Recruitment needs a radical rethink


This article originally appeared in the Municipal Journal.

The Government kicked off its election campaign last week on the back of much rejoicing about the latest inflation figures. It is clear to see some politicians are pinning their hopes on lower inflation equating to higher votes.

But the sight of Westminster politicians crowing about the numbers while steadfastly ignoring the lived reality that many families are still struggling to afford basics such as food, energy and rent, reveals how disconnected our national politicians are from life on the ground in our places.

And the sense of unreality doesn’t stop there. Politicians now rarely talk about the things that really matter to people, not least decent work, job creation and employment support.

But if the next UK Government wants to move beyond rejoicing about the numbers on a spreadsheet to address the cost of living crisis, they will need to intervene. That means doing more to support people into good jobs which offer long-term security, decent pay and opportunities for progression.

The good news is this can be done in a cost-neutral way and enable them to target sectors that will build an economy for the UK that is fit for the future: retrofit, AI and health and social care. How? By radically rethinking public sector recruitment.

“we need to work much harder to take jobs directly to communities”

Too many parts of the public sector continue to rely on traditional recruitment practices which put the onus on the individual to have the means to find a vacancy and the confidence to apply for it. To reach those people who are furthest from the labour market and tackle the cost of living crisis where it is most acute we need to work much harder to take jobs directly to communities.

In Birmingham, we have been lucky enough to follow the progress of the I Can programme as part of our work with the Birmingham Anchor Network.

Through I Can, individuals are no longer required to apply for specific vacancies. Instead, they register an interest in a particular career route and are supported through every step of the process until being matched to a job. Most importantly, I Can is targeted at unemployed residents from the most disadvantaged communities and neighbourhoods.

“a complete reimagining”

The approach is a complete reimagining of how an NHS hospital trust can address its recruitment and retention challenges while also addressing economic inequality in the community it serves.

In just two years it has resulted in more than 500 job offers, a dramatic increase in representation from minority ethnic communities and a six-month retention rate last year of 97%.

“the magic ingredient”

There is no reason to think this type of scheme could not be extended to target green jobs or to support private sector employers to rethink their approach to recruitment. And it is worth noting the magic ingredient in bringing I Can together has been the collaboration between public sector partners with a problem in need of a solution – in this case, the NHS Trust with jobs to fill and a housing association with residents in need of targeted employment support.

We are seeing these lightbulb moments happen in new networks that are springing up across the country. The Centre for Local Economic Strategies has collated some of our learning from working with these networks and we will be releasing a new guide – How to Build and Anchor Network – in the coming weeks.

National government could support this work in a number of ways. Just imagine if targeted recruitment was mandated as a condition of levelling up funding or new housing. What if every NHS hospital was supported to work alongside local partners to build a co-ordinated and targeted approach to recruitment like I Can?

And what if national government supported and actively incentivised place- based collaboration between all anchor organisations to enable local collective action on cost of living challenges between the NHS, councils, colleges, universities and housing providers?

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