As a nation we are starting to get back to ‘normal’ but what does that really look like, and is it actually normal? Shops are reopening and sport is being played again but the stark reality of the impact of COVID-19 on various aspects of life – employment included – is significant.
At Inspired to Achieve (i2A), which forms part of Radian Group, we work year-round to support people into purposeful employment and our mission as a team has never been more important than it is right now. We are poised to tackle this unemployment crisis head on so that the people we serve can, truly, return to a sense of normality.
The nature of this year’s employment crisis has confirmed what we already believed: there are still many misconceptions around certain roles in certain industries. To really get people into employment we have a duty to change perceptions and help applicants to consider roles they might not have previously.
We know that every role out there is meaningful, but there is a job to be done in ensuring those looking for employment know that too. If we can achieve a positive change in mindset around particular career pathways, then we can go some way to creating work-ready communities that are ready to take on a broad range of new opportunities.
We have a part to play
As a team, focusing not only on skills but community development, we work closely with many diverse and talented communities across the south and south west of England, and we recognise the fortunate position we are in to support many people. To successfully increase employment levels for those communities, we work year-round to cultivate strong networks with partners which enables us to hear about new opportunities that we can put on the radar of unemployed people. By having good connections and being closely linked to communities we can go further to break the cycle of non-working groups.
According to the Learning and Work Institute, unemployment numbers have doubled, and job opportunities have significantly decreased during the COVID-19 crisis. With higher numbers of people looking for paid work we expect to see, on average, nine people applying for every job rather than four (the figure shared from the 2008 recession). With this knowledge it is crucial that we gather labour market information relating to job opportunities and prepare our customers appropriately for the competitive job market.
We are also working hard to raise the profile of supposedly ‘low-skilled’ roles that are essential and highly-valued in our society. This includes customer assistant, cleaning and carer positions. We know these aren’t low-skilled, however there is an inherent belief in some that they are, so it’s our job to engage with unemployed people and change their minds. This work needs to start at school level, and we are engaging with local secondary schools to connect with young people looking at future career options.
How do we change people’s ideas of what certain jobs entail? Alongside providing educational materials, up-skilling and training opportunities and positive language to show that every role is valued, we pilot projects and create meaningful connections with employers.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, Radian piloted a pre-internship project at one of our Independent Living schemes. The pilot gave people looking for employment a chance to undertake a longer-term work placement that gave them a taste of what a support position might entail in a real working environment.
By focusing our attention on schemes like this we are better able to get young people work ready and showcase the value of certain roles. Our approach to this project allows us to look inwards and lead by example: by utilising our services to provide opportunities to gain experience – particularly where they might not exist externally – we can demonstrate how beneficial schemes like this are to external employers.
We also cultivate strong partnerships with employers to appoint employment ambassadors who can attend our workshops and events and provide testimonies of labour market roles that are essential to society. Providing an emphasis on job satisfaction in a range of roles, our customers learn the value of career pathways they might not have previously considered.
In the weeks and months to come we will be focusing on getting communities work-ready. To achieve this, we will focus on up-skilling people, providing training opportunities via our partners and through our own digital offering, and learning more about the people we serve so we can offer viable career pathways that are truly sustainable.
We know that many industries, including construction, suffer from a skills shortage and therefore embrace new methods of delivery. With this in mind, we need to turn our attention to understanding future skill requirements and, once recognised, seek to put training opportunities in place and partner with organisations who can lend expertise that are specific to certain areas. The latest government announcement is heartening and, with it, we hope to see a real increase in opportunities across all skillsets and sectors.
We will also be reaching out to employers because a change in mindset is required there, too. Can we encourage companies to offer long term placements that result in a job or reference at the end of the contract? Can we, together, find new avenues around CV-building and up-skilling? These are areas we will continue to explore. We know the climate isn’t what it was this time last year, but we are confident that we have the tools, resources and, most importantly, the connections, to support many people and increase life-chances for the many not the few.
– Debra Scarratt, Head of i2A, part of Radian Group