People of Public Service is our insight series where we highlight leaders, frontline staff and everyone in between that's meeting the changing needs of communities in innovative ways.

We spoke to Julia Marcus, Job Hub Lead at Camden Council about her experience of working with local communities, helping people find good, sustainable work and her passion for inclusivity in recruitment.

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From my experience working closely with people I’ve supported over the years, I’ve come to find my own definition of community. To me, it means support, friendship and respect. When you're introducing yourself to a new community, you have to be that person who’ll listen and hear what people are telling you. You have to be incredibly respectful of people's different attitudes, opinions, cultures and work with that. It's not just about my relationship with individual people, but understanding communities by how they listen, respect and support each other.

Finding my calling

My first role was way back in the ’90s when I was working for an organisation called the North Kensington Opportunities Centre, I was the Media Careers Advisor. It was a time when there was a lot of regeneration funding, with little pots of money being given to urban communities. A lot of media companies were moving out of Soho and setting up premises in Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, and my role was linking new opportunities that stemmed from this to residents who lived on the big estates in the area.

I loved working with young people who hadn’t benefitted from the usual trajectory in that sector, they had passion and feistiness, and I could definitely work with those qualities. During this time I was very conscious of disparity. There was a lack of opportunity for young working-class people because the industry was very nepotistic. I felt strongly that the media sector wasn't very representative or diverse and I'd always had that at the back of my mind. So it was nice to feel that I was doing something which was affecting that on some level. I’ve gone on to work on similar projects and roles where I developed employment support for local people.

I’ve had the opportunity to create projects from scratch that are very responsive to the needs of local residents, making sure we’re completely plugged into local communities.

My favourite part of a job is always setting things up, putting things in place, speaking to all the stakeholders and people within the community. That's how you get a proper feel for things. You have to know all about the people you're going to be working with to support them. I relish the idea of doing that in a new community.

Joining the Good Work Camden team

As a part of the wider Good Work Camden project, I joined as the Job Hub Lead for Gospel Oak in October 2019, having previously established a Job Hub in Somers Town. One of the things I feel really strongly about is allowing a project to have enough time to grow and create its own identity. And that’s what we do in Gospel Oak, we take a test and learn approach and if we think something feels right, we give it a go.

A story from the frontline

One of my most rewarding experiences was with this lovely guy from Argentina who I’d been working with since before lockdown. I met him at a jobs fair at the Swiss Cottage library and he'd been looking for employment for a long time. He has a brilliant specialism and a really good brain but had no luck finding a job.

He was very down, feeling like a lot of people who want to work, but can't. We started talking about his CV, cover letters and his aspirations. He’s very receptive, and every time I suggested a workshop or course he jumped at the chance. I connected him with other people who I thought would be helpful to be in his network, and provided a sympathetic ear when he was feeling low. In April 2021 he got an amazing job working for a streaming channel in Camden and because of the period of time we'd been working together, I really felt like I had been on that journey with him, and was probably as excited about his success as he was.

It’s not unusual for me and my colleagues to work with people for a long time. It’s one of the things which give our programme of support such a unique identity because we recognise as a service how complicated an individual's life may be, and we work at a pace that suits them. With most, it’s not just about getting a job, it's the hope that by the end of the process they'll be doing something amazing.

I don’t always have a magic wand, but will almost certainly know somebody else in our networks who can support.

That’s what innovation is to me, nothing grand but taking something and turning it on its head a little, looking at it in a different way.

The future of employment services

A challenge I’d like to address in the longer term is the whole way that recruitment is undertaken. The traditional way rewards individuals who are adept at completing application forms, and are confident and capable of succeeding in an interview. I don’t necessarily think this means they’ll be the perfect fit in the role, just good at playing the game. I'd like to see more organisations using work trials, workshop-based interviews and looking at other progressive ways of taking the fear out of the process. People with learning difficulties or confidence issues are immediately disadvantaged, as are people who are simply more practical and task-orientated.

I believe that there's a lot of work that can be done.

I care about diversity. There are huge issues around recruiting people from ethnic minorities into top jobs. I’d like to feel and see that good work come in, and Job Hubs are really going to be at the forefront of those conversations.

To those starting out

It sounds like a terrible cliché but I get such pride from knowing I've made a difference. And it does make a huge, very tangible difference doing the work we do. I always focus on quality, not quantity and good work that's sustainable and will hopefully impact not just the resident, but their families and communities can be that life-changing.

My advice to somebody starting out is to, first of all, consider the kind of support you'd like yourself. Would you want to be spoken to kindly and with respect? Would you want to be heard and understood? Invert that in the first instance, and you'll be on the right track.

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