Monday 4 May 2009

The advice from my FAS Officer? “Keep your eyes on the vacancies!”

I’m sitting in the FAS office, waiting to see a FAS Officer. Trouble is, I don’t want to see a FAS Officer.
It’s nothing personal. Just that at my advanced age I know what I can do (office administration, writing, cleaning, fundraising and youth work) and what I can’t do (everything else), and I know that to find work, I must put myself out there, in as many different ways as I can.
So a couple of months ago I wandered up to Nun’s Island, to update my address and recent job details with FAS, and check out their vacancies boards.
The extremely helpful woman behind the counter printed out my details.
“Just make any changes you need to.” she said, and less than a minute later, having done that, I took the forms back to the counter.
“Grand. Now take a seat over there and a FAS Officer will see you in a while.”
I told her that I really just wanted to update my details.
She told me that she couldn’t make any changes to my details. That had to be done by a FAS Officer.
I looked over at the big table where several people were already waiting.
“Can I make an appointment?”
“No, you can’t, because you’re not on Social Welfare. But it shouldn’t take long.”
So I sat and waited, a little frustrated that these simple changes couldn’t be made without wasting the time of a FAS Officer, who might be better off helping somebody who genuinely needed guidance in how to find work.
As the minutes went by, I realised that my wait was pointless. People who arrived after me were being seen before me, because they had appointments.
I returned to the desk, where another woman was now working. She gently explained that I might be better off to come back in the afternoon, because there weren't so many appointments in the afternoons, so I wouldn’t have to wait for so long. What with her being a fresh face, I chanced my arm and tried to explain to her that if she could just change my address on the database, I wouldn’t have to come back at all.
But no. I simply had to see a FAS Officer. Ah well, I’d come back some afternoon and anyway, the trip wasn’t completely wasted, because I spotted a vacancy on the boards.
Having started this FAS process, I needed to finish it, for my own peace of mind, so here I am, back in the afternoon, waiting to see a FAS Officer that I don’t really want to see.
Alongside a few blokes and a couple of women, I sit around the table in patient silence. The utter pointlessness and waste of time involved in changing a couple of lines on a database is beginning to get to me. Why can’t I just go into their website, offer a password and update my details there?
Finally I am called through to see the FAS Officer.
“Hello there. I’m Charlie! Look, I don’t want to waste your time, because I know you are busy. I’m working full time to find part time work in my chosen fields, to supplement my freelance writing, so if you could please just update my address and most recent job, that’d be great. Oh, and here’s my CV and current references, which I send along with every job application.”
The FAS Officer motions me to sit, and then proceeds to tap into their computer.
I stare out of the office window, wondering why they are typing so slowly.
taptap...tap....tap tap tap.....tap.........tap tap......tap.......
In silence I sit, as Spring turns to Summer. The chicks in the nest on the branches of the tree outside the window grow, learn to fly and head to Africa.
tap....tap tap.....tap....tap tap tap.....................tap.
Not a word has passed between the FAS Officer and myself, which is fine, but there are needy jobseekers out there patiently waiting to see somebody.
tap,,,tap.....tap tap tap.........TAP.
The tapping stops and the FAS Officer turns to me. I sit up in the chair, expecting to be told that my details are all updated and asked if there’s anything they could do to help.
But no. Instead, the FAS Officer looks down, picks up my CV and references and starts to read them. All of them. Crushingly slowly. In absolute silence.
I sit and stare out of the window, as the Polar ice cap melts, the ocean levels rise and most of Galway is engulfed.
The FAS Officer turns the page and reads on, apparently unaware that the silence has been deafening for the last twenty minutes.
Night turns to day, Autumn to Winter to Spring once more, as the FAS Officer turns the page of my final reference.
Why they are reading so incredibly slowly? Can they not skim, while I am physically there with them?
Finally, as post-apocalyptic zombies prowl the remains of our charred planet, just before our ancient sun collapses into its death throes and goes Supernova, the FAS Officer turns to me.
“So. Keep your eyes on the vacancies. Now, that’s it.”
I walk out, furious and completely confused.
Keep your eyes on the vacancies?
Keep your eyes on the bloody vacancies?
Was that really all they said?
Did that really happen?
To be fair I wasn’t looking for advice, which was just as well, but I’d made two visits to their offices, spent three hours of my time waiting and sitting in silence, only to be told by a professional job counsellor:
“Keep your eyes on the vacancies.”
This farce was not the fault of the people working for FAS. The entire debacle was the fault of a rigid idiotic system, which forced me to waste my time and theirs, when the whole thing could have been done in 30 seconds.
But as I stepped outside, by god that fresh Galway air felt good after the frustrating stress of such a wasted visit.
Clearly, if FAS and other similar organisations and agencies are really going to help those who need help most in this country, then these arcane systems need to be crushed and thrown away.
In their own mission statement, FAS declare: ‘We strive to be as innovative and as flexible as possible in meeting the changing needs of our customers.’
Yeh, well, strive away.


Ted Shtanton said...

What an excellent bit of writing, out of all public offices bar the dole office (but for other reasons, not sposed ta be here reasons) this one does my head in the most. The only office with a framed "ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR WILL NOT BE TOLERATED" sign. May as well say, "if we don't like look of you we'll have a Guard shove a baton up ya. Complained about the staff and the stupid ticketing system and all I got was the lousy this is how we do thing now speech, fookin ticket maching doesn't even work! They are trying to turn us in to a nation of queuers!

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks Ted - much appreciated!

As a man from a nation of queuers, I can safely say that the Irish are as prone to it as the English.

Sorry to hear things haven't improved down there since I wrote that piece.