The 2009 financial crash brought a wave of redundancies across UK industries and another period of economic uncertainty has emerged since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Fiona Charlton talks about her own experience; how best to respond to being made redundant; and how key stakeholders can better support IOSH members.
Chartered IOSH member Dr Fiona Charlton has been made redundant twice in her 34-year career spanning both the public and private sectors, but that’s where the similarities end.
The first time was in 2011 when she was working for the National Health Service (NHS) and a few of her colleagues were also handed their P45s. The UK institution was undergoing major restructuring, and everyone had been widely consulted and understood the reasons for the redundancies.
As Fiona reflects, ‘it was easier to understand’ why she had lost her job. Even so, it had been the first break in a long career, and she took the news hard.
Her second redundancy, which was announced 10 years later in late 2021, however, was more difficult to digest. Losing her job a second time really knocked her confidence, but the fact that she was the only employee to be made redundant and the announcement was completely unexpected and so sudden added to her anguish.
She had been really enjoying her role as a health and safety director in a business that runs 70+ care homes in England, Scotland and Wales and the redundancy was the result of an operational review.
However, Fiona says she made a conscious decision to make the most of the time she now had and apply only for roles that really appealed to her and her love of a challenge.
Fiona’s experience is not an isolated case. Although there may be a perception that the OSH profession is a safe one to be employed in, anyone can be vulnerable to a redundancy.
Losing her job and the challenges she has faced as she has tried to regain employment has prompted Fiona to contact IOSH magazine to see whether more practical help can be offered by recruiters, potential employers and IOSH to support members.
Fiona has displayed a dogged determination to land a new role and has recently accepted an offer from Barclays. She is passionate about sharing her own experience: the successful strategies that helped her regain her confidence and also the valuable lessons she learned from failed applications and interviews.
The first action she would encourage all OSH professionals to take after being made redundant is to revisit their CVs. Most OSH professionals probably haven’t looked at them for years because they are happy in their roles, she says. However, undertaking a thorough reappraisal of career highlights can really boost personal confidence, she insists.
‘When you look at your CV, review everything that you’ve done and explain your roles and experience more in terms of key achievements, outcomes or successes,’ she advises.
In her case, Fiona asked trusted colleagues, both in and outside the OSH profession, to look through her CV and offer advice on what she could do to better showcase her competencies and skills.
‘Get someone to sit with you and ask you: “What were your achievements there? What did you do for the business? What did you do for yourself and what did you do for your customers and stakeholders?” It gives you a totally different perspective and improves your level of confidence.’
Fiona says it is really beneficial to get the professional insights of individuals who have a ‘business head’ or have senior level experience, whether that is in an operational, supervisory or strategic role.
‘Draw on all the people you can,’ she continues. ‘In my previous role, I worked very closely with the quality director, regional operational directors and a fire safety expert, and I took as much advice and support from them as I could. I also spoke with OSH colleagues. So don’t just turn to other OSH professionals, as other people out there will see things that you don’t about how you add value.’
This final point is important, but also hints at observations she has made through her experience with many recruitment agencies.
‘There was only ever one recruiter from around seven or eight that looked at my CV and gave me feedback on how to improve it,’ she reflects.
‘She did everything she said she was going to do. She kept me informed; she supported me; and she gave me feedback at every point in the journey, from initial contact to post interviews. She was the gold standard.’
One of the first successful job applications Fiona had after being made redundant was for a university position. It was also extremely challenging and involved facing a grueling interview process split over three stages. Although she didn’t land the role, Fiona says she made sure she learned valuable lessons from the experience.
‘After the interview I wrote down all the questions I had been asked because I thought, ‘If this is the hardest process I am ever going to go through, I want to learn from it’. I then answered all the questions to improve my performance at competency-based interviews.’
She also applied for roles through OSH job boards and feels that they could be very impersonal and frustrating as sometimes you didn’t even know what roles you’re applying for. Another frustration would be the lack of feedback/update from recruiters if the status of the vacancy had changed, for example you weren’t successful, or the employer had removed the vacancy.
‘I always followed up my applications through the recruiters, but was told things like, ‘They didn’t pursue your application’ or ‘It might have been too global for you.’ It can be frustrating when you don’t get any feedback and are always chasing. These are all the challenges you come up against.’
Fiona believes that OSH professionals could be better supported to navigate the recruitment process, from start to finish.
‘I got frustrated because I was being selective and serious about what I applied for and I didn’t feel I got that in return from people who were involved at different stages,’ she reflects.
‘There is a gap in the process, something that people could do a bit more of. There is a great confidence boost when you receive an initial call explaining you look like a great fit for a role, but that turns to disappointment when you hear nothing back after sending your CV and getting excited about the prospects.’
One area where she feels recruiters could be more proactive is in selling the OSH professional’s transferable skills. Even though an individual may not have worked in a particular industry previously, they shouldn’t be discounted for an advertised role, she insists.
The OSH professional is adept at applying regulations and standards and will only need a short period of time to learn a new industry. She adds that OSH professionals who are employed at a senior level will have experienced teams whose expertise they can call on for support.
‘You are there to lead. You are there to develop people, strategy and systems. Don’t get overlooked because you don’t have that industry experience,’ she continues passionately.
‘You can still write a strategy, and you can use all the expertise within your teams to provide operational support. Be clear about where you sit within a company and what your skills are.’
Fiona encourages recruitment agencies to communicate and be open with an OSH professional who has applied for a role through them if the agent feels other candidates are better suited for the role rather than simply leave them in the dark about the application’s outcome. “Tell me why [I wasn’t put forward for the role]. Help me understand. Feedback is better than silence” she says.
‘I’d be curious to know whether recruitment agencies have specific processes, standards or key performance indicators for each job they recruit for. If so, how does that look as a process and how can they make the recruitment experience better for OSH professionals?’
It is here that she feels that IOSH as the membership body could possibly have a more active role in developing a memorandum of understanding, or simply expectations with potential employers and recruitment agencies to improve the job-hunting journey for its members.
Fiona is happy to get involved if this is something which already exists, or that could be explored to give OSH professionals a better experience, improve competence and confidence and promote the high standards IOSH sets for the OSH profession.