My organisation works with long-term unemployed people from various social backgrounds to help those individuals either enter, or re-enter, the workforce.
The community groups we support include single parents who’ve been away from work for several years and are looking to get back in, plus ex-offenders. We also have a significant focus on supporting disabled people.
As an employee-owned company, we get referrals from Job Centres to coach potential candidates and prepare them for employment or re-employment. That sometimes requires us to encourage those people to explore areas of work they may never previously have considered, and to help them build the relevant skills.
In broader terms, though, we provide our participants with some much-needed solidarity as they square up to the often daunting process of engaging or re-engaging with work.
That involves breaking the old recruitment paradigm of placing people as quickly as possible and pocketing that juicy commission. Across all of our contracts, our objective is to hardwire each participant’s journey with longevity, and ensure that the job they end up with is actually right for them.
Our teams observe a shared ethos of always doing the right thing for the individual. Our coaches know all of the people they’re working with intimately – and they’re regularly juggling caseloads of 50 to 60 participants each.
One of our main tasks is to broker conversations with businesses. We have our regulars who are willing to take a chance on people with the sorts of profiles we work with – but there are others who can be persuaded to think outside the norm to make it work.
At its heart, our coaching is about getting someone used to a routine – even if that means placing an individual in a voluntary post. That’s a simple and highly accessible way of saying: “Here’s a flavour of what your routine could look like.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing leadership skills flourish among our staff. We have a couple of dozen first-line managers, some of whom had never done any management or leadership before – and what’s so great to see is how they buddy up and mentor each other, often sharing anecdotes from their past work experiences.
The talking points that come out of that organic knowledge transfer are the sorts of gems that a more formal coaching and mentoring programme might miss. Watching how colleagues work and emulating their behaviour is a habit that we’re very switched on to as an employee-owned organisation, and we’re keen to stress that everyone’s experience is relevant.
For my part, I hold workshops with my team about compassionate leadership, which is one of those buzz-phrases that attracts eye-rolls from traditionalists. But my own experience underpins my investment in it.
I began my career as a young officer in the Royal Navy, then went into the prison service for 16 years – 10 of which were devoted to management and leadership roles, including prison governor. Along the way, I saw my fair share of autocratic behaviour and, as a result, became very “anti-tyrants,” an outlook I define as simply giving people who know what they’re doing the space to perform well.
You can bark and shout at people all day long, but in the end, what are you getting out of it – other than a headache, a sore throat and lots of pushback? From a leadership perspective, it’s been a real gift to have people out there like Simon Sinek, Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia, actively promoting the message, “Hey – let’s maybe not be so horrible to each other.” That certainly aligns with the purpose of a social enterprise – and we are very much based around a culture of empowerment and trust.
My message to employers about the disabled community is, never underestimate what someone will bring to the table. What I’ve seen among our disabled participants is a deep resilience with managing what are, in some cases, quite harrowing conditions – and their will to keep pursuing opportunities regardless is something that I find very humbling.
For me, the disabled community is a hidden trove of often unacknowledged tenacity, typified by a tangible desire to be seen and included. Disabled people can sometimes feel very singled out, and unable to secure a level playing field. But from a leadership perspective, I’ve witnessed people who are going through incredibly tough challenges emerge as some of the most capable individuals I’ve ever seen.
It's an area that I’m eager to build a legacy around, and we’re working with our participants to help change employers’ mindsets.