Job Centre Plus chiefs are keen to shake off the organisation's reputation and show it is on a par with any private employment agency. And with the recession, the centres have never been so busy. REBECCA KENT found out for herself
THE effect of the recession has seen anyone from city executives to office cleaners being laid off, many of those finding themselves unemployed for the first time and not knowing what to do.
Headlines screaming of spiralling unemployment figures do nothing to quell anxieties either, but we can take some comfort in knowing that the Government's own one-stop employment shop, Job Centre Plus, is booming in the gloom.
While the organisation pulls out all stops to mitigate unemployment disaster in the face of the meltdown, it is faced with the difficult task of shaking off a stubborn reputation as a hangout for unfortunates forming snaking dole queues.
Job Centre Plus chiefs are keen to point out that now, more than ever before, the organisation is a highly professional outfit, and more than a match for any other private employment agency.
It even works with them as part of its robust approach to get employers recruiting and people back into work.
Sandi Fenswick, the senior partnership manager of Job Centre Plus West London, said: "The market has slowed down, but it's not standing still.
"We have something like 580,000 jobs listed on our database, and our advisors have the tools to get people into work.
"Yes, our registers are rising, and yes vacancies are shrinking, but our absolute focus now is on re-skilling and retraining job seekers so they can compete for what's out there."
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that there are currently 7,594 people or 3.7 per cent of the Ealing population currently claiming Job Seekers' Allowance.
In Hammersmith, that figure is 4,627, or 3.7 per cent.
Twice as many men as women are unemployed in both boroughs and the statistics are expected to get worse.
But if there are more than 500,000 jobs on the centre's database alone, the question on everyone's lips has to be, where are they?
Hospitality, security, retail and administration, according to Mrs Fenswick, and despite shop closures and those on the brink of closure at Westfield shopping centre in White City, it too continues to be a source of jobs for the people of west London.
However, there are opportunities for the highly-skilled, too.
Only weeks ago in Chiswick there were 40 solicitors' vacancies.
Mrs Fenswick said: "Yes, our registers are rising, but people are also coming off our books every day."
The centre puts two thirds of registered job seekers back into work within six months, by various means.
Most recently it has introduced a work experience scheme, whereby job hunters can complete a three week unpaid placement, while still on a Jobseeker's Allowance, with a view to being retained by the company.
McDonald's has recently signed up to this scheme and while it has been criticised as thinly-veiled exploitation of desperate job seekers, no doubt the attitude that a job seeker will do what it takes to get into work again is looked upon favourably by any prospective employer.
Other services offered by Job Centre Plus and its partners include personal advisors who can assess your talents and help with your job readiness, training and up-skilling.
Job seekers are only required to visit once a fortnight, although the longer anyone is unemployed the more time an advisor will devote to putting them back in work.
The cost of travel can even be paid for in some circumstances, and work trials are also an option.
Each centre offers touchscreen job points where those looking for work can navigate their
way through vacancies all over the world, make a print-out of what takes their eye, and either apply direct, or with the help of their advisor.
The organisation is also linked to the network European Employment Services whose website www.eures-jobs.com advertises vacancies across Europe for those who want to try overseas pastures.
When a potential wave of redundancies appears on its radar, a proactive Job Centre Plus team will offer to help retrain and retain employees as an alternative to job losses.
But if a mass redundancy is inevitable, a rapid response team will visit the workplace to register the new job seekers right away.
Employers are also urged to commit to recruiting locally, using interview rooms at their nearest Job Centre Plus if they need to.
And if the companies have vacancies, the centre is crying out to be kept informed.
It costs the employer nothing and will tap into a larger job seeking market than any other agency.
Mrs Fenswick added: "Unlike job agencies, we don't get commissions for putting people in jobs.
"The incentive for us is seeing people's faces when you find them work. It's the most amazing commission you can get."
DON'T PANIC - THAT'S THE ADVICE PROFESSOR CARY COOPER, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University,advises on dealing with the emotional impact of job uncertainty: IF YOU'VE RECENTLY LOST YOUR JOB: First: don't panic. Many people get back into work within weeks.
Let it sink in. Give yourself time to think and consider your next move Take Control. The more control you can take the better you will feel Talk about it. Seek support from family and friends
IF YOU'VE BEEN OUT OF WORK FOR SOME TIME: Don't take it personally. In this environment there's lots of competition for jobs Consider a change of direction. Now may be the time to explore new options Stay active. Volunteer work can help you keep active and boost your self esteem
PAYAND BENEFITS THERE are two types of Jobseeker's allowance The first is based on how much national insurance you have paid in the past two complete tax years before the year in which you make a claim. This can be paid for up to 182 days and is called a contribution based Jobseeker's Allowance.
The other is based on your income and savings and the income and savings of your partner,if you have one. It is called income-based Jobseeker's Allowance Income Support: If you are on a low income or no income and have few savings, you may be able to get income support. You do not need to have paid National Insurance to claim. You must be working less than 16 hours a week or have a partner working less than 24 hours a week.
Job Grant: You may be able to get a job grant when you start work.
This is a one-off payment and you do not have to pay tax on it.
The amount you get depends on your circumstances.
You receive £100 if you are single or in a couple and do not have any children, or £250 if you are a lone parent or in a couple and you have children.
Your council can help with Housing Benefits and Council Tax benefits.