“I know lives have changed through doing the work I do”

Hundreds of people have secured jobs thanks to the support of the free services offered by EmployAbility West Cork. Here MARY ROSE MCCARTHY catches up with one of its facilitators to hear his personal story of education, redundancy and career development
“I know lives have changed through doing the work I do”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Darren Priest, EmployAbility facilitator in Bandon, with EmployAbility West Cork

HAVING experienced redundancy himself and returned to education at various stages during his life, Darren Priest is well placed to work for EmployAbility West Cork.

He is a facilitator at the Bandon office, and helps those who have been out of the workplace, for whatever reason, to find employment.

One of six children, Darren is originally from Birmingham.

“We lived in a three-bedroom house. Naturally, my only sister got her own room, whilst the five boys all shared an average sized bedroom.

“There was a big difference in age so myself and my younger brother would lay booby traps for the return of our drunken older brothers. I still remember my brother David drying his perm in front of the gas fire.”

Darren left school at 16, not really knowing what he was going to do. He worked in Birmingham City Council Housing Department for a few years, and then returned to college to do ‘A’ Levels in a year. He then got a job in recruitment before going to Polytechnic in Liverpool.

“I came away with an Honours Degree in Social Studies, and still no idea with what to do with my life. I am still the only member of my extended family to have gained a university degree.”

Darren experienced redundancy during one of the many recessions in Britain.

He says: “Redundancy was hard. I had done nothing wrong, yet I had no job. Perhaps this was my first lesson in the effects of unemployment. Like many people, I wanted to leave the country and the chance to teach English in Greece came up. This was the start of my life abroad.

“I went from Greece to Japan, then Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and back to Sri Lanka. The last ten years with the British Council as a teacher, teacher trainer, and corporate soft skills trainer.”

Darren met his wife on his first trip to Sri Lanka. Rhoda Ferguson is from Blackrock in Cork and is the daughter of Rev Joy Ferguson and Jim Ferguson, who was raised at Brother’s Fort near Bandon.

Meeting his wife and her family made Darren fall in love with Ireland and in particular West Cork.

When their second child was born, the couple took the decision to move to Ireland permanently. They are both extremely grateful to the support of family and great friends who helped them settle in and supported them with offers of accommodation. Kind friends asked them to ‘house sit’ while their country mansion went through probate, which gave them a chance to find their feet.

Darren began work as a job coach in 2010 with Jobfit. This project achieved tremendous success, exceeding ambitious government set targets for helping individuals rejoin the workforce.

Darren knew that he had found the kind of work that he was meant for. It was a pilot project and after 12 months, funding was not renewed.

He took on a project in Kinsale and that led to his current job with Employability West Cork in Bandon.

He said: “I have only had positive experiences of working with employers and job seekers in Bandon. It is a town that continues to suffer hardship, but it always comes through because of the strength and resilience of its people.”

Employability West Cork are contracted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social protection to support anyone who has had an illness, injury, disability, mental health or any other health issue return to work. His role is to offer practical support in helping people find work that is suited to them.

Darren says: “We are a confidential service and so we cannot boast about the successes we have seen, but I know lives have changed through doing the work I do”.

He rounds off by saying: “I am not the expert when it comes to my clients’ lives, they are. My role is to support them in achieving their best hopes.”

Darren along the way also achieved two Master Degrees, one in Occupational Health Psychology, the other in Career Coaching.

A more recent development has been his studies and practice in the Brief Solution Focused Approach (BSFA).

BRIEF UK, in London, is recognised as one of world’s leading centres for this approach and he’s been able to study there on three occasions.

This learning has helped Darren develop three underlying assumptions for working successfully with clients:

1. If it works, do more of it. If it does not, do something different.

2. Believe that you are doing the best you can at any given time in any given situation.

3. Conversations about the future you want to see can help you get there.

He said: “My best hopes for the future are that I can influence policy and spread the positive benefits of working in a solution focused way across all disciplines.

“I want to inspire those at the highest level to move away from silo working and to create collaboration across services that already exist, in order to support those most in need.”

Contact Employability Bandon at 0868101795 or email darrenpriest@empwc.org

Find out more about the work of EmployAbility West Cork on their website at https://empservice.org or find them on Facebook, Employability West Cork

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