Going back to work
An early, and important decision you’ll need to make is what work do you wish to do?
You might want to pick up where you left off. However, particularly if it’s a long time since you were last employed, starting again where you left off might not be an option.
Alternatively, you might want to use your return to work as an opportunity to change direction and enter a new line of work. You can find out more about sources of information and help with looking for work here.
For some people with HIV, it’s not a question of 'returning' to work, but of entering the workplace for the first time.
Whatever situation you’re in, there’s a good chance you’ll need some training to help you prepare, both practically and mentally, for work.
To gain new skills or experience, you might want to think about doing some voluntary work or enrolling on a course of study or training.
Volunteering can provide an opportunity to gain new skills and at the same time gain a familiarity with working conditions. The routine of volunteering can also help simulate the routine of working, and, if you are volunteering in an area similar to the one in which you’d like to work, it can provide an opportunity to discover if this really is something you’d like to do.
Many people find that volunteering helps boost their self-confidence and acts as a useful bridge back to work. It may also be a way for you to get a reference from somewhere you've worked recently.
Volunteering England is a good starting place to find out more about what volunteering might offer you, the sort of commitment you might need to make, and how to go about finding voluntary work in your area. You can also approach your local volunteer centre.
Training and studying
To gain employment in your area of interest, it might be necessary to gain specific skills or a qualification. Colleges and universities around the country have part-time study opportunities for adults, ranging from open access courses with no entry requirements to higher degrees.
As well as equipping you with skills and qualifications, studying can help focus your attention on what job or career you’d like to undertake, and build your confidence.
Jobcentre Plus advisers can help you identify any training needs you might have and to choose the right course for you. There are some work-preparation programmes specially designed for people with health problems and they will be able to tell you about these or you can find out more here. You may be eligible for the New Deal for disabled people (for those getting a benefit to do with their health), the Job Introduction Scheme or Workpath programmes.
Learning and Skills Councils can help you with finding out about local eduation and training opportunities if you think you might need some training to increase your work options. You can find out how to contact your local LSC at http://www.lsc.gov.uk/.
Learndirect provides a wide range of flexible, online training courses that you can do at a learndirect centre or at home – or anywhere you can have Internet access. You can find out more here or by contacting learndirect on 0800 101 901, by email or by letter.
Help with applying for jobs
Local job centres and some HIV organisations can help you develop or enhance your job application and interview skills.
Jobcentre Plus (part of the Department for Work and Pensions) is the key government agency providing advice and help for people looking for work (as well as financial help for those who cannot work). Jobcentre Plus can offer you a lot of help and advice on finding a job, applying for it, going to an interview and starting work, whatever your circumstances.
You can get a lot of information and advice from the Jobcentre Plus website at http://www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk/. You can read and download written advice, including a Job Kit for people looking for work, search for a job online or you can speak to an adviser. You can also get advice about training or retraining for work, and about considering self-employment.
Jobcentre Plus can also provide advice on a lot of issues you might face in thinking about returning to work, such as getting financial help during the process, or managing concerns about housing or childcare. You can start finding more information here.
Jobcentre Plus has specialist personal advisers who work with people with a health condition. They will help you think about whether you are ready to go back to work, whether you will need any training and how best to look for work. If you decide you are not able to work at the moment, Disability Employment Advisers can talk to you about any benefits you may be entitled to. You can find out more about these services here.
The National AIDS Trust (NAT) produces a booklet called Advice for Job Applicants with HIV, which you may find useful. It covers the issue of if, when and how best to disclose your status to a potential employer. You can download it here.
There are services that offer free, independent career planning and information services to people of all ages:
Careers Advice Service 0800 100 900
Careers Scotland 0845 850 2502
Careers Wales (learndirect) 0800 100 900
There is an official graduate careers website called Prospects for university graduates looking for work.
The impact of returning to work or study
If you left work a number of years ago, or have never worked, the prospect of getting a job can be daunting. Your confidence might be low, you might feel left behind or deskilled. Although you may be able to go straight into full-time employment, a more realistic plan might be to undertake some part-time work, either paid or voluntary, or study, and find a working balance that suits you.
The impact that working or studying can have on your benefits can be a real worry. Many people with HIV have reported being in a 'benefits trap'. If you qualify for the maximum rate of benefits, you might actually be financially worse off if you return to work, unless the job is very well paid.
You might also be deterred from thinking about work or study because you are uncertain about how long you’ll remain healthy, or are worried that working might damage your health.
You can find out more about sources of advice and help with thinking about work here.