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Chris Murray

Core Cities

Director

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CEO Insight: Employer Pool’s Chris Murray on ethical recruitment

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Over the last 10 years, corporate social responsibility has increasingly found its way onto the board room agenda.

Because of its links to staff retention and helping to generate positive external and internal relations, CSR is now widely regarded as a business priority by many private and public sector organisations.
 
As a result, the pressure is on for all departments, from HR to PR, to hit company-wide CSR targets in a cost-effective way. For HR directors, this often means introducing employee well-being programmes, co-ordinating staff volunteering schemes or raising funds for charities.
 
But such activities are usually considered as an add-on to the day-to-day work of running a busy HR department.
 
Following the passing of a private member’s bill earlier this year, however, CSR has now been joined by a new means of measuring business responsibility– ‘social value’.
 
Although it only applies to the public sector, the Public Services (Social Value) Bill legally requires organisations to appoint suppliers based not just on the lowest price that they can offer, but on the wider social, economic and environmental benefits that they can deliver.
 
For local authority HR directors, this means contracting organisations that can clearly demonstrate the positive community impact of their services. For private sector recruitment firms, it means integrating social value into their activities.
 
Ethical recruitment
 
And the key word here is ‘integration’. In the past, socially responsible HR activity was often seen as a ‘nice to do’ tick list item – if there was enough time.
 
But this attitude is starting to change. With procurement decisions now being determined by wider community outcomes, CSR is becoming increasingly embedded into organisations’ daily operations.
 
One immediate way that HR directors can contribute to this new CSR agenda, however, is through ethical recruitment. The rationale is that, because finding good staff is an essential business activity, it makes sense to integrate socially responsible practice into current procedures.
 
This approach could involve helping long-term unemployed people find work or provide them with training opportunities. It might also mean creating more temporary roles in order to help them get back into the swing of it.
 
But unfortunately, as things stand, recruitment is perceived by many as anything but socially responsible, particularly if such activity is outsourced to agencies, which often focus on profit rather than people.
 
The problem is that many candidates feel that such agencies simply concentrate on filling vacancies rather than finding the right role for them. They feel as if they are treated like just another number and there is no real interest in either them or their situation.
 
A lot of job hunters also complain that recruitment agencies give them poor feedback and have little knowledge of the job itself. The situation likewise isn’t helped by a good number of employers and candidates feeling pressured by consultants who indulge in cold calling and other persistent sales tactics.
 
But even though such poor behaviour may only be practised by a minority, the challenge for HR directors is to ensure that their supply chain, as well as their own in-house recruitment practice, is as responsible as possible.
 
Social enterprise
 
This means that it generates benefits for the wider community, without incurring extra cost or compromising on staff quality.
 
In the North West of England, HR teams at a number of organisations have managed to achieve this tricky balance. Building contractors Frank Rogers, St Helens NHS Trust and window fabricators Total Glass are just three of a number of employers that source staff through a recruitment social enterprise.
 
Employer Pool was set up last year to continue the work undertaken by its parent organisation, Fusion21, around the now axed £1 billion Future Jobs Fund. The Fund was a government-funded employment programme that helped to create hundreds of temporary jobs in 2010.
 
More than two thirds of the individuals, who found work through the scheme, were either subsequently kept on by their employers or immediately went on to other roles as a result of their experience. A later evaluation of the initiative demonstrated that interim work regularly led to more permanent employment.
 
Candidates were also able to avoid the damaging effects of long-term unemployment as the work placements boosted their confidence and skills, while also rewarding them with a wage.
 
Using this model, Fusion21 subsequently set up Employer Pool in order to provide local employers with temporary staff. Candidates are helped to improve their CV writing and performance at interview as well as gain work experience through free ‘employability’ courses.
 
Employers, on the other hand, are helped to find the right staff and know that they are improving lives in the process. But this approach can be adopted by HR directors in their internal recruitment activity too.
 
Tangible social value
 
Instead of limiting hiring to a small number of permanent posts, however, the key is to offer a larger number of temporary positions, which both helps to reduce budget pressures and gives a higher number of candidates the chance to shine.
 
Moreover, although many organisations believe that they can’t recruit apprentices as it binds them to a two-year training scheme, it may be worth considering a shared apprenticeship model instead.
 
This approach, in which different companies ‘share’ trainees over the apprenticeship period, is becoming increasingly common as a means of encouraging more employers to take young people on.
 
Another option is to consider starting or contributing to an employability scheme, which helps job seekers to gain qualifications and improve their chances of finding work. In the process of reducing local unemployment, you might even spot some future talent for your organisation.
 
But it is also worth evaluating your equality and diversity policies. HR directors know that it is illegal to discriminate against candidates with disabilities or those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
 
But what about offering job seekers who have been unemployed for a long time or who have just got out of prison the same opportunities? It might just prove fruitful in finding future employees as well as helping to support your local community.
 
In today’s environment, the focus should really be less on CSR ‘add-ons’ that sit outside of existing business practice and more about generating tangible social value from every day processes.
 
With budgets being cut and staff in both the public and private sector being asked to take on more work, coming up with a sound CSR proposition is one way that HR directors can score major points in the boardroom.
 

Chris Murray is director of Core Cities, an advocacy group for large English cities, and chair of employment social enterprises, Fusion21 and Employer Pool.

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Chris Murray

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