Have you got form?

Have you got form?

Have you got form?1

Governance | Robert Ashton | 5 Feb 2013

Do you often feel, despite your qualifications, that you're not taken seriously? Robert Ashton reflects on why personal experience carries weight.

The other day I interviewed Junior Smart, founder of the Southwark Offenders Support (SOS) Project. It works under the umbrella of the St Giles Trust and helps people make the transition from prison to work. As I'm sure you’ll appreciate, however well meaning, far too few employers are willing to take what they see as the 'risk' of giving these people a job.

No work means insufficient money and guess what happens? Yes, re-offending and straight to jail, without passing ‘Go’ and collecting £200. It's a major problem about which many worthy people scratch their heads. It's why the results of the Peterborough Social Impact Bond project are so eagerly awaited.

But what makes Junior's project so successful is that he quite literally has got form. He decided to start his project whilst in prison himself. He saw how little help was available and how huge case loads made it difficult for those who did try to help him succeed.

Junior is qualified by experience. Paradoxically, he feels he needs academic qualifications to be taken seriously. I disagree, and so I guess do those who elected him a fellow of the Ashoka programme. As Junior told me, he's not someone who decided to do youth work as a career. He's someone who experienced the challenge and used his instinct to create a solution. His project is very successful.

Contrast Junior with someone I met recently who also wants to work with ex-offenders. His passion and determination for what he wants to do is evident. But the personal experience and real connection with those already working in this field is not. He's going to meet all the right people, but will fail to win more than a nodding endorsement.

But the real problem is that over the years he's floated a number of good ideas and potential projects. His biggest successes to date were achieved several years ago in another country. He has the academic qualifications and professional accreditations. But to those whose help he needs right now, he has no form. And that is why he's finding it so difficult to gain traction.

Modesty is built in to the British psyche. So too is the tendency to assess future potential based on past performance. If you have form, flaunt it. If you don't, question your motivation and make it clear when presenting to others how that motivation can take you beyond the ordinary and bland. It's not about qualifications these days, it's about form!


Adrian Ashton
5 Feb 2013

how true - usually the people who receive support or services we offer aren't bothered by what pieces of paper (certificates and qualifications) we can wave at them, but the assurance that you have the practical experience and right aptitude they need;
but paradoxically those who commission services are more interested in the pieces of paper...

I've always held that the value of a qualification is not the piece of paper at the end but the opportunity for learning they can offer so perhaps we need to find ways of recognising the value of our 'form', and present in it ways that are as easy to be seen as credible as qualifications? (but only if you're trying to win over a commissioner...!)


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Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur, campaigner and author.

Robert is a vice patron of Norfolk Community Foundation and chairs Human Library UK CIC.

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