It is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme this year is loneliness. Careers Adviser Angie Aplin has a great deal of experience working with individuals who feel isolated and, often, let down by the system. Here she explains how part of her role is to gain the trust of her customers, and how she uses that trust to support them further. Warning: some of the material in this blog is sensitive, and it includes reference to suicidal feelings. 

Careers Adviser Angle AplinThere’s a significant pastoral element to being a Careers Adviser; read some of our other blogs and it will soon become clear that much of what we do begins with building confidence, breaking down barriers and inspiring people to want more for themselves. Many of my customers feel isolated and powerless, so one of the most important things I do when I support them is to change that by making a connection.

I deliver my support at job centres, at training centres and over the phone, and a lot of the customers I support either have physical, mental health or learning development issues. They sometimes assume that I am going to pressure them into a committed, mandatory and defined outcome. So there’s a large element of trust-building in what I do, and as soon as it becomes clear that I understand their challenges, the tone of conversation changes significantly. The wall comes down and that’s where I start to learn things about my customers that help me to make a difference.

And I do understand some of their challenges. A member of my close family is on the autistic spectrum, has ADHD, mental health challenges and is dyslexic and thanks to my experience of these topics I find it easy to empathise with any customers who have similar struggles. Quite often it becomes a conversation point and I end up discussing coping mechanisms with my clients, which instantly helps them to engage because they know I understand and feel able to freely discuss their concerns and struggles.

Safeguarding the vulnerable

Safeguarding procedures are measures to protect the health, well-being and human rights of individuals, especially vulnerable or young people, so they can live free from abuse, harm and neglect. I occasionally have to initiate safeguarding protocols, which is part of how I deploy my statutory training when working with customers.

These include a variety of actions from filling in paperwork, recording the advice I provide to them (this could be directing an individual to MIND or even The Samaritans and seeing their GP) and communicating with a safeguarding lead to ensure my customer is on file. A safeguarding lead will make an assessment and determine whether to involve other specialist services such as social services, and I follow up with a call to my customer.

I did so recently for a young man on the autistic spectrum, who was a closed book when I first met him. He appeared superficially confident but when it came to getting a job, there were lots of barriers in his way and I could see his confidence was a mask. When I gained the trust of this individual it was clear that he was very low. He told me he was thinking of “giving up completely”. I have heard these sorts of sentiments before and we were able to discuss his feelings in some depth. It soon became apparent that he was thinking of ‘ending it all’.

He felt consistently let down by institutions such as his school and his GP and felt that without a job there was no point to his existence. This is the reality, sadly, for some of the people who have been referred to us for advice. I have worked with customers who unfortunately are vulnerable, disadvantaged and unable to find work without help. Part of the action plan created for this individual included advice about how to articulate the severity of his situation to his GP, something he had struggled with historically. I advised him not to be afraid to be brutally honest and to express his true feelings.

The following day the individual spoke to his GP and was promptly put on medication, which he had been against using in the past but which will hopefully help him. More recently I spoke to a woman struggling with HRT and menopause, and we had a long chat about how it makes her feel. A listening ear and empathy can make a big difference to my customers because they immediately feel less lonely.

Growing confidence

The pandemic meant a lot of people who have never experienced unemployment before were suddenly having to think about their CV and other job searching skills. For some of them it’s been demoralising—many of the 18-24-year-olds I see have anxiety—and my customers need a boost in confidence as much as they need careers advice. There are plenty of confidence courses available to them, but the Catch-22 is that they may lack the confidence to join these courses. This is where a support network can make a big difference to a person: I encourage my customers to talk to their GP, friends and family and to use mental health support groups like the NHS IAPT service and its courses about stress and anxiety. For people on the autistic spectrum, the National Autistic Society is a great resource for sharing coping mechanisms.

The challenges my customers face are often deep and can’t immediately be resolved within the time frame we have to work with these individuals. However careers advice can be part of a wider plan, and it’s the plan that makes the real difference. The process of careers advice involves discussing your ambitions, and that can provide some useful focus and actions, such as recognising the value of voluntary work in helping to break into a competitive sector, and gaining confidence on a personal and professional level.

There are many routes to success

Gainful employment can transform people’s outlook on life, their sense of self-worth and mental wellbeing. But early education lets many people down, often treating success in academia as indicative of future success and leaving people with challenging backgrounds or neurodivergent conditions feeling invalidated when they don’t ace their GCSEs. I help people to recognise that there are numerous routes to success in life, sometimes using my own career as an example: it involved lots of adult vocational training and qualifications rather than a strong sense of what I wanted to do from the outset and gaining the expected academic results at school.

Many young people have experienced hugely compromised education during the pandemic, missing out on opportunities to socialise, gain work experience or network with employers. I hope employers recognise their resilience and pay attention to whatever good things they have managed to achieve despite the odds being against them over the last couple of years, whether that’s completing projects while socially distancing, gaining whatever work experience they can and by being isolated and simply showing resilience and determination during such a challenging time.

My advice to any student during the COVID-19 pandemic when writing a CV with more limited experience is to think laterally about their achievements over the last couple of years. How can you demonstrate resilience, determination, success and resourcefulness? How did you manage your education or work throughout the pandemic and what skills did you need to get through it?

Where you are today is not who you are. There are exciting challenges and opportunities ahead, you just might need a little help to find them.

Get started by looking at the support we offer.


Adviza is proud to offer staff a platform to share their views on a wide range of diversity and inclusion topics and acknowledges that these are, as they should be, many and varied. We champion equality and diversity which means all views are welcome.

Our vision is for all young people and adults to make better decisions that help them achieve their full potential. That includes following the path that makes them happy and being the most authentic version of themselves.

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