The award-winning Birmingham charity helps the unemployed get work by dressing them to impress. Their styling and coaching skills are now in demand like never before due to the pandemic jobs crisis
We’ve all been there. Turning up for a job interview hoping to make a good impression and look the part. It’s a fact that most interviewees feel anything but confident as they prepare to face the ‘moment of truth’, even if outwardly they look ice cool and ready to go. The lack of confidence is magnified if you haven’t worked in a while or if you’ve suddenly lost what you thought was a secure job through no fault of your own by redundancy. You can multiply these fears many times over if you’re so strapped for cash that you can’t even afford to buy that outfit you need for your interview.
The good news is that help is at hand. Suited for Success is an award-winning, not-for-profit organisation that does what it says on the tin by providing job-seekers in Birmingham and the West Midlands with the clothing and styling they need to impress at their interviews. As Suited for Success has developed it has grown from much more than a free out-fitters.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The charity now provides full bespoke coaching and preparation for the jobless using a wide network of experts in different strands of business and industry who act as advisers and mentors. This expertise is particularly valuable to those who have to re-skill for new jobs with new challenges.
Suited for Success is run by managing director Patricia White, who herself decided to pursue a different path in life when she quit her journalist job after 10 years at the BBC. “I decided that I really wanted to work in the community and make a difference,” she explains. “I started off by running a food bank in Birmingham and I began to see that beyond help with food, many people needed help in getting back into work but they didn’t have the resources to do so.”
At around the same time a group of young professionals from some of Birmingham’s leading businesses had got together with the idea of giving back to the community. When they heard about Patricia’s successful foodbank project they approached her to see if they could work together to help the city’s unemployed. Patricia started Suited for Success in Ladywood in 2015 and the charity has since provided hundreds of men and women with free high-quality interview clothes, styling and interview preparation skills. Lightly worn suits and smart workwear is donated by professionals in corporate companies, law firms, banks, offices and businesses across the city.
The only criteria Suited for Success insists on is that those they help with clothing are currently unemployed and have confirmation of a guaranteed job interview. “All our clients are given a one-to-one appointment to receive interview coaching and are dressed and styled by our volunteers ready to give a great first impression in their job interview,” said Patricia.
Suited for Success operates with a variety of frontline support agencies that work with unemployed men and women of all ages and backgrounds who are experiencing significant personal barriers and complex issues to gaining employment. To further its mission to support unemployed people who are the furthest away from employment, the charity has developed several work strands as part of its More Than Just a Suit programme with a focus on working with the ex-forces, ex-offenders and back-to-work mums.
Patricia also facilitates training workshops supporting third sector organisations, charities and churches to set-up job clubs and employability projects in their local communities and regularly speaks at events, workshops and presentations about the work at Suited for Success and the social challenges of unemployment.
The charity’s role in helping the city’s unemployed was recognised by the Queen in October 2019 with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK. In July this year, Suited for Success was also crowned winners of the Excellence in the Third Sector in the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Awards. Patricia said: “It is lovely to win these awards but the most important aspect is that the profile they give puts us out there and brings us to the attention of more and more businesses who can help.”
Pre-lockdown Suited for Success was giving bespoke help to about 40 people every week. Patricia is expecting that number to double to nearer to 100 a week from this month as the full impact of the pandemic on jobs becomes clear. Around one-third of UK firms have reported that they will be making substantial redundancies as they get to grips with surviving through the pandemic.
The picture is mirrored in the West Midlands where Patricia said: “We have been experiencing the calm before the storm. We are having conversations with lots of businesses in the city to help support those who will be out of work. I’ve been talking with the likes of Barclays, HS2 and PWc as well as many other companies.
“We know we are going to get really busy from this month once the sticking plaster of the furlough schemes is removed. Many people who never thought they would see this kind of crisis are going to need help navigating their way through it. Together with our partners in business we will help them in every way we can to get back into work and get their life back on track.”