Can business really change the employment landscape?

Lauren O'Leary, Head of Employee Volunteering and Employability, reflects on the current state of the jobs market and what responsible businesses can do to support people into sustainable employment.

It's been a big month for employment news in the UK.

In the summer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced the creation of a ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) which will be set at £7.20 per hour for workers aged over 25 from April next year, with it rising to over £9 per hour in 2020.

In addition, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that average pay rose by 2.9% in the three months to July, compared to a year ago. That’s the strongest growth rate for regular pay (excluding bonuses) since 2009.

Last week, the UK’s employment rate was released to much fanfare. Leading economists calculated that the number of people in work across Britain rose by 42,000 quarter-on-quarter to 31.09 million, which leaves the employment rate little changed at 73.5% - a record high.

The complete picture on UK employment

This is all welcome news as we inch closer to the holiday season, but we cannot be complacent. Rising employment figures, whilst a positive sign, do not present the complete picture.

Youth unemployment has only fallen by one per cent, barely shifting for a year; we are in the midst of a housing crisis across the UK; changes to the benefits system are adversely affecting millions; and work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.

How can BITC help?

Business in the Community (BITC) has been committed to tackling unemployment and helping companies realise their power to affect change since our inception in 1982.

We want to work with businesses to bust misconceptions about unemployed workers as scroungers and benefit cheats. Of course, there are many different reasons why people recieve unemployment benefits, but the vast majority of people that I meet through the Ready for Work programme are desperate to be in secure and sustainable employment.

We also want to give companies the tools they need to support their employees in career progression and to develop policies and procedures that enable individuals to access work on a level playing field. We want to educate corporates on the significant difficulties that being unemployed presents, not just for the individual but on their families, friends and wider society.

At BITC, we challenge our member companies to work collaboratively to address systemic issues surrounding employment, including zero-hours contracts and other forms of insecure labour. Corporates have the opportunity to form networks and create innovative solutions to provide for their communities.

We want businesses to engage their staff at all levels and explore the many benefits that supporting people into employment can bring to their bottom line.

Ready for Work and the power of responsible business

We know from experience that changing recruitment practices can develop a new talent pipeline or fulfil Social Value Act obligations. We’ve seen businesses transform into diverse and inclusive workplaces and reap direct financial benefits as a result.

Over the last fourteen years, we have received a tremendous amount of support from the companies that engage in BITC’s Ready for Work programme to change the lives of disadvantaged Londoners.

Companies like Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have completely changed their stance on the employment of ex-offenders. And others, such as Wragge Lawrence Graham and Co, Society, and Guidant Group have all shown their commitment by providing valuable work placements and encouraging their staff to volunteer as job coaches.

It’s thanks to support from our network of business partners, that we’ve seen more than 40% of participants on the Ready for Work programme secure employment over the last 5 years and sustain those jobs. The difference we make in London cannot be achieved without corporate support.

So, can business really change the employment landscape? Absolutely. Business can, should and must do more to create a truly fairer society.

You have a choice – we all do.