Can business really change the employment landscape?

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

In this article, Lauren O’Leary, Head of Employee Volunteering and Employability at BITC, reflects on the current state of the jobs market and what responsible businesses can do to support people into sustainable employment. With programmes such as Ready for Work and other initiatives, BITC want to promote how businesses can help the disadvantaged gain employment.

 

Can business really change the employment landscape? by Lauren O’Leary

This September was a big month for employment news in the UK.

Lauren O’Leary, Head of Employee Volunteering and Employability at Business in the Community
Lauren O’Leary, Head of Employee Volunteering and Employability at Business in the Community

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 employers take action?

BITC 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. 

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 receive unemployment benefits, but the vast majority of people that I meet through our 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.

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.