Catherine Sermon, Employability Director at Business in the Community reflects on the Big Ticks, Highly Commended and Winning entries to the Work Inclusion Award 2014
We have thankfully started to see a reduction in overall unemployment in the UK. Yet long-term unemployment remains high. In May 2014, the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance for more than three years was over 57,000 – an 11-fold increase since 2010.
It could be easy to be distracted by the green shoots of recovery, but many companies continue to recognise the barriers that stand in the way of numerous jobseekers; often excluded from the labour market due to experiences such as homelessness or addiction, a significant lack of skills or a criminal conviction.
Through the Work Inclusion Award, we have recognised a number of these businesses that support people from disadvantaged groups into employment or improve their employability skills, and have awarded them with the accolade of a Big Tick.
So what have we learnt from this year’s Big Ticks?
Our Big Tick achievers represent eight sectors including housing, construction, retail and pharmaceuticals. Across these diverse sectors’ successful award entries, a number of themes emerge:
- The mechanisms of support are similar:
Companies are supporting people through a range of training, work placements and mentoring. These interventions are selected and tailored to meet the often complex needs of participants and provide the practical skills and direct experience of the workplace that they value. A detailed understanding of the barriers faced by the programme’s target group is the key to selecting the activities needed.
- But focus, depth and breadth of support is dependent on sector:
Despite the similar support mechanisms, programme delivery is tailored to the environment in which it’s delivered. Setting clear targets within the limitations of the business has helped these companies to define what success means for them. For example, retailers such as The Co-operative Group have created large-scale programme providing numerous employment opportunities across national operations, whilst Scottish Power concentrates on longer-term pre-employment work with a small group of young people facing disadvantage in its local area.
- For all, integration and support across the business is key:
Success for our entrants has been a result of cross-company commitment to support disadvantaged groups into employment – from the boardroom to line managers, right the way to the volunteers who support participants through their training. Not only have these companies overcome stereotypes and negative perceptions to support the people that most need their help, they also recognise the positive returns to their business such as staff development and reduced recruitment costs.
This year’s Work Inclusion Award winner achieved this and more.
Although competition was tough, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP was unanimously voted this year’s winner – recognised for their pioneering activity to reduce barriers to work for people with criminal convictions.
Since 2001, Freshfields has worked in partnership with Business in the Community’s Ready for Work programme to offer work placements, job coaching and training to more than 250 participants from disadvantaged groups. It’s the bold steps that the firm has taken in the past few years, in particular to increase employment opportunities for ex-offenders, which led to its selection as the Award Winner by a judging panel made up of five MDs and CEOs from across several sectors.
In 2013, 57% of our Ready for Work clients in London with convictions completed placements at Freshfields, with some going on to secure employment at the firm.
Alongside their successful programme activity, Freshfields became the first law firm to change their mainstream recruitment practice to ensure that candidates are assessed on their skills first, rather than excluded because of an unrelated criminal conviction. The firm’s public commitment to Ban the Box has become a call to action for the legal sector and beyond.
More barriers remain to be broken down.
Our Big Tick achievers and Award Winner demonstrate the successful role that businesses can play to support people from disadvantaged groups into employment. Individuals’ complex and varied needs can be met through the right support and interventions; lives are changed as a result.
However, it is evident that long-held, negative perceptions of challenging issues such as convictions, addictions and homelessness remain strong for many people. This year’s successful Award entrants highlight the truth behind some of these stereotypes, and the valuable talent to be found.
By continuing to share their knowledge and expertise, I’m sure that all our Big Tick achievers will inspire and help other employers to break down the structural and cultural barriers to employment for disadvantaged groups just as they have. Find out more about each of these programmes.
For more information about what BITC can do to support your business on this issue, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.