Earlybird Employability Chats: Q&A with Monique Smith

April 19, 2023

We are delighted to have Monique Smith on the Employability Chats series. She is a seasoned employability expert. She discussed her career journey and shared insights into the work of Standguide in the employability sector. She also talked about the importance of professional bodies, the role of technology in delivering better outcomes, and the female figures that most inspire her.

Monique Smith FIEP, Area Manager at Standguide Group

Q: Firstly welcome to Earlybird chats. Can you tell us about your journey so far in the employability sector? 

I have worked in the sector for over 20 years in various roles and settings.  I am passionate about supporting people to reach their goals and I have personally helped hundreds of people into work over the years. I started my journey as a volunteer mentor with young people who were distant from the job market. I would run sessions on goal setting and building confidence and motivation and encouraged them to think about their future. I attended university and studied Race and Culture with Intellectual History which I enjoyed. After completion, I volunteered at the Race and Equality Council supporting people who had suffered racism in the workplace and at school. I realised I wanted to work in education and was accepted on a positive action traineeship as a Trainee Development Officer.  I worked with the most distant people from the labour market and my role consisted of creating courses and workshops in the community to help enthuse those hardest to reach to learn and make progress.

My next role was probably my most challenging, working within a female prison as a Careers Adviser.  I encouraged and supported lots of women who felt all was lost due to having a criminal record. I helped them to achieve what they deemed impossible and enabled some to turn their lives around. My next employment was as a Community Area Coordinator working for the GFirst LEP where I was promoted four times and held the following roles: Employment and Skills Coordinator, National Careers Service Contract Manager, Senior Employment and Skills Coordinator, Deputy Manager- Employment and Skills and eventually becoming the Employment and Skills Manager.  This was a challenging but very rewarding period of my career.  I am currently an Area manager working for Standguide managing the National Careers Service for Gloucestershire.

Q: You work at Standguide which was founded in 1990. Can you tell us more about the work they do in the employability sector to support people? 

Standguide Limited supports hundreds of employers and thousands of participants per year, providing employment advice, funded qualifications and business mentoring and recruitment. We deliver employment, education, and rehabilitation services UK-wide on behalf of the Department for Work & Pensions, Education & Skills Funding Agency, NHS and Ministry of Justice as well as local and combined authorities, both as a direct deliverer and through effective management of supply chain partners. Principally Health Limited delivers not-for-profit preventative health services and bespoke support for vulnerable individuals to move closer to employment and independence which includes wellbeing, autism, learning difficulties and disabilities as well as social isolation. Through tailored support, participants across the UK have increased their resilience, support networks, self-esteem, motivation, and ability to self-manage their circumstances.

Q: What’s your favourite personal story from your time working in the sector? 

When I was invited to be a speaker at the University of Gloucestershire Sprint Women’s Development Programme. I talked about my career to date and what my journey has entailed so far. A group of female students on the programme asked me questions about how I dealt with certain aspects of my career and what advice I could give them when moving forward in theirs. I really enjoyed this as I was able to encourage them to pursue their goals and dreams and talk about how I overcame challenges of racism, prejudice, and sexism.  The feedback I received was great and made me feel more confident as I was going through a particularly challenging time and receiving some positive feedback was the boost I needed.

Q: I know you are a regular at sector events. What value do professional bodies like the IEP and ERSA bring to you and the sector? 

I think for me personally I really enjoy networking with other professionals and like to learn new things. Sometimes when you have been working in the same field for a long time you can get a bit set in your ways. Having professional bodies like IEP and ERSA are important as they can open your mind to different ways of working.  There is also lots of valuable training that you have access to that will help you in your career. I really like the wealth of resources that are available that will support you in your role and help upskill you. I am a member of a few professional bodies which includes the IEP, CDI and the BYP Network and they all play a part in helping me to develop my practice.  They have contributed in different ways to my own continuing professional developmentI have  encouraged my staff and people I engage with to join to also benefit from all that is on offer. 

Q: What role do you think technology can play moving forward to help deliver better outcomes?

I think Technology can play a big part in helping to deliver better outcomes as for one you can reach a lot more people in a much shorter space of time and can connect more quickly.I’m not an expert in this area but I have seen how technology has developed especially in the last 10 years and in particular the application process. You can now apply for lots of jobs more quickly than you could 10 years ago. You can also use a variety of programmes and tools that can allow you to track your customers more efficiently. This is also an area of development for me and I am wanting to try and develop my own technological knowledge to help my own personal development.  The contract I work on currently is targeted so having some good tools will help me and my team. 

Q: As a female leader in the sector can I ask which female figure inside or outside of work has most inspired you and why?

I have so many people that inspire me for different reasons. The first would be my twin sister Sabrina. She works so hard and juggles a lot of different things. She always encourages me to keep going even when I’m not in the best of places. She has overcome a lot of challenges, both personally and professionally, and it has been inspiring to watch her growth, especially in the last few years.  Another person is one of my mentors, Rosemary. She has achieved a lot in her career and even though she has retired she is still achieving some impressive goals. She has always encouraged me to do my best and aim to be the best I can be. She has taught me that there is no limit to what I can achieve and when I doubt myself, she is always there to give me the pep talk that I need. She has given me sound advice and has supported me in every aspect of my career right from the start. She is brutally honest and I find that refreshing.

Q: If you had a magic wand and could make one change for the sector in 2023 what would it be?

For me I have seen the industry change quite a lot over the years. There have been some good changes and some not so great. I would really like more funding for softer outcomes. I feel like a lot of contracts are more focused on a customer gaining a job or accredited learning which is great, but I think you should be funded equally for other progressions. For a few years I worked on a contract called Gloucester works and It was the best contract I have ever worked on as the flexibility to fund training and provide support was great. There were criteria we had to stick to but it was much more flexible than a lot of the contracts we have now. They are all great in their own way but having worked on lots of different contracts in my career Gloucester Works was the best for me personally.  Recently a lady who I was able to fund beauty therapy training for through the Gloucester works contract has now started her own business. She recently contacted me to show me how the training along with the careers advice has provided her with an income in an industry she loves. She did the training 10 years ago!   So, yes, I would like contracts with more flexibility to measure success beyond hard outcomes. 

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