CIPD Podcast 64 - Pathways back to work: HR's role

Date: 03/04/12 Duration: 00:23:25

This podcast is about how CIPD and Job Centre Plus are collaborating on a mentoring pilot to help young people back to work. Stephanie Bird, CIPD’s Director of Capability, explains the CIPD’s involvement with the scheme and how it works along with Karen Warren HR Manager at Warwick District Council. Julie Lindsay, District Operations Manager Mercia North, Department for Work and Pensions, has been overseeing the pilot scheme. We also hear from John Lindlay, a 23 year old jobseeker with a degree in English Literature who has signed up to the scheme, Tanith Dodge, Marks and Spencer’s Director of Human Resources, who explains the M&S work experience programme and a mentor John Stacey, Executive Director, Project HR.

Transcript

Karen Warren : So what have you been doing since I last spoke to you? What about the jobs that you've applied for since I last saw you?

John Linden: Of the three that we looked at one of the deadline’s for tomorrow so I haven't heard back from them. 

KW: Oh okay.

JL: One of them finished ages ago I think and I haven't heard back from them.

KW: Haven't heard at all? But the one that you've not heard back, you haven't heard anything at all, how do you feel about giving them a call or contacting them?

JL: I don’t like doing that. ((laughs))

KW: Yeah I know that's why I asked you ((laughs)).

Philippa Lamb: John Linden is a 23 year old jobseeker with a degree in English Literature. He's one of the 1.1 million young people now classed as NEETs, not in education, employment or training. He wants a job in publishing but he's having trouble finding work and he's signed up to take part in a pilot mentoring scheme in Coventry run by the CIPD and Jobcentre Plus. The pilot mentoring is open to all CIPD members and so far people from across a range of private, public and not for profit organisations have volunteered as mentors. John is that the tail end of a five week course with his mentor, Karen Warren who’s HR director at Warwickshire County Council.

KW: If we can’t get a job in publishing first off perhaps some volunteering or somebody that you knew that might be able to help.

JL: We talked about last week, my mum’s friend who…she does her own editing, she has her own company. We've just started that, in fact this afternoon, later I'm meeting up with her and…

KW: Excellent.

JL: …and she's going to teach me how to track people’s drafts. 

PL: It’s a ten month scheme that, if successful could be rolled out to other parts of the country.
Stephanie Bird, director of HR Capability at the CIPD explain why the CIPD started the initiative.

Stephanie Bird: It’s been part of what was a call to action if you like for the profession, so don’t just stand there running a commentary on the sidelines, put some skin in the game and get involved and do something and I think it’s a challenge to the profession to actually bring the skills that they have in making a difference to helping people look again at their skills and their capabilities, how they present themselves, how they get into the world of work. So actually making a difference. But I think for us as well it was that thing about changing perceptions of HR people themselves and enabling them to think differently about the people who they could bring into their organisations. So looking again with fresh eyes.

PL: And by all accounts it’s been a real success. Julie Lindsay is the district operations manager for Coventry and Warwickshire Jobcentre Plus and she's been overseeing the pilot scheme.

Julie Lindsay: It’s been going absolutely brilliantly. We're really pleased with it. With my role I actually visit my offices every month. I spend a day with the staff just walking around asking what’s been going on and without exception the personal advisers have all given me really positive feedback about this pilot. They say that the customers are really getting a lot from it. Graduate seems to be particularly mentioned that graduates that come out of university are getting a lot of realistic help from their mentors.

PL: So this is great. I mean I'm assuming it’s the combination of practising HRs who have their employer hat on as well. So it’s not just theory they’re real people who do real hiring and firing and they’re telling it like it is to your jobseekers? 
Julie Lindsay: Absolutely. Yes definitely, yes. And that's what they need really. I mean obviously our personal advisers are there for help and advice as well but I think the real bonus of HR people being involved it’s how it is in the real world. It’s a reality check for people. Some of the customers they might have some skills, they might have a qualification but they actually haven't got any practical experience of what it’s like in the world of work, what they need to do to find work. I think that's where the real bonus is coming from.

PL: John came across the scheme as he was signing on at his local JCP in Nuneaton. So what had you been doing before then?

JL: I was finishing university, I was a recent graduate.

PL: Okay so you’ve never had a paid job, full time job?

JL: Not a full time one no.

PL: Okay. So Jobcentre Plus suggested you get involved. You met with Karen what did you say to him Karen when you first met him?
 
KW: I said to him, “What have you been doing? And what is it you want to achieve? Why do you want to get a job?” because one of the things I tend to do is find out what the drivers are.

PL: And what were the drivers for you, obviously you want a job but what’s in your mind? What sort of job did you have in your mind?

JL: Obviously I wanted to use my degree for something and specifically I wanted to go into publishing with it but it’s very difficult to go straight into publishing after just finishing your degree without really having any experience, background experience. So I suppose we kind of discussed ways of getting into it I think really.

PL: So what sort of skills then was Karen able to help you with?

JL: The big thing for me was the CV and particularly tailoring CVs to specific jobs.

KW: He is a little bit shy I think and he doesn’t like talking…like many people he doesn’t like talking about himself, that's quite understandable. We did a mock interview and he did very well but he's smiling because it took a couple of sessions for me to say, “I'm going to do that interview, we're going to do that interview, we really are going to do it.” 

PL: This mentoring scheme fits into a broader package of measures laid out by the government. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, recently announced that they were directing £126m to get 55,000 NEETs into work. This is all part of the overall Welfare to Work initiative to help nearly two and a half million unemployed people to find jobs. Stephanie Bird.

SB: I think what they’re trying to achieve is real practical ways to help people who are the hardest to reach in unemployment and give them a pathway into the world of work and have a situation where they’d always be better off in work than actually on the benefit system. So I think those two things actually go together. So you've got the incentivisation but also the practical help to take people who probably haven't been in the world of work for quite some time and don’t actually think of themselves as being employed in the workforce and give them tools to get them back into the workplace.

PL: Yes because obviously young unemployed people are very much in the news at the moment but it’s not just about them.

SB: No it’s not I mean young people, the lost generation I think as most people are actually referring to it as do have a very high profile but there are a lot of people who haven't been in work for a long time or who came out of work at a stage in their careers and they also need help back into the workplace. People who have maybe some form of disability, who’ve worked in industries where the jobs are no longer as available and therefore they need to reskill, retrain into other areas of work. So I think there are a whole variety of people who find, for whatever reason, their pathway into work is not clear and who can lose hope about their ability to get back into the world of work and contribute again to society and earn a wage.

PL: And as I understand it the focus is very much in getting people, not just into jobs, but getting into jobs where they will remain.

SB: And that’s where the incentivisation for the providers actually comes in as well. So they only get paid if people do actually get into jobs, so it is outcome focused not just input focused in that sense. But also it’s about people staying at their jobs and staying in jobs for long enough to actually attract those sorts of benefits. So you can’t do a quick fix, you’re in it, you know, a week but then you’re back on benefits again. So there is real incentive for both the individuals and the providers to make sure the jobs are sustainable, that organisations actually work on sustainable jobs in an organisation so it’s not just a quick fix.

PL: But for young people like John there is a raft of opportunities which is great news, JCP’s Julie Lindsay.

Julie Lindsay: Clearly the government has a real focus now on young people and we are about to launch in April a youth offer, a youth contract. Obviously we've been working with these customers for some time and we have got lots of options and opportunities for them already but we're now planning and preparing for a real youth offer for them and that will mean an increased number of apprenticeship places, it will mean a sector based work academy where we're working really in partnership with employers to give some of these customers some training before, you know, get a guaranteed job interview. Where we've started that on a small scale already there's been some real value, the employers actually employing those customers once they’ve had some sort of pre-training. So I think we will see, you know, we've seen from the government a real will to put more opportunities in place and we're already seeing some success from that and it will only increase with the youth offer from April.

PL: For the last seven years Marks and Spencer has been helping hard to reach groups of all ages get back to work. Tanith Dodge their HR director heads up the programme which has helped an impressive 5,000 people so far.

Tanith Dodge: Back in 2004 M & S decided to open our doors and we launched a programme called Marks and Start, which supports people who face real barriers in getting into work and we help them take the first step into employment. Marks and Start is now the biggest company led work experience programme in the UK and Ireland.

PL: How many people are we talking about?
 
TD: We take approximately 700 people each year providing them work experience placements in our stores and offices throughout the UK.

PL: What sort of people?

TD: These are individuals who for a number of reasons face real barriers in returning to work. It could be that they’re homeless. It could be that they’re young people that have never worked and have only experienced unemployment and benefits. Or it could be individuals who are single parent mothers and have faced barriers in childcare returning and it could be individuals who have disabilities.

PL: So if you have a candidate who has been homeless what do you do for them?

TD: Well we work with a number of different charities, the Prince’s Trust, Gingerbread and Reemploy. In the area of homelessness we work with Business Action on the Homelessness so there would be a programme where they would be given support and help in opening a bank account, getting ready to work etc. and then they would have some training and then they would join us for a work experience placement in one of our stores or offices.

PL: Okay so the charities essentially get them work ready.

TD: Yes.

PL: And then they come to you and you give them specific job-related training?

RT: Yes exactly. Yeah that's how it works.

PL: These candidates get roles as customer assistants on the shop floor or even in Head Office in admin or shared services but there are challenges when it comes to employing people from these groups, not just practical ones but psychological issues too.

TD: They lack confidence, they’ve really struggled. Sometimes they’ve been turned down many times when they’ve tried to get work and therefore have got low self esteem and the programme helps them develop confidence, basic work skills and then they come for a placement with M & S.

PL: I'm guessing that some of these people have really what people who have worked regularly wouldn’t think of, really fundamental problems like what to wear, how to organise their finances when they’re actually in work. Do you help them with that sort of thing?

TD: Yes indeed. For example if you’re homeless the chances are that you haven't got a bank account and therefore just having your wages paid into an account can be so overwhelming for individuals so we help them with what to wear, managing finances, building their confidence etc. 

PL: Retaining these people is Marks and Spencer’s top priority and to encourage this they’ve set up their own mentor scheme of sorts. They call it a ‘buddy’ system and it involves introducing each new candidate to an existing member of staff who’s there to offer support and advice.

TD: There are very few people who on their first day when they turn up for work dot find the experience quite overwhelming so if you can imagine you haven't worked for many years that whole experience on your first day and thereon is extremely challenging so we assign each individual with a buddy who has been trained in how to support them, to be there as a coach, as an adviser, to help them with their confidence etc. and one of the great benefits of the buddy relationship is for those individuals they find it hugely developmental and extremely rewarding playing that role.

SB: I think when people start mentoring they think, ‘Oh well yes it’s all one way and so we're going to have to see what we can do and…’

PL: Philanthropy.

SB: Philanthropy that sort of thing but whenever you talk to people who have done the mentoring and I think that's true whether we're talking about this sort of mentoring or actually mentoring in organisations where leaders or managers will mentor other people who are more junior in the organisation the thing that comes through always most strongly is how much they get out of it and I think it is really looking at life through somebody else’s eyes and reappraising again I think your own, your skills, your attitudes, your own behaviours, I think it causes you to examine yourself as well as actually giving mentoring advice to others. So I think mentors find that they themselves have professional and personal development through engagement in mentoring. It’s not without its pitfalls I think I have to say on both the scheme we've actually got in Coventry and Warwickshire or more generally in mentoring but I think it’s very much a two way process.

PL: Learning on both sides?

SB: Both sides.

PL: Stephanie Bird. The mentors at the CIPD’s Coventry scheme are all finding they’re getting more out of it than they bargained for. John Stacey has had years of experience as group HR director for various organisations. Nearing retirement he found he had more time on his hands and decided to share his wisdom through mentoring. On mentee in particular tested his skills.

John Stacey: She had been trying to get a job since last summer and she'd done a very specialist degree course but the problem she was facing was how did she explain to employers about this degree course she'd taken. What do you get out of a science degree? You work very hard because even though it was forensic science it was still a prime science so it was as demanding as physics or chemistry or engineering and to look at what she achieved in that and she demonstrated analytical skills, she demonstrated problem solving. She demonstrated that she had an ability to take in a lot of detail. So we basically turned her CV into a skill set and she then sent the CV out and landed two positions.

PL: So this is a fantastic outcome isn’t it?

JS: It was for her yeah I was quite pleased with that.

PL: Have you learnt from your mentees?

JS: I think what I've learnt is that it can make a difference. It’s almost reversing that round actually so yes I've learnt from them that you can make a difference. They start off being a bit sceptical because they’ve had all this help from other people before and all of a sudden somebody comes along from the CIPD saying, “Yeah we can help you even more.” But they’re a bit sceptical and then you actually learn from them that you've got something you can give to them.

PL: It’s about high calibre assistance though isn’t it? It’s about well qualified experienced people really bringing a very finely tuned focus to each individual.

JS: Yes it is it is focused experience yeah. It’s focusing that experience to help them.

PL: Not only do mentors and mentees benefit but when it’s company wide organisations can see unexpected gains too. Here’s Tanith Dodge.

TD: The stores where we have a number of work experience placements on Marks and Start the employees are so engaged in this programme and they’re really proud to work for a company that takes the responsibility and cares about these individuals and wants to make a difference for them.
 
PL: So this plays into engagement right across people who aren’t involved in the scheme?

TD: It does, it does, it really does.

PL: But engagement isn’t all, there are other business benefits too.

TD: Obviously it’s a valuable recruitment tool for us and you don’t have recruitment fees incurred but more importantly we've found these individuals are so committed to the organisation they really believe that they’ve been given a second chance in life and they’re extremely appreciative of that and therefore incredibly loyal.
So we find their absenteeism is some of the lowest that we see in the business. Turnover’s very low. They’re hugely enthusiastic, hugely dedicated because they’re very grateful they’ve been given another chance.

PL: And great advocates for working at M & S?

TD: Absolutely yes.

PL: After six months about 40% of people who have been on the programme are in meaningful employment either with M & S or another organisation. This plays into the government’s Welfare to Work strategy so it’s saving money all round.

TD: Let’s put it into context based on government figures that show helping just one person move from benefits into the workplace saves around £8,100, Marks and Start has helped save the country over £16m in the last seven years.

PL: So this is an array of benefits isn’t it, financial hard business benefits. You’re saving on recruitment, you get a better retention, lower absenteeism, it’s working it’s saving, the public purse benefits, any downsides?

TD: No I don't think so. Not at all.

PL: Why do you think more organisations don’t do this?

TD: I think many organisations don’t appreciate that there's real benefit so they see it as a burden, not a benefit and I think organisations who do want to do something just don’t know where to start.

PL: So people see it as a charitable exercise which will be a lot of work and maybe not a lot of return do they?

TD: Yes I think that's it.

PL: But that's not been your experience at all has it with a business head on?

TD: Not at all. And our charity partners are great. We couldn’t do it without the charity partners.

PL: According to Stephanie Bird it’s a real opportunity for the profession to make a difference.

SB: Many businesses are still struggling for skills and they do need to look in multiple talent pools for the skills they need to sustain their businesses but I think we can get quite lazy or organisations can get quite lazy and still look in the same old places rather than actually looking much more widely. HR are often also the gatekeepers I think into organisations and the roles in organisations and unless HR take it on and become more innovative in where they’re looking for the skills their organisations need then they really don’t benefit. So I think getting involved in this it’s a way to do something that has both a business but also if you like a moral benefit. So a benefit to society as well as benefit to the business. And often actually to the individuals themselves because I know that people that have got involved in this it challenges their own assumptions about what the unemployed are like and it takes away some of the too ready stereotypes I think that people use, you know, they don’t have the skills, they don’t have the attitude, they don’t have motivation. And whilst that may sometimes be true there are a lot of people who do actively want to get back into the world of work it’s just they don’t know how. 

PL: Marks and Spencer holds an inspirational annual award ceremony giving prizes to the individuals who have achieved the most.

TD: We had one individual who had been homeless for many, many months, they were at a very, very low stage in their life, had lost all confidence, all self esteem, just walked the streets day and night and they went to Business Action on the Homelessness and then they came to us for a work experience and that individual then a few years later had really progressed in their career and is still with us, yes.

PL: That's a good feeling.

TD: Yes.

PL: Meanwhile John is looking forward to getting a job.

JL: I mean at the moment I'm still out of work but I think it’s handy to just pick up ideas and different things you can be looking into and it’s good to get encouragement as well, that's a big thing.

PL: What about you Karen what did you get out of it I mean obviously this is about helping John but I'm imagining it was interesting and rewarding for you too?

KW: It is because I think like many in the profession that I do we have a strong wanting to help and make things right, a real kind of fix it approach.

PL: Do you think John is better placed to get a job now than he was five weeks ago?

KW: Oh absolutely.

PL: That's it for this week. Clearly HR is in a really strong position to help more people get into work. So check out the show notes for information, ideas and guidance on developing apprenticeships, work experience placements and more. You'll find it all at www.cipd.co.uk?podcasts.

We’ll also be looking further into coaching and mentoring at the Annual Learning and Development event HRD, which will be held on April 25th and 26th at London’s Olympia. 

Next month we’ll be hosting a discussion about the new face of corporate responsibility with HR experts from Aviva, IBM and Three Legged Stool Join me then.

 

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