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supporting welfare to work providers

Business First approach

Section image for Engaging with employers - miniature plastic man and woman walking around cog shaped shadows on the ground towards an employer

A ‘business first’ approach to job placements

A ‘business first’ approach to job placements means finding out first what employers want and what they are thinking.

Business first approach

  • Ensuring your employer-link staff have a background in or a good understanding of a particular sector and the skills needed.
  • Involving employers in the placement process so they are on your side and working with you.
  • Designing trouble-free processes that give employers what they want, including carrying out effective candidate screening / sifting (so employers see only the suitable candidates) and brokering training solutions.

One way of looking at this is to treat the employer as the customer and the jobseeker as the candidate. This is the approach which Remploy now takes to placing people with disabilities. The whole ‘business first’ approach has recently been tested out in two projects – in the care and security sectors – as part of a South East Region older workforce programme, 40-70 Tomorrow’s Workforce. This approach has resulted in a placement rate of 60 per cent in one sector and an expected placement rate of 50 per cent in the other, mainly of one-year-plus unemployed jobseekers.

This case study of how to build a successful relationship with one employer may be of interest.

Case study 1: employer engagement (Vedas)

Vedas is a commercial recruitment agency which also provides back to work programmes funded by the European Social Fund and the Working Neighbourhood Fund. There is a strict division between its commercial operations and funded programmes.

Through its Working Neighbourhood Fund programme, Vedas supplies all staff to BCW, an advanced engineering company producing parts for the automotive and aircraft industries. The relationship between Vedas and BCW dates back several years to BCW’s foundation as a small family business with just three employees and one machine. Today the company employs more than 100 people with Vedas helping to fill a wide range of roles from managerial to shopfloor positions.

Lesley Burrows, Managing Director of Vedas, stresses that the relationship with the employer is just as important as that with the job applicant. She believes that the basis of a successful relationship with an employer lies in understanding their business and staff needs. This involves initial research into the industry sector, company background, business plans and potential growth.

Vedas and BCW are in touch every day. Vedas attends regular strategic and recruitment planning meetings. They are also in contact with BCW’s external training partner.

BCW’s ethos is to offer employment opportunities to people who may find it difficult to find work elsewhere. These include the long-term unemployed and people aged 50+. BCW Manager Trevor Cassie says that as a result, they have a very committed workforce: “We need to invest a little in our people; they might need more support at the beginning but it pays off. Ninety-five percent of the employees we get through Vedas succeed at BCW.”

Vedas provides both induction and ongoing support to people joining BCW. Their personal development plans include goals which extend into employment. Vedas monitors their progress and helps address issues and concerns as they arise.

This case study illustrates a ‘business first’ brokerage approach.

Case study 2: employer engagement (Skills for Security)

Skills for Security is the industry body for the security sector. It took employer demand as its starting point in a ‘business first’ brokerage approach to placing unemployed people in the Thames Gateway area. It appointed a former senior manager in the industry as a broker, who, from personal experience, had a close understanding of recruitment, skills and retention issues being experienced by the industry.

A significant amount of pre-employment advice was provided, including explaining the training requirements and realities of work in the security industry. The broker also provided employers with a candidate screening service which meant that the candidates for vacancies were more likely to be well motivated and suitable. Many potential candidates had preconceived ideas about the nature of work in the security industry which needed to be challenged. A literacy and numeracy test, followed by a screening questionnaire, were also used to assess candidates’ suitability.

The broker arranged an industry-specific training package with an organisation, ATS, through which it was possible to draw on public funding. Successful completion of the training enabled candidates to be licensed for work in the industry. All received one week’s initial training and were then matched to employers with vacancies. They received further training of up to two weeks once they were in work. The broker made an arrangement with the Jobcentre Plus district whereby candidates were able to undertake their industry-required training in one block rather than being caught by the 16 hour a week rule.

Specialist knowledge of a specific sector was crucial to the success of this ‘business first’ approach, as this helped to gain the trust of employers as well as ensuring that appropriate candidates were referred to them. Effective screening of candidates was critical, as was arranging skills training (drawing on existing funded programmes) and brokering flexible application of the benefit rules with Jobcentre Plus. A placement rate of 20 per cent was achieved in the face of a big drop in the security industry vacancy rate during the recession: Skills for Security considers a placement rate of 50 per cent to be achievable in normal conditions.

A natural step is to consider what sectors/occupations have vacancies locally. See this case study for how one provider approached this.

Case study 3 : employer engagement (RBLI)

RBLI is a prime contractor for the Pathways to Work programme. It identified the care industry as a sector with substantial unmet recruitment needs and the Sussex and Kent south coast as having a high concentration of care homes. It took employer demand as its starting point in a ‘business first’ approach to welfare to work.

RBLI appointed a dedicated broker who developed a close understanding of the recruitment, skills and retention issues being experienced by 39 care employers in the area. The broker identified that these employers had been swamped with large numbers of Jobcentre Plus customers, many of whom had no particular motivation to work in the care industry. She obtained the agreement of a number of employers to participate at an early stage in the recruitment process in presentations about the realities of working in the industry at group sessions of potential recruits. This, together with other more direct screening processes, meant that the actual candidates for vacancies were more likely to be well motivated and suitable and so more acceptable to employers.

The broker made arrangements for candidates to receive a three-day pre-employment training course with Working Links, which had a European Social Fund-funded pre-employment training programme. She also arranged with local Train to Gain providers for candidates to be trained to industry standards, if accepted for a job.

This case study reflects RBLI’s employer-focused approach in its own mainstream services: ‘our professional integrity and commitment to maintain high quality customer focused provision means we can be relied upon to only put forward candidates with the right skills, aptitude and attitude to succeed in the employer’s workplace’ (RBLI brochure). It demonstrates the benefits of locally specific, sectoral solutions achieved through well thought out brokerage. Employer engagement has been achieved by treating employers as the customer, involving them cost-effectively in the initial stages of the recruitment process and supporting them to develop better recruitment and retention practices. Employer trust in the broker and effective screening of candidates were critical, as were brokering work preparation and skills training. As a result, a high placement rate of 60 per cent was achieved.

But also check out which employers have signalled in some way that they might be positive about recruiting 50+ candidates.

Employers who have signalled in some way that they might be positive about recruiting 50+ candidates

  • Age Positive employers
  • Members of the Employers Forum on Ageing
  • Signed up to a Local Employment Partnership with Jobcentre Plus
  • Investors in People accredited
  • Made the Skills Pledge
  • Have the ‘two ticks’ disability symbol
  • Won any awards for policies and practices relating to their 50+ workforce

See Useful links.

For further ideas on the job placement process look at this ‘business first’ checklist.

Checklist for working together on a ‘business first’ approach to 50+ placement

  • Staff who link with employers and those working with jobseekers share information on what sectors/occupations have vacancies locally
  • Assess characteristics of current 50+ jobseekers and occupations they could do
  • Think through what employers want and the benefits of employing 50+ people
  • Agree which sectors and occupations to target locally. Consider including:
    • The care sector: likely to have vacancies for which some 50+ customers would be suited
    • The security industry: often keen to recruit more mature candidates
    • Large retail companies: some have made a point of recruiting older candidates
    • Financial services industry: older customers prefer discussing borrowing and other needs with staff of a similar age
    • Customer services including call centres: attributes of 50+ staff such as patience, friendly manner and willingness to talk through things may be of particular value
  • Check out which employers have signalled a positive attitude in some way
  • Nominate employer link staff to lead engagement strategies for particular target sectors
  • Explore with a number of employers in a particular sector:
    • What their recruitment needs are and problems in meeting them
    • Attitudes to employing 50+ people and benefits of doing so
    • Whether their own selection processes might be screening out suitable candidates eg by sifting by qualification rather than aptitude
    • What would persuade them to look favourably at 50+ candidates – eg brokered training solutions
    • Whether they would consider flexible working, job sharing or other things which might suit some 50+ candidates
    • What recruitment support they need and how to it could reduce recruitment costs
  • Involve some willing employers in designing and participating in recruitment processes by:
    • Employers helping draw up the pros and cons of working in the sector
    • An employer speaking to groups of 50+ candidates about working in the sector and challenging any preconceived ideas they might have about it
    • Employers helping design sector-specific sift criteria which don’t exclude 50+ candidates
  • Carry out candidate matching and screening processes employers can trust and which avoid making superficial assumptions about what individual 50+ candidates might be able and willing to do (e.g. ‘she’s a woman so she’d be good in a care home’)
  • Broker training solutions (maybe publicly funded). These could include industry-required training and qualifications and flexibility in benefit conditions if block training is required (eg before taking up a job in the security industry)

This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.