For the past few weeks, I have experienced a level of powerlessness I have not known for a long time. The frustration it has caused me and my family has spilled over into other areas of my life.
It caused me to think again of the workplace learner.
My frustration started with something as pleasant as the prospect of our family holiday. We decided to go to Lanzarote, which (for those who don't know) is a Spanish territory, and therefore within the EU.
Because I am married to an EU citizen, I have never before had problems getting a visa to travel in the EU. Things were different this time. The visa service has been outsourced to an organisation which appears to have become a law unto itself.
Previously, because I was already on record at the Swedish embassy, I could apply for a visa through the mail and would receive it within seven days. No problem. This is no longer the case. The requirement now is that I should attend an interview in London and there were no available appointments until after the start of our holiday. When I contacted them to point out the problem this presented, they were utterly unsympathetic. "Reschedule your holiday," was the solution they offered, as if this were the easiest and most obvious thing in the world.
I began casting about for ways to get my visa more quickly when I came across EU directive 38/2004 article 10 which states that, as the (1) spouse of an EU citizen and (2) having indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) in an EU member state, I am allowed to travel anywhere within the EU in the company of my husband for a period of up to 90 days.
I contacted the visa service with this information. They already knew about it, it seems, but they still insist that I need a visa and they are still unable to assist me. So much for another provision of the directive which says that the spouses of EU citizens will be given priority treatment.
I was sure that they were mistaken and tried to contact the Spanish embassy for confirmation. They never answered either their phones or their emails.
My husband and I searched online and found all manner of precedent:
youreurope/nav/en/citizens/ living/entry-procedures/for- family-members-who-are-not- citizens/index_en.html
Consulados/Londres/en/ MenuPpal/Servicios/Visados/ Paginas/novisaenter_services. aspx
We were advised by various sources that it would be illegal to prevent me from boarding the plane and that I should take my original marriage certificate and a copy of the EU directive with me. But I had my doubts about the effectiveness of these pieces of evidence on the person on border control with no authority and a set of rules handed down from on high.
I have made a host of telephone calls and have at last been advised by the border control folks at the UK airport that they will not stop me from boarding the plane. I have also been advised by the folks in Lanzarote that they will not stop me from entering the island.
I don't think I will actually believe it until I am safely ensconced in my villa!
But this saga isn't so very different from the experience of someone trying to upskill in order to be able to do something differently or better in the workplace. We've all been there.
- You're not eligible to attend this course. Yes, I know what the employee's handbook says, but you're still not eligible.
- You can attend this course, but the next one is running in 6 months. You'll have to reschedule that project.
- You need an enrollment key/password to access that material, but we aren't issuing any at the moment.
Or, at least, some of us do. I have never been very good at taking no for an answer. I have pushed back all my life. It's one of my most annoying characteristics. But I have seen 'impossible' things happen. Documents that should take 12 weeks to obtain have miraculously appeared with 24 hours. Jobs that have supposedly been lost have been reinstated. Doctors who are unavailable have suddenly become available. Doors that are supposedly sealed shut have swung wide. Of course, there are times when I deem it best to cut my losses and turn away, but these are conscious choices.
But I am stubborn and bloody-minded.
What about those who are not? What about the more gentle-natured people in the organisation? When they identify a development need and are stonewalled, what are they to do? This is a surefire way to generate a team of 'jobsworths' who punch the clock and look forward to retirement.
I can't bear the thought of willingness to learn going to waste. We simply have to find ways to empower people to access the learning that they need in order to do their jobs and do them well, or to upskill to take on another role, if they so desire.
We need to prise open some creaky doors. Of course, there will be resistance, but that's why there are people like (you and) me in this field: to push back against all that 'no-ness', to ask 'why' a lot until the lack of good reason causes the obstacles to crumble.
Ugh! I'm feeling right rebellious today.