Can you give us a quick overview of BITC and the charities main objectives?
BITC was created in 1982 in response to a period of social unrest, following the riots in Toxteth and Brixton. Businesses, convened by president HRH The Prince of Wales, agreed to take positive action to support local regeneration in economies impacted by business closures and growing inequality. Today, BITC exists to create healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart, offering practical ways for businesses to work together and take action to tackle key societal issues.
What part do you play in the organisation?
I am the Employment Programme Manager for London. I work with businesses to support people who face a range of challenges, such as homelessness, mental health conditions or criminal convictions, into employment. Having a job is still the most effective route out of poverty, so my role is about helping businesses to make their jobs open and accessible to everyone.
Why should businesses be thinking about social mobility?
Supporting social mobility is not just an opportunity to make a positive social impact; it’s also a way for companies to make their business stronger and better because a diverse workforce is a more successful one. For example, the businesses we work with report many tangible benefits from engaging in our employment work, including access to a wider recruitment pool, improved retention rates and development opportunities for their existing staff. As the UK economy heads into uncertain times, it’s more important than ever for businesses to access talent and build a diverse workforce that mirrors the diversity of its customer base.
For you, which companies lead the way in terms of supporting employment and reducing barriers to work?
We work with eight national partners on our employment programme, Ready for Work, including the likes of Marks & Spencer and Carillion, and they all invest a significant amount of time and resource in supporting disadvantaged jobseekers into employment. One company that stands out to me is the magic circle law firm, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Freshfields has been supporting our Ready for Work programme since 2001, and has helped over 70 people into employment. They were also the first law firm to sign up to our Ban the Box campaign – giving people with criminal convictions a fair chance to compete for jobs. Since the legal sector is often believed to lack diversity, I admire Freshfields’ efforts to buck this trend and create opportunities for people from all backgrounds.
What’s the most common piece of feedback you get from employers who work in partnership with you for the first time?
Businesses are often struck by the determination of our clients to succeed, despite the challenges they have experienced.
How do your programmes help businesses build more diverse work forces?
Our programmes give employers a structured means of supporting some of society’s most disadvantaged and socially isolated people back into employment. Through our Ready for Work programme, for example, we work with a network of 150 businesses that provide training, work placements and post-placement support to help people enter employment. In doing so, they gain access to a diverse and highly motivated group of people.
Through our campaigning work we also help businesses to identify and remove any barriers in their recruitment practice that exclude certain people from accessing their roles.
Can you tell us about your greatest success story in supporting an individual into work?
At the end of last year, we celebrated a huge milestone: 4000 clients into employment through Ready for Work, our flagship employment programme. As part of this, we shared truly inspiring success stories, which you can view here: www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/ready-work/4000-lives-transformed
One story that stood out to me is a chap who took part in our Ready for Work programme several years ago when he was really struggling to find work, having spent 5 years in prison. He is now happily employed at Freshfields’ IT department and spoke about his journey at BITC’s leadership Summit in 2016.
What really inspires you?
What inspires me more than anything is the personal development of the individuals coming through the programme. To see someone who has experienced homelessness, long-term unemployment, or any other barrier, go from a place of despair and no hope, to developing a sense of self-worth and confidence makes it all worth it.