Debbie Sheldon
Debbie Sheldon

15 years of helping people into work, from boom to crash to pandemic

Debbie Sheldon at the Women in the Workplace event, 2020
Debbie Sheldon at the Women in the Workplace event, 2020

When we set up Work Avenue in 2006, times were very different. The economy was booming, jobs were abundant and private colleges were a popular choice for training.

In fact, my early years with the organisation focused on upskilling people with vocational qualifications which Work Avenue ran in-house. We trained hundreds of people with accredited vocational qualifications. Very little focus was placed on jobs and employment as it was not difficult to find work following the completion of a vocational course.

Shortly after that the recession of 2009 hit… and the landscape changed completely.

People no longer had the luxury of paying for courses that might or might not lead to a job. Redundancies were rife and people’s primary concern was how to find a job or pay for their essential bills.

We had clients who hadn’t told their spouses that they had been made redundant; they had responsibility for their parents and children and spent day after day in the Work Avenue offices until they were once more employed. We don’t know if they ever shared their redundancy story.

It was at this time that Work Avenue’s focus changed and assessed the clients’ need holistically to see how we could help them into employment.

Wellbeing and mental health began to feature more prominently in client discussions, and it was clear that Work Avenue was needed to help clients into jobs. It was at this time too that the appetite to be self-employed and run your own business increased and we developed our business support programmes to help clients do just that.

When the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks visited Work Avenue during this period, he commented that Work Avenue could be compared to the brain. Although not the biggest organ in the body, the brain controls all functions of the body and interprets information from the outside world. Similarly, Work Avenue supports people from right across our wonderful community, helping them enhance their skills and strengths and connect them to others in the community which will lead to more employment opportunities.

L-R: Debbie Sheldon, Yael Solomons, Yael Schlagman and Emma May (Blake Ezra Photography 2015.)

Work Avenue then developed stronger links with employers and our very own jobs board hosted on our website. Here employers can post vacancies and job seekers can see when new posts are added and apply for them. Our professional team and dedicated placement manager are highly skilled at matching up our job seeking clients to suitable vacancies: matchmaking on an entirely different level.

Our organisation continued to grow, upskilling our clients with employability and vocational skills and preparing them for the workplace. We match suitable clients with vacancies on our jobs board and give them the tools to job search on a wider scale and through their own networks. It is gratifying to know that thousands of people are now in work thanks to the help of the Work Avenue team.

But who could have predicted a world-wide pandemic sending us all into lockdown and the landscape of jobs and businesses changing beyond recognition?

For many there was initially panic and shock but as time has progressed the positions that people find themselves in have crystallised.

Work Avenue Annual Review. Emma May and Debbie Sheldon.

For some it was short-term furlough, giving them time to focus on home schooling or volunteer or to develop a new skill. For others it was time to get to grips with technology and a very different way of working and for others it has meant a complete change of direction.

All of this is daunting to say the least for so many, but with our team of professional and experienced advisers working all the way through, our advice and support has been unwavering, to act as a sounding board and to advise clients regarding their next steps in the world of work.

So, what does the future look like in the workplace?

I suspect flexible working and adapting to technological advances are here to stay. And we must look for the opportunities that COVID has presented. People are now hiring again and there are jobs out there.

Looking ahead, there will be more emphasis on artificial intelligence and automation of jobs. We need to focus on upskilling and retraining those whose jobs may be automated and move them into positions to help them thrive using their talents and emotional intelligence.

Education will continue to be a strong and popular career choice with jobs being available to those already qualified and those who wish to train whilst working. The health and social care sector will remain strong and will probably offer more jobs as the population ages and more demands are placed on this sector, thereby ensuring a higher supply of jobs.

There is no doubt that business and other services activities, including professional services, scientific research and development, media and information technology are expected to be the main areas of employment growth.

As I reflect on my last fifteen years at Work Avenue, I am immensely proud of all we have achieved as a team and I am so grateful for the opportunities that have allowed me to develop links in the not-for-profit and commercial sectors. Colleagues have become good friends and I know that with the professionalism and expertise that exists at Work Avenue in particular and in the community as a whole, those who need support are in excellent hands.


About the Author
Debbie Sheldon is CEO of Work Avenue