New figures show that unemployment has soared to its highest level since Labour came to power in 1997. Catherine Lillington meets just a few who have found themselves seeking work
Ron Hickerton thought his job as a site manager in construction was safe as houses.
Then the 60-year-old, from Kings Heath, lost his job at Chase Midland when the firm went into administration in July.
Today he is just one of the thousands of people in the region who are desperately searching for a new job. But as vacancy numbers fall and unemployment figures continue to rise, it is a depressing scene for Ron.
“I thought I was working in an industry that would never collapse the way it has,” he said.
Since losing his job he has struggled to find a new one and is looking outside his usual line of work in the hope he will find something soon.
After leaving school at 16 Ron took an apprenticeship with Bryant in brick-laying and then moved up to become a site manager.
He said: “We were catching wind of the credit crunch back in January last year that some of these banks were beginning to struggle and there were problems with the funding of our company.
“When it actually happens and you’re made redundant you’ve still got it in your head you just have to try and stay within that sector. Of course, as the months have gone on and the situation gets worse I can see I’m probably wasting my time trying to apply for jobs that are just not out there.
“I’m starting to look at anything, but when you’ve been in a job with some responsibility, it’s difficult. You try and look for a job that’s reasonably paid. That’s how I spend my days now.
“I now find it increasingly frustrating that I apply for maybe two or three jobs a week but do not even get the courtesy of a reply.
“To have to go onto Jobseeker’s Allowance is a shock and something I haven’t experienced before. It wasn’t pleasant.”
The latest statistics released yesterday make grim reading for the many people searching for work.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people searching for a job jumped by 177,000 in the three months to February to reach 2.1 million – the biggest quarterly rise since 1991. The total is the worst since February 1997, a few months before Labour won the General Election.
A raft of other gloomy figures from the Office for National Statistics showed continuing cuts in manufacturing jobs, a record low number of vacancies and the lowest rise in average earnings since 1991.
Paul Henstock worked as a manager at a company which supplied General Motors in America.
The 37-year-old, who is married with three children and lives in Northfield, was made redundant from Coventry-based Cov Press, in January.
At first Paul was looking for jobs he would normally expect to go for but has since had to widen his search, which has knocked his confidence.
He said he had also received no feedback from the interviews he’s been to and little response from vacancies he’s applied for.
He said: “I heard back from Morrisons who are the first people to send a letter. It was telling me thanks for my inquiry but unfortunately they haven’t got vacancies at the moment.
“It was almost a boost. I thought at least somebody’s looked at it and took the time to send a letter back.”
He said his experience of the job centre has been disappointing and he won’t be eligible for the training he wants until he has been unemployed for six months.
He said: “I was very surprised at the lack of interest and there just doesn’t seem to be any help. You’ve really got to go looking for it.
“I live not far away from Longbridge and a lot of my friends were working there when that collapsed. A lot of help was out there for those people and a lot of re-training and advice were offered.”
Plumbing jobs dried up for 47-year-old Brian Martin with the drop in construction work.
Brian, from Castle Vale, found himself jobless last October and thought something else would turn up in a matter of days.
The plumber and pipe-fitter of more than 28 years said: “It’s all gone pear-shaped because of the lack of spending on construction. There’s a lot of work that should have started this year that hasn’t.”
But Brian said it felt as though the jobs he has applied for on the Jobcentre Plus website are “fictitious” because he has heard nothing in return.
He said: “That is what it seems like. I have had no response at all from the job centre nor any of the agencies advertising on there.”
He normally works on jobs for six months and at the fifth month lines up something to move on to.
“This has been more or less a constant of the last 28 years,” he said.
“I’ve always been able to find work. I don’t like to idle, I’ve never done it in the past.”
At the moment Brian is working on a month-long contract he found through word-of-mouth but it is not enough to pay the bills and he expects to go back onto Jobseeker’s Allowance soon.
His wife Christine, who he described as his “rock”, is also off work with Meniere’s disease. She hopes to return to her job as a packer for a catalogue as soon as she can.
Alison Berrill first went into engineering as a schoolgirl to become an apprentice with Land Rover.
Now 20 years later, Alison is jobless for the first time ever and considering a complete change of career.
She was made redundant from TRW Electronics, in Perry Barr, and has applied for Jobseeker’s Allowance, while looking for new work.
Alison, who lives in Dudley, said: “I find myself depressed, feeling like a failure and so frustrated, especially with all the red tape that you have to complete when it comes to banks and paying bills.
“I can’t believe how easily these companies turn their back on you after never missing a payment or ever being out of work before.
“I hope that I will eventually tell a story where my life has turned around and I am positive about my future.”
Her experiences so far include being locked out of the citizens’ advice office in Dudley. She said there were so many people asking for help inside – any more were considered a health and safety risk.
Aaron Gregson feels he is getting nowhere since he lost his job as a client manager at a firm of accountants.
Despite applying for jobs fetching a salary below his previous wage, he said he either gets no reply or is told he is “too qualified”.
Aaron, aged 36 from Redditch, lost his job last October after four years with the company, before that he had worked in banking for ten years up to the level of business manager.
He said: “I applied to work as a Jobcentre Plus adviser and didn’t even get an interview despite 15 years’ experience in customer service and being educated to degree level. I chase agencies but it gets to the stage when they no longer return your calls as they have nothing to offer.”
Aaron has now built up a “defence mechanism” in his search for work.
He said: “Subconsciously you think, ‘if I don’t get this job it’s not the end of the world’.
“People have said losing your job is similar to bereavement. You go through denial at the start and you think you’ll be able to get another job.
“Then I was very low. I had an interview I thought was in the bag and that was the turning point. I had to really dig deep. I passed that stage to acceptance, where you think, ‘this is the position I’m in and I’ve got to get on with it now’.”
Like the others he feels the job centre does nothing to help and he is now considering re-training as a teacher in September, getting work experience at schools in the meantime.
Jennifer James has just been made redundant for the sixth time.
The 59-year-old, from Wylde Green, worked as a PA for a city accountants and had hoped to continue working for another two years.
Jennifer loved her job, liked the people she worked with and wanted to stay. It was a demanding role and she had mastered a steep learning curve towards the end of a career spent working in the financial services.
“Initially I was shell-shocked, I didn’t know quite what to do with myself,” she said. “This last job was one I enjoyed, it was like a community – that was the hardest thing.
“It’s a horrible feeling. It was the best job I ever had. I feel like I’ve been thrown on the scrapheap and it knocks your confidence.”
Jennifer is now looking for a part-time job and is even willing to learn new skills to get it, but overall she wants to take a step back from her previous pace.
Since accepting voluntary redundancy last December, Jennifer has joined recruitment agencies, applied for about 50 jobs and been for two job interviews.
Chris Dean is hoping to start a new chapter in his working life after losing his job at a city centre book store, which closed down last May.
The 23-year-old, who has a degree in English and creative writing, worked at Bookends, in the Pallasades, for 18 months from when it opened as a temporary shop.
Just months after he left university, he said he was “thrown in at the deep end,” spending most of the time running the store. Despite regulars coming in – some three or four times a week – he found out the shop was closing when would-be buyers called.
Chris, who lives in Solihull, said: “I was there even before the shelves were brought in and did really enjoy the job.”
When it comes to finding new work, he is falling down because he is either over-qualified or lacking in training.
He said: “Every time you fail to get something, it gets a little more disheartening.
“I seem to be under or over-qualified. I’ve been asked do I have a problem with working under a manager? I’ve had it several times. People seem to be worried I’m a little bit above what I’m applying for.”
After more than three decades in work, Dennis Rodway lost his job in the automotive trade as the economic downturn hit.
The 50-year-old, from Great Barr, was employed as a manufacturing manager with W H Smith & Sons (Tools), in Minworth, supplying second tier parts to Toyota.
He’s had his CV professionally re-done and looked at re-training, in the knowledge he is up against so many more people for every vacancy advertised.
Dennis, who has been out of work since last December, said: “This is the first time I’ve been unemployed in 30 years and it’s a real shock.”
Normally he would go for roles to suit his strengths as a manager, but feels the only kind of role left would be a hatchet man.
He added: “If you’ve got any predetermined ideas of getting a position which is the same or better you have to throw them out the window.
“As bad as it was when I started work in the late 1970s and early 80s, it never felt like this.
“This shows no sign of getting any better. People who are saying it will last for one or two years are in for a shock.
“The biggest single issue I’ve got at the moment is to stay positive but it gets harder every day.”