Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

    Getting problem drug users (back) into employment: part two

    Spencer, J, Deakin, J, Seddon, T, Ralphs, R ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8359-2598 and Boyle, J (2008) Getting problem drug users (back) into employment: part two. Project Report. The UK Drug Policy Commission.

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    AIM • The overarching aim of this research was to examine issues relating to the (re-)entry of problem drug users to the labour market, focusing both on barriers to employment and on effective support structures and mechanisms. METHODS • We gathered data to explore the issues from three perspectives: employers, service providers, and problem drug users. • Fieldwork took place in three local case-study sites across England and Scotland. • Employer perspectives were examined through a UK-wide national web survey (135 respondents) and 52 telephone interviews. • Service provider perspectives were gathered through 30 face-to-face and telephone interviews. • Problem drug user perspectives were explored through 26 face-to-face interviews. FINDINGS Getting ‘job ready’ – primary issues • Individual problem drug users need to be motivated to begin the process of getting ready for addressing their primary needs before considering employment itself. • Primary needs are often interwoven and need to be addressed together. • Accommodation must be appropriate to the individual’s stage of treatment. This is critical in providing a supportive and stable environment that is conducive to moving towards employment. • Health issues, including but not restricted to those that are directly drug-related, need to be stabilised. • Practical and emotional support from a variety of sources, both formal and informal, is felt by problem drug users to be essential at this preliminary stage. Seeking employment • There are differing views across all groups concerning whether abstinence or alternatively stabilisation through maintenance prescribing are necessary for moving into employment. These views in turn link to the options for employment that are made available. • There is a process of matching the expectations of problem drug users and service providers regarding suitable employment. Health and drug status play fundamental parts in the types and number of job opportunities available. 6 • Developing a positive and realistic attitude to work, through building confidence and motivation (e.g. undergoing training, volunteering etc.), is an important task for service providers and will ease the transition to a ‘mainstream’ lifestyle. • Service providers found it difficult but vital to locate willing local employers. The fragility of some of these links often made service providers cautious about recommending placements for some higher-risk individuals. Employer perspectives • Employers are generally reluctant to take on potentially ‘risky’ job applicants. Recruitment processes are used in different ways to manage these perceived risks. This can range from ‘blanket’ recruitment policies that rule out employing drug users through to a more discerning individual approach. • A central concern is whether an individual is ‘fit for the job’ in terms of being reliable, capable and punctual. How ‘fitness’ is perceived varies for different employment sectors and company sizes. These perceptions are sometimes mediated by stereotypes and prejudices about drug users. • Some employers identified support needs (e.g. updates on an employee’s rehabilitative progress), while for others it was not relevant. • Regional variations between the case-study sites were minimal among employers but local differences in drug treatment ideologies (e.g. abstinence orientation) could be significant from the perspective of employers. Conclusions and implications for policy and practice • Meaningful employment can be an important part of reintegration into society, bringing with it positive benefits to self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. • Problem drug users can be employable across a range of sectors. • Service providers should recognise that the search for employment is a significant step towards rehabilitation. Once employment is obtained, support must be provided to maintain motivation and to enhance the ‘distance travelled’; this will increase the chances of avoiding relapse. • Different types of accommodation provision need to be available for individuals at different stages of this process. • A range of volunteering opportunities should be made available. • A locally tailored employer engagement strategy should be developed.

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