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Me & My Job: ‘Getting people into work is inspirational’

Margaret Heron, General manager, network personnel, the employability arm of the workspace group

What does your job entail?

We provide employability programmes, mainly on a contract basis, for the Department of Employment and Learning. These programmes are focused on improving people’s chances of getting work and finding them employment.

The programmes we deliver include Steps to Work, New Deal for Disabled, Work Preparation Programme and Progress to Work. Each of these programmes is focused on different client groupings with very specific needs.

We have a number of offices in Northern Ireland and employ 35 permanent staff. My role as general manager is to get the best performance from my team and to make sure that we exceed customer expectations — whether that’s the contractor or the unemployed individual whose life we want to improve by increasing their employability situation.

How did you get into this line of work?

I initially got into this line of work as I was aware of the social aims that the Workspace Group had and liked the idea of having a real positive impact on individuals from the local community. For me, the Workspace Group was different to other organisations. It has a very business-orientated focus, but a real interest in the local community.

When I started with Workspace, I didn’t expect to still be here all these years later, but the Workspace Group is an excellent organisation to work for and is growing each year. It has an even greater impact today on the local and wider community than I could have anticipated.

Outline your career to date?

After taking a career break to raise my family, I started with Workspace firstly as a core worker and then as assistant manager with the ACE Programme.

At that time, I was working with the long-term unemployed and disadvantaged.

Eleven years after starting on the ACE Scheme I moved on to co-ordinate the Worktrack programme, then in 2005, I got the opportunity to manage the business and was delighted to move into a role where I could make a real positive difference to both the business and the community.

What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional?

This job is all about people and communicating with people. I need to ensure our 35 staff and the team leaders within the company know what is expected of them and are given the opportunity to perform with support from the management team.

In addition, I need to ensure that they are not only delivering on the expected service, but that they are delivering a top-level service and delighting our customers.

Good interpersonal skills are critical, as is the ability to understand people’s individual situations and empathise with them. We need to be able to convince an employer that our candidates will be a valuable addition to their team so again communication skills, with a bit of selling, are the key qualities.

I also believe that in order to get the best from people and see their potential, we have to push them out of comfort zones and stretch their capabilities where possible.

As manager of Network Personnel, I try not only to stretch myself on a daily basis, but also to help my team stretch and see the potential they have.

A positive can do attitude, patience, ability to work in a team and a sense of humour also help.

What is the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I received and something I strongly believe in is that ‘relationships come first, |business will always follow’.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

If I follow the advice I would say that the balance between work and family is important and therefore, like most mothers and grandmothers, family takes up most of my spare time. On a day off work, I can be found doing anything from watching my own children participate at sports to babysitting my grandchildren.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

There are no business gurus that I would refer to for this. My inspiration mainly comes from the people whose lives we help to improve through our employability programmes.

Seeing people getting a job, improving their skills and improving their views on life is truly inspirational.

To know that I may have had some input into making this happen is even better but to do this as part of a social enterprise which impacts on our community in so many other ways is very rewarding.

In addition I have an excellent team at Network Personnel, who consistently deliver higher outputs than we are targeted to do and that inspires me as well.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I was the first female to hang glide in Northern Ireland.

Article taken from the Belfast Telegraph on Friday 28th October 2011.