National Employability Day: How three social ventures have adapted to Covid-19

Today marks the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) sponsored National Employability Day 2020.

The Access to Employment team at UnLtd had planned an event to celebrate this day to showcase our work in this area. For the last 3 years we have been helping people start up, grow and scale ventures that are helping people discriminated against in the labour market or struggling to secure good employment.

Although all in-person events are currently cancelled, we'd like to use this day to tell some of the stories of our entrepreneurs and how they are coping with what is now fastest rise in unemployment in our lifetime, and an impending recession.

The day I wrote this, news came out that 600,000 people lost their jobs between March and May, and unemployment benefit was up by 126%, to 2.8 million people.

We want to understand how are social ventures are continuing to work and adapt in these uncertain times, when contracts are on hold and business has been lost.

Jane Hatton – Evenbreak, the UK’s most accessible job board.

“The Covid-19 crisis has had many consequences for Evenbreak. As a specialist disability job board, our income was immediately and radically reduced as most employers are freezing their recruitment activities, and our future income will, of course, depend on the severity of the coming recession.

We only employ disabled people, and some are at high risk from the virus, and so are self-isolating. We have furloughed some staff to try to stretch our reserves for as long as possible.

On a more positive note, it seems that flexible working, and particularly working from home, will become more commonplace as a result of the experience of lock down, which is great news for many disabled people who would have more employment opportunities if more flexibility were offered.

Since the crisis began, we have offered to advertise key worker roles for free as our way of helping, and have promoted the benefits of flexible working. We have also worked on our processes and marketing, so that when the crisis ends and the new (and hopefully better) normal arrives, we will be in a great position to resume our growth trajectory.”

Matt Parfitt – Radiant Cleaners a social cleaning company based in Nottingham that pays all staff living wage.

“It has certainly been a tricky time as we have seen our trading income reduced by over 70% as a result of the pandemic. Throughout the crisis we have continued to clean for essential businesses that have stayed open - but have furloughed 12 of our team of 17. Thanks to the generosity of individual customers and businesses we have managed to pay all of our staff 100% of their normal wage, supporting them through this time. The crisis has shown the value of strong relationships - with our customers, team and other partners. There has been a great understanding that these are completely unparalleled circumstances - and a desire and a will to support each other and find a way through together.”

Tracy Fishwick – Transform Lives Company based in Liverpool provide employment skills and training using an innovative partnership approach in helping long term unemployed people back into employment.

"We’ve shown the effectiveness of our person-centred approach for the difficult situations people find themselves in, learning ‘what works’ over many years.

Our work was already more than ‘progress into employment’: supporting people with their well-being had become part and parcel of what we do, and has been in most demand during Covid-19.

We’ve worked out how to work differently with the people we already had a trusted relationship with. We’re now looking ahead to make more impact for people who are not in work, benefit-reliant, socially isolated, or who are dealing with mental health struggles. Supporting people with employability in lockdown is an all-digital / phone-based service. Not everyone has IT kit so we’ve sourced MiFi, SIMs, laptops or tablets where we can, but we need to do more. 

We’ve been using the post as a creative way to engage people. Our ‘hugs in the post’ went down so well. One emotional response to receiving a card and some chocolate to remind them to Zoom in for Chocolate Mindfulness was, “it made my day, you guys are so thoughtful, I’m so glad to be part of GiveGetGo”. We’re planning more ‘hugs’ and will keep this going. When it’s safe to do so, we’ll turn online support Circles into outdoor ‘meet ups’, mindful walks, group activities when allowed. 

We’re now working with other Coluntary Community Services, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Combined Authority to explain the impact of digital exclusion for unemployed people, looking at innovative ways to get support at scale.

We are concerned about the impact of recession, jobs weren’t easy to find before Covid-19 in Liverpool for a lot of people. We mustn’t allow people who were already struggling, but determined, to be further down the jobs’ queue. That’s why we’re adding our voice to the growing calls for job creation programmes. Significant investment is needed with action very quickly. ‘Building Back Better’ has to be about people and being ‘better’ means being different. We’d like to see green jobs, community investment, more inclusion, local opportunities and wealth building."

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