Unipart Group on the future of outstanding employment

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Frank Nigriello, Director of Corporate Affairs and Deborah Astles, Corporate Responsibility Director at Unipart Group, consider the employment and skills challenges and opportunities facing responsible businesses

Unipart Group provides manufacturing, logistics, and consultancy services across the globe, employing over 6,000 people. Since it began in 1987, Unipart Group has been recognised for its leading role in shaping management thinking. Its employee share scheme, stakeholder partnership programmes, and The Unipart U, one of the first corporate universities in Europe, led to Unipart being called a beacon for responsible business.

A Business in the Community (BITC) member since 2007, Unipart Group is committed to embedding responsible practice and behaviour across the business, including through its proprietary business system, ‘The Unipart Way’, which is described as a philosophy of working underpinned by tools and techniques to continuously improve.

Having sponsored BITC’s Outstanding Employment Responsible Business Award category for a number of years, colleagues at Unipart have been thinking deeply about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what it means for responsible employers. In this article, (one of a series of three to be published by BITC this month) Frank Nigriello, Director of Corporate Affairs, and Deborah Astles, Corporate Responsibility Director, consider some of the employment and skills challenges and opportunities facing responsible businesses right now.

“We know that young people have been particularly adversely impacted by the pandemic,” says Deborah, “and it goes without saying that UK businesses are going to need to play a pivotal role in supporting young people into employment as we recover.”

To help secure future talent pipelines, Unipart suggests that outstanding employers take a rounded approach to their recruitment and development planning, considering not only the kinds of skills young people will need to build to thrive at work, but also the kinds of challenges they may face in accessing the job market.

For its part, Unipart is working hard to upscale both its approach to developing existing employees, and to expanding its recruitment pipelines. “We need to make sure that we’re reaching out to every part of society, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but actually because it’s the sensible thing to do economically,” Deborah says.

We need to make sure that we’re reaching out to every part of society, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but actually because it’s the sensible thing to do economically

Deborah Astles, Corporate Responsibility Director, Unipart Group

To support this ambition, Unipart has embraced the Kickstart scheme, launched by the UK government in September 2020. Kickstart provides funding to create new job placements for 16 to 24 year-olds on Universal Credit, who are at risk of long-term unemployment. The placements run for six months, and further funding is available to provide training and support to help young people progress towards future employment.

“The beauty of Kickstart is the meaningful experiences it brings to young people, and the confidence it gives them when they’re going forward in their careers whilst also providing vital real-world experience at a challenging and unstable time,” says Deborah.

“Our starters will also have the experience of what it’s like to work from home, something particularly valuable as potentially, this is the reality of the world of work that the next generation will embrace.”

To help prepare the way for its new ‘Kickstarters’, Unipart is channeling resources and planning into its digital capabilities, so that they can help participating young people feel embedded in current digital platforms and processes and can be equipped with skills to last a lifetime.

“The level of interest that we’ve had across Unipart in offering placements has been absolutely fantastic,” Deborah continues. “I’m really excited about the opportunities that we’re going to be able to offer to young people. There are some really outstanding employers out there who will be participating in the scheme, and they’ll give people a fantastic opportunity as well.”

Unipart’s commitment to the skills agenda aligns with BITC’s call for outstanding employers, and all responsible businesses, to ensure that no one is left behind in the COVID-19 recovery phase. Frank says: “This issue is very much front of mind for BITC members and the BITC South East Leadership Board, which I chair, is looking closely at the skills agenda to encourage both regional and national employers to explore the options available to them to reduce barriers to entry, broaden horizons, and focus on boosting essential skills for the next generation.”

BITC has a wealth of resources available for responsible businesses looking to embed outstanding practice in their employment and skills strategies, outlined in the three calls to action below:

  1. Targeting and engaging disadvantaged pupils and jobseekers with your work placement programmes, including any Kickstart placements you may be providing.
  2. Developing essential skills by adopting the Skills Builder Universal Framework in your education, employability, recruitment, and employee development activity, making it easier for people to move into and between jobs and industries.  
  3. Making your jobs and apprenticeships more accessible when recruiting, actively removing barriers such as educational qualifications, the criminal records tick-box, location, and fixed working patterns when they are not truly essential for the role, and which deter disadvantaged and diverse groups from applying. 


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