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National Grid - Winner of the The Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

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National Grid - Winner of the The Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

With £20bn being invested in the UK’s energy infrastructure, there is a need for a new source of enthusiastic employees. And National Grid believes it has found the answer.

The global energy sector faces numerous challenges, not least the need to innovate, diversify and find new ways to service customers effectively and efficiently against a backdrop of increased awareness of the impacts of climate change and ever-evolving market needs.

A sector in crisis?

Another major challenge for the sector is a lack of young people deciding to gain the skills needed to enter the industry. It is an issue that National Grid, the international electricity and gas company which delivers energy to millions of people across Great Britain and north eastern US, is only too aware of. The negative perception of engineering among young people and a lack of interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects poses a great risk to the business, and the industry at large. Plus, utilities have an ageing workforce. With £20 billion planned investment in the UK’s energy infrastructure there is a need for a new source of committed, enthusiastic employees.

Attracting a diverse workforce - a leader in the sector

In 2009, the business commissioned research to establish the true state of play. As a result, it developed a range of initiatives designed to enthuse, engage and promote participation in STEM subjects for young people under the age of 15.

Attracting diversity into engineering apprenticeship programmes has been another ongoing challenge for the UK. A little over 50 per cent of the UK population is female, and 46 per cent of the UK workforce.

As well as meeting its own recruitment needs, the business has also worked with other sectors to extend the programme to benefit recruitment in partners and suppliers across the construction, engineering and logistics industries.

However, within the UK’s energy sector there is a more exaggerated gender split, with just 19 per cent being female. There is a similar trend for black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups; 9 per cent of the UK’s entire workforce falls into that group, but the energy sector’s BAME workforce is just 4 per cent.

At National Grid, the gender split is 25 per cent female, with 13 per cent BAME – not in line with the national picture, but well above average for the industry. In 2016, 13 per cent of job applications received by the company were from females, and 33 per cent from BAME groups. Since 2011, National Grid has received a 10 per cent increase in female applications and a 21 per cent increase in BAME applications.

And it is this focus on reaching out to those most in need of support that will continue at National Grid. It has two routes to employment with the company specifically for excluded groups: One is via a training programme (Young Offender Programme) and one via work experience (EmployAbility). There is also a programme for young NEETs – or those not in employment, education or training – (GetSkilled).

Supporting young offenders

The programme for young offenders, established back in 1998, is for those eligible for release on temporary licence and coming towards the end of their sentence. National Grid provides training for

As well as meeting its own recruitment needs, the business has also worked with other sectors to extend the programme to benefit recruitment in partners and suppliers across the construction, engineering and logistics industries.

people while in custody, perhaps joining a 13-week course with one of the company’s contractors, for example. And if they are successful, they get a job on release. It started as an initial partnership with a group of gas contractors, but it now operates across the country, within six different business sectors.

The young offenders get mentoring support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a year post release to make sure their transition from prison to work is smooth. “Employment is a vital factor in preventing re-offending, yet only 27 per cent of prisoners have a job to go to on release,” according to the business. With nearly 85,000 prisoners in England and Wales (a 92 per cent rise since 1993), and the average prison place costing more than £36,000, there are some serious cost savings to be had for the state too. In fact, despite government efforts, 45 per cent of adults are re-convicted within a year of release, rising to 58 per cent for those serving below 12 months. Reoffending by recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13bn a year

As well as meeting its own recruitment needs, the business has also worked with other sectors to extend the programme to benefit recruitment in partners and suppliers across the construction, engineering and logistics industries.

Yes, offenders recruited through the scheme can come with serious criminal records and unspent sentences. But the business says that successful applicants are guaranteed jobs and have progressed to senior management position, such as the company’s principal commercial developer.

“We’re building a workforce that meets the needs of our business, and helps to create a fairer and more inclusive society where everyone can reach their full potential. And I encourage other businesses to provide similar opportunities,” says John Pettigrew, the company’s chief executive.

Elsewhere, EmployAbility is an internship scheme for young people aged 17-22 with special educational needs and disabilities. It began in 213 as a partnership between National Grid and a school in Warwick, to raise aspirations and significantly improve the likelihood of a young person with learning disabilities achieving paid employment. The time interns spend with the business acts as an open interview process – something which has led to offers of permanent employment.

Enter the Responsible Business Awards 2018