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"Let's find some jobs for people"

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Project Displaced founder and driver, Ant Cohen, is passionate about helping people.

We interviewed him about his inspiration for starting Project Displaced, his vision, and his desire to share his knowledge and expertise with others.

Project Displaced is a free service. Let’s talk about that first. What does it mean?

From the beginning, my vision has been to give people the very best help when they need it.

We were set-up precisely to help people who had lost their jobs, who were facing an uncertain financial future, who had responsibilities like mortgages, credit cards, school fees – putting food on the table.

So charging people at such a distressing time was never an option.

An altruistic service in today’s world? It almost seems too good to be true.

Interestingly, offering a free service can deter people from using us. We’re trained to believe that if something is free it’s either too good to be true, or it’s not good.

But we have the highest-calibre volunteers – they’re serious movers and shakers in their day jobs. Like me, they just want to help people, to ‘give back’ as thanks for their own fortunate situation through volunteering. They also recognise that this situation can happen to anyone through no fault of their own. They volunteer for the right reason – to help.

And then there’s the other idea – that people don’t want to be seen as a charity case. They think ‘there are people who deserve it more than me’.

What do you say to them?

Firstly – everyone’s worthy. You don’t have to sit back and suffer just because you believe someone else is more ‘worthy’ than you.

If you are worried about ‘taking’ the service from someone else you think needs it more, don’t be. We have many volunteers who just want to help and support you.

Think of it this way: If you saw someone being swept away in a rip at the beach, would you not try to help? If you’re a very strong swimmer, you might swim out to help them. If you’re not, you might call lifesavers or 000. You wouldn’t leave them to drown.

No matter who you are, if you’ve lost your job, we have someone who can help you find the next one.

So how did Project Displaced come about?

It was mid March 2020, just after COVID really took hold in Australia. It was 2am, and I was lying there thinking – how are all these people going to cope with what’s about to happen?

At the time I was mainly thinking about airline and arts people, these are my family. So I was wondering, how will they get food on the tables? As a corporate person, I’ve been through the situation of losing my job through redundancies and restructuring, and it’s not pleasant.

Most people I know have never been through this.

So I started a job board. My focus at that time was helping people survive.

At what point did you think – there’s more here.

Very quickly! One of the first people to get in touch, Rachel Mansfield, said she was being overwhelmed with requests for help and asked me to reach out to my network. And the response from HR experts was so quick, we realised there was something else here rather than just a job board.

On 1 July, we started offering nine core services like helping people with their resumes, their LinkedIn profile, interview tips, and some of those are still in place today.

How did it grow?

In October, with the prolonged effects of the pandemic, I realised we needed services to help with mindset and mental health, and model it to Kübler-Ross 5 stages of grief model.

Then, as we started to get more people jobs, we realised there was a whole range of people who needed different help. Some had been working in their industry for many years, and needed help with transitioning into a new industry and the next phase of their life. There were flight attendants and musicians who were asking us questions like ‘how does an office work?’ and ‘how do I manage office politics?’, so we started to offer free weekly webinars on a range of subjects like how to write the perfect resume, and how to transition into a new role and impress your new boss in the first 90 days of a job.

This is probably the best webinar we’ve run. They’ve got a job and they’re really excited about starting, they just need a bit of guidance.

Why do people of such a high calibre so willingly volunteer for you?

We’ve have more than 70 active volunteers, I’ve met about 5 of them in person.

Every single person has said, ‘I want to give back’, ‘I believe in your mission and I want to help’, ‘I have skills that can help people’, or something similar.

It humbles me. Seeing so many people doing something for the greater good – it’s incredibly inspiring.

What does your day look like?

In the beginning I would start at 6am and finish at midnight, and I’d cycle through every aspect of building Project Displaced, from web development, fundraising, setting IT. In my jobs, I’ve always been able to call IT or Finance, and get a specialist to sort out my issues. I had to do it all myself. But fortunately my days now are a lot better because there are a lot of people who jump in and help me.

I’m still knee deep in operational work, but I also have time to be more strategic about how we can help more people.

What’s your vision for Project Displaced?

My hope is that we are around for the long term. People will always need what we offer, even once the pandemic subsidies. I have learned that we offer a level of care for job seekers and a level of professional advice that is not commonly available. I want to make sure that everyone who is jobless has access to us if they need us.

The other defining aspect of Project Displaced is that we can help people who don’t fall into traditional groups, for example, people who don’t qualify for government support payments.

Being a no-charge service means we can help more people.

On a practical side, I want us to be able to be self-funding and able to scale to the point where we can help even more people than we do today.

Project Displaced is the Winner of Most Outstanding Start-Up for 2021 in the Sydney City Business NSW Awards.

If you have lost your job, or you know someone who needs help – please check out Project Displaced’s services. Join the hundreds of people who have found work through this service. (And yes, it’s free. And yes, it helps people. Check out the testimonials and our blog for the stories from people who have took the leap and celebrated success.)

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