I possible constructive response is to investigate what could be done to help people who are unemployed, and then advocate for these rather bogus schemes to be changed in a more positive direction. Getting together in a group and talking about issues or knowledge of companies in the area, in a way which doesn’t assume that any self-help guru has all the answers, would be a good place to start.

  30. asterick jones April 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I’d challenge each and every one of his cheesy and superficial and non human points with an intellectual debate, he would be sick of me and I would be thrown out which would be a good result, here’s what I would have said off the top of my head to disrupt this session, and I wouldn’t have been even trying hard.
    “but if you believe in yourself and believe in what you have to offer…then you create it’
    I would tell him that you don’t create the conditions of society and its expectations of you, and that I’ve already created a way of life.
    You create what, hundreds of extra jobs so you don’t have to compete with your fellow man?

    “you have to change the programme a bit…the way we talk about the product is the way we should be talking about ourselves…there’s nothing broken, there’s nothing to fix”~
    Excuse me sir, this is offensive to anyone that is disabled or has a health condition, everyone has flaws, everyone is human, who are you to tell me that nothing is broken and there is nothing to fix when I have only just walked in that door 30 minutes ago and you know fuck all about me or anyone here!

    His impersonation of an unemployed person’s day ‘You wake up, maybe a bit late, you have some breakfast, a cigarette, by the time you get round to job searching, it’s 11 o’clock, you do half an hour, then you think, oooh, I’ll make lunch and do it in the afternoon.’
    Speak for yourself, so noone is capable of having a fullfilling or purposeful, let alone pleasant time if they are not in gainful employment? Is employment the only purpose in life or is the reality that the system needs wage slaves to survive so people have to forfeit their individual freedoms?

    ‘one of our biggest enemies is ourselves’
    I think our biggest enemies are those who question ourselves as well, with judgment and moral dogma. So how do you propose giving people more confidence, cajoling them into groups like this with no actual decent end result?

    To one member of the class ‘stop wasting your life…for you its responsibility…you’re lacking responsibility. Your life right now is a choice. You choose it to be that way, you can make it another way.’
    You’re wasting my life with this claptrap mate
    ‘Each of you are professionals in your own domain. If you speak of yourself as a professional, your attitude changes…why not be a professional all of the time –it resonates…’
    I don’t “professionally” sit around in my undies watching Deal Or No Deal, or “professionally” go for a walk, life is for living.

    ‘body language is real – it’s part of communication – it’s key’
    Yes it is, look at my middle finger, and the way my shoulders are going up and down
    ‘The whole game is a conversation, [say to an employer] ‘this is who I am…If you want to be with the best, I’m the best’
    And I roar like a tiger, raaaaaah!
    how many of you guys look at a woman and think ‘ooooohhhh’ and then when they open their mouths and speak to you, you’re completely put off’.
    No, I’m not as instantly judgmental as you obviously are, there’s a good person within despite first impressions which are not everything. But I am judging you now though because I’m calling you a superficial prick!
    On your CV ‘instead of writing excellent communication skills, write ability to communicate at all levels’.
    Which means what, I can become a Ham Radio operator, I can speak 28 languages, or how about talking and relating normally to another human being, ever heard of that?
    ‘you are the product – you either believe it or you don’t’.
    No I’m Human, I can see YOU’RE a product though! Pity there’s nowhere to turn it off right now I’m getting somewhat bored of it, you need to upgrade!
    I’m not a product and I’m not a customer either.
    Don’t use boxes on your CV ‘If I took you and put you in a box, what am I doing to you, how will you feel in the box?…They have their judgements – if you start to put boxes on it shows we’re restricted, we’re not explosive and out there’.
    But you are more than happy to put unemployed people in boxes aren’t you and make judgements.

    ‘It’s like a date, you go out, you flirt…either you want to continue it or not. Your cover letter and CV is like your first date. You don’t tell them everything on a first date’.

    He sounds superficial, an employer is not your soul mate unless you are very lucky!
    Unfortunately if you find your employment a crap date you can’t just respectfully decide not to see them again, you are stuck with someone not suitable because if you leave them you will be sanctioned, so employment is more like an arranged marriage in India.

    And, finally, in our ‘Stay Positive During Your Job Search’ leaflet it informs us that whilst it is ‘unrealistic to think you will be 100% positive each moment of the day’ you should only allow yourself ‘thirty minutes, one day a week, to lament your situation and then get back to the search’.

    More like I’d allow thirty minutes, one day a week to temporarily turn into someone like you for parody purposes!

  31. paul April 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    It is a cross between a cult and a pyramid scheme .. All this positive thinking bull nonsense training tends to get people jobs plugging all the same nonsense to others.. There is no real substance behind it.. If the demand goes for people to spout out the guff then they will be signing on again..I do engage in positive thinking, meditation, healthy eating and exercise, and I have done for many years but this is complete nonsense.. I can increase my positive levels and avoid negative traps that are very easy for me to fall into both when I am working and out of work because I am very skeptical by nature and I have the gift of smelling a rat from a very long distance.. But I cannot change the dynamics of economics this is the problem here fewer vacancies and many more applicants.. I do voluntary work at present and I am not giving up something tangible and challenging to take part in this tax payer funded psyco-babble pyramid scheme.. I do believe however that there are some good pragmatic people who work at these places and they have the emotional intelligence to be able to engage with people in a manner that is helpful and gently encouraging whilst respecting the difficulties that are being faced by people who are looking for work.. I suspect that these people are under no illusion that their jobs are hanging by a thread also.. Good post..We need live tweets on these places..I can’t afford one of those phones un4tunatley but if I ever get summoned I will keep a diary of the belters that I may encounter.. We’ve got to keep on keepin on X..

  32. izzykoksal April 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    Hi, just to say thanks again for the comments. It’s really interesting to read about others’ experiences of the Job Centre and these ‘welfare to work’ companies such as A4e, G4S etc. etc. It’s really important that we report what is going on in these places.

    Here are some other links that people might be interested in:

    I just remembered that there’s an RSA Animate video of Barbara Ehrenreich speaking about her book ‘Smile or Die’ – it can be found here and is definitely worth a watch.

    Harpymarx also attended an A4e training workshop and blogged about her expereience

    And Eli writes about her insiders’ experience of a ‘welfare to work’ company as an employee. They too are exploited by these greedy companies.

  33. trichquestions April 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    I was sent on a course by the job centre when I was unemployed (not a4e). The woman running it was wearing loads of gold jewellery and, when we went round the table telling each other our goals, she said her goal was “to have more money”. We all just glared at her.

    She kept giving us ridiculous pieces of advice which wouldn’t have worked in a million years. There was a young lad who was looking for a job in retail but hadn’t had any luck because he hadn’t got any experience. She told him to go into each shop he’d applied at and ask after his application. I’ve worked in retail long enough to know that a) the front-of-house staff won’t have a clue b) if you bother the very busy manager about it, your form may well end up in the bin and c) if you haven’t heard, you haven’t got it.

    She also accused us all of being complacent when we admitted that very few of us phoned to follow up our applications – when I pointed out that it was unreasonable to expect any of us to be able to afford the phone bills involved with chasing up hundreds of applications, she snapped at me that I was being defeatist. The whole day was centred around ‘it’s all your fault, you’re not applying for enough jobs/filling out the forms properly/doing well enough at interviews/gaining the right attitude’. I was furious about the whole thing. Luckily, I got a job in the end – no thanks to any of the ridiculous programmes I was made to go on. It’s a wonder how the government still thinks any of this rubbish works.

    • Kay Fabe April 18, 2012 at 10:18 am #

      As I keep syaing, I’m sure the government are well aware none of this works so far as getting anyone back to work goes. What it does do is enable ministers to hive off great big gobs of public money into the companies being paid for this nonsense which in turn enables them to give smaller but satisfying gobs of that same money back to the minsiter that’s put it their way. Scratch scrath scratch. Large scale unemployment is necessary for this process to continue which is probably at least part of the reason why we continue to have it.

  34. Christine Coombe April 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Should be a John Cleeves piece of comedy , priceless. However, the sad fact is that more and more people are being made to feel useless through unemployment. The devastating effects unemployment can have on self esteem should not be reinforced by these
    courses which have no connection to the real world. 10 vacancies – 200 applicants but if you didn’t get the job its your personal fault so they say. Many of the new jobs created are part time and do not pay enough for basic living. Benefits are being cut, wages are falling and the cost of living is going up. Did the course mention any of this when trying to find a job.? Bet not. Didn’t even mention the amount of money A4e is getting from the taxpayer either?

  35. Annie Bishop (@killhopelaw) April 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Yeah I’ve reconfigured my attitude, and I’d say to the trainer you’re not a knob you’re an effing knob

  36. Annie Bishop (@killhopelaw) April 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Hey next time anyone is forced to endure this , think of Pauline from league of gentlemen

  37. Rich Nicholls April 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    The only thing I do on my Work Programme is go into my local Pertemps once a fortnight, say hi to my ’employment coach’ make another appointment for a fortnight later and come out…I’ve been told they have no money to put me through any training, and they can offer me no help because I can a)read, b)do maths, c)can use a computer and d) have a CV.

  38. Findlow April 19, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    What you describe is disgraceful – at best a ridiculous waste of your time and of public money, and at worst a sinister type of brain-washing that could totally undermine people whose self-esteem and confidence are already low. The sort of person that is prepared to stand up and spout this clap-trap and be paid for doing it must be an insecure bully. Or maybe just terrified of ending up on the dole himself, on the receiving end of the same…. Commenter Lisybabe rightly said that chronically sick and disabled people already suffer from being told their illness is an attitude of mind and they can get over it. For people who have not yet seen it, the following amazingly informative article by Debbie Jolly on DPAC shows the theories and politics which ultimately came to awful fruition in the Welfare Reform Bill. :

  39. olasspilgrim April 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Amazing posting and tons of wonderful comments. And can you believe that this very same A4E (All for Emma) will be running the education departments at all London prisons as of August 1st. How long will a trainer like Izzy’s last? Psychobabble and pseudo-positive twoddle is not going to reduce re-offending. God help us!

    • Kay Fabe April 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      Actually it might prove popular, I understand a lot of prisoners will go along because it gets you brownie points and far more important, it’s something to do.

  40. stuffit April 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    would be really good to sabotage their sessions by taking over from the tutor and asking the other participants what they think they need to find work, or if benefits are enough, or why there are no jobs – it’s really evil how they also tarnishing what is actually a useful thing (thinking positively, making best out of opportunities) into these mental mind control apolitical creepyness. please someone do this and film it! 🙂 it would be the best viral ever

    • Kay Fabe April 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      You can get a pen which is really a movie camera from Ebay for about a tenner. They record sound too.

  41. null@null May 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    This reminds me of my own jaunt through the “jobsearch assistance” circuit. Suffering the backlash of a depression that went largely untreated, I had/have some major anxiety problems that have provided a pretty big obstacle in the way of work. They didn’t even pretend it was voluntary back when I did it. My experience can be summed up with two particular events :
    The first was a work placement they got for me, in which there was no work for me to actually do. I was sent to some tiny garage storefront where there were three other people sitting in the small space… and just… sat there… for 8 hours a day. When I really pushed for some work to do, they got me to organise their filing system, which took me all of 3 hours. For someone with major anxiety problems, sitting in an awkward “silence around the stranger” for entire days really exacerbated things. I ended up just telling them I would be stood outside if they wanted me for anything.

    The second was from an actual staff member, a session to help us apparently find work. It consisted of meshing together several groups, sitting us around a large table, then having the staff member who was supposed to be helping/guiding us placing two copies of the yellow pages on the table, saying “Look for a job”, and then sitting on a seperate table in the corner, eating a sandwich, and watching us… then making passive-aggressive remarks occasionally, or laughing off questions directed at him. That was the point I decided to quit the course entirely. With the stressors provided by my untreated depression (not for a lack of requesting help, and only managing to get a brief counselling session thanks to the Citizens Advice Bureau), I just couldn’t take it any more.

  42. Sandra May 24, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    I am not a fan of Fairy Jobmother or, by the sound of it, courses like these- as they make you more bitter than positive. Basically, getting a job in a saturated market is all about knowing the right people (ideally making friends with those people). So the energy should be focused on networking and making powerful connections rather than this motivational stuff.

  43. skwalker1964 June 12, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Reblogged this on The SKWAWKBOX Blog and commented:
    Came across an excellent article that details a real-life situation that ought to be barely believable but sadly isn’t. A cross between “The Thick of It”‘s scenes with the Tory motivational guru and a Nike commercial, the mandatory sessions this woman had to attend add a fascinating extra insight into the whole, chilling ‘positive psychology’ thinking that this government is clearly using to avoid responsibility for the situation it has created: it’s not us, it’s you.
    Three things stood out particularly:
    1) She asks whether a disabled person attending the course would be told his/her problems are all in the mind. Scarily, that’s exactly what the government and its Atos hatchet-men do think about many disabled people.
    2) She’s told that she should indulge in no more than 30 minutes, one day a week, of ‘lamenting’ her situation and spend the other 167.5 hours being only positive. This government really does think it has the right to control how we think, even when it’s utterly detached from reality.
    3) If she hadn’t attended this ludicrous course, she would have been ‘sanctioned’ – lost her benefits for at least four weeks. Time wasted that could have been spent actually looking for work, and for which we’re no doubt paying a hefty fee. This government’s austerity rhetoric is just nonsense. There’s money, but it goes where they think best: to their mates who get to provide money for old rope.
    But please take a look and draw your own conclusions. It’s an eye-opener and very nicely written.

    • izzykoksal June 13, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks for the reblog and the kind words. : ) Also, take a look at @adjykritik’s twitter feed. They are on a two week course which is also full of individualising, neoliberal nonsense. Really horrifying stuff.

      • skwalker1964 June 13, 2013 at 11:58 am #

        Duly followed – thanks for the pointer!

  44. JoePritchard (@JoePritchard) June 12, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Nearly 30 years ago, at the start of the series of jobs and contracts that seen in hindsight constitute my career, I spent a little time with the equivalent of places like A4E set up by the Thatcher Government – i.e. shit loads of money, get people through the door, give ’em courses, chuck ’em out. And the content stated here is SO similar to what was spouted back then – only the Nathan Barley language is different.

    There’s a small underpinning of sense in these things – yes, your attitude does matter, yes, it’s not good to get despondent, BUT the whole reality of the situation – then and now – is ignored. Jobs do not exist. And all the positive thinking in the world won’t change that.

    I’d suggest what others have suggested – focus the training on networking, making the most of contacts, identifying your skills and qualities and working out how things you’ve done can be treated as experience for CVs.

    Still doesn’t create jobs, though.

    In other words – spend the money on creating jobs rather than pushing this twaddle.

  45. sparaszczukster June 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on Grannie's Last Mix and commented:
    Thanks for sharing this, Izzy, and for producing such a well written account.
    If you want to know the origins of this dangerous pseudo-psychology read

    • izzykoksal June 13, 2013 at 9:59 am #

      Thanks for the reblog and your kind words and for the article – I’ll have a read now : )

  46. sjamiebunting June 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Christ! Reading this confirms my worst fears – I am absolutely bricking it at the thought of being dumped on one of these scams ( which is what they are ) I have had mental health issues, and I seriously think it would only be a matter of time before I killed someone. It is clear from the number of sanctions ( over 100, 000 people now sanctioned for three years I believe ) that we are following the Blessed Margaret’s advice to turn it all over to the charity sector … the aim is to sanction 2 million people next year. This raises the prospect of starving, homeless doleys, in debt to loan sharks and with no money for phone credit, broadband, stamps or anything like that being made to sit through this bollocks. My question – what will they be able to threaten them all with? No dole forever? Jail? The stocks? The death penalty?

  47. aussieeh June 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    I’ve really got to say thanks mate, reading your post has made my day and put a smile on my face. I’ve been in some serious pain these last few days after running out of Morphine and I’ve had about 3 hours sleep since Friday. It took some doing I must have skipped lines, seen double etc, but I got there eventually. I went on a course in the 70s but they actually taught you something, joinery, how to make paving, gardening, useful stuff,This stuff A4e etc is just pure corruption a way of stealing tax payers money. They will pay for their corruption when the brainwashed wake up. Thanks again.

  48. rainbowwarriorlizzie June 15, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Reblogged this on HUMAN RIGHTS & POLITICAL JOURNAL and commented:
    In Solidarity! Ty 4 bringing to attention is reposted n shared far n wide!

  49. Mark March 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    The person at A4E sounds like david brent!


  1. End of April, quick and messy but compendious mail-out « Launchpad: By and for mental health service users - April 30, 2012

    […] Adventures at A4e […]

  2. Boycott Workfare » Blog Archive » A4e party - May 9, 2012

    […] to work company’ that looks to make money out of unemployed people through bullying and strange cultish practices amongst other things – and Cameron’s ‘families’ czar’ after allegations of systematic […]

  3. Birmingham Trades Council » A4e party - May 10, 2012

    […] to work company’ that looks to make money out of unemployed people through bullying and strange cultish practices amongst other things – and Cameron’s ‘families’ czar’ after allegations of systematic […]

  4. Horror Without Victims | Rosanne Rabinowitz - June 12, 2013

    […] has been assuming sinister and invasive – as well as laughable – aspects. See here and here for […]

  5. Whistle While You Work (For Nothing): Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy – The Case of Workfare | Centre for Medical Humanities Blog - December 10, 2013

    […] Izzy Koksal, Adventures at A4E, Izzy Koksal blog, 13 April […]

  6. Boycott Workfare » Blog Archive » Government abandons new workfare scheme - December 27, 2013

    […] On top of this they are planning to throw another £30 million at the likes of A4e to provide “training schemes” which normally involve little training, and just provides another opportunity to sanction […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: