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The phrase ’local people for local jobs’ has a nice ring to it. And in an ideal world, it would great for employers and employees alike if staff lived right on the doorstep. The reality, of course, is that there is often little overlap between where people live and where they work.
In the City, for example, huge numbers commute in from the Home Counties and beyond. At the same time, relatively few residents of the neighbouring Borough of Tower Hamlets earn their daily crust in the gleaming offices in whose shadows they often live.
Within spitting distance of the City, however, the London 2012 Olympics and Westfield 2 in adjoining Stratford could offer a way forward for employers in the City and beyond that want to make the most of the talent available on their doorstep.
Even in a downturn we have been able to fill those vacancies with local people, many of whom have been unemployed before
Westfield 2, which opens this autumn, has been described as Europe’s biggest indoor shopping centre. According to the developers, the construction phase alone will create 25,000 jobs, with 18,000 permanent jobs when the centre has been completed. John Lewis is hiring 750 staff for its new store. And according to Carole Donaldson, manager resourcing, John Lewis, recruiting local people plays an important part in the company’s hiring strategy.
As she explains: “When John Lewis open a new shop we feel we have a vital role to play in contributing to the long-term prosperity of the local area. Our aim in the local community is to build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships and employing those who live in the area ensures we are truly part of this community.”
While not guaranteeing a specific number of jobs to local people, Donaldson says John Lewis has guaranteed Jobcentre Plus and other education providers “up to 400 places” at its assessment centre for those that complete its pre-employment courses (see box below for more details).
The John Lewis approach
In Stratford, John Lewis has worked with education providers to support pre-employment courses in key skills, such as retail, customer service and catering. These courses are primarily for individuals in the local borough, who are seeking employment, and the company has guaranteed up to 400 places at its assessment centres for those who complete the courses.
John Lewis’s strategy is not entirely altruistic, however. As Donaldson explains, employing local people also helps to attract a wide range of customers through its doors. Rebekah Hawley, recruitment manager at John Lewis Stratford, adds that hiring locals also provides John Lewis with an additional pool of talent.
Figures from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) on the employment of local people in the construction of the Olympic Park and Village reinforce the view that such an approach can make a difference.
According to the ODA, during December 3,178 workers or nearly 27% of the workforce were residents of the five Olympic boroughs and neighbouring Barking and Dagenham; and 10% of those working on the village and 12% of those working on the park had been unemployed immediately beforehand.
“Even in a downturn we have been able to fill those vacancies with local people, many of whom have been unemployed before,” says Loraine Martins, head of equality, inclusion and skills at the ODA.
According to Martins, working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and other local organisations that supply candidates has been vital. Measures to improve candidates’ chances of success don’t have to be complicated, says Martins. Simply making sure they understand about working outdoors, giving them a knowledge of health & safety, and setting out clear standards of behaviour for example, no drugs or alcohol can make all the difference, she says. “Local people are just as skilled as anyone else, and employers can see the business benefits for themselves,” she adds.
Contractors who usually come with their own workforce are encouraged to share any vacancies with the ODA to give the Authority a chance to fill them with local people, says Martins.
Local councils are also playing an important role in ensuring that local residents benefit from the jobs bonanza expected from the London Olympics. The London Borough of Hackney, one of the five Olympics boroughs, has set a target to get around 1,000 local unemployed people into work during the Olympics. According to Andrew MacPhee, business employment and training officer, there are strong arguments for employing people who live close by: “They are not affected by transport difficulties and can get to work easily in an emergency or when people don’t turn up.” Also local jobs are often well-suited for people with ’flexible lifestyles’, such as students and single mothers.
MacPhee says the council is focusing on Hackney residents who are “furthest away from the labour market”. As he explains, a lot of the help the council and its partners provides is “basic employment stuff”, for example, helping them to get entry-level qualifications, such as food hygiene certificates.
It also important to work with employers to allay concerns, he says. “Basic things such as people not turning up to work on time, basic business etiquette, literacy and numeracy these are the most difficult things,” he explains.
Construction company Ardmore Group is working on an Olympic contract for the ODA in Stratford. Ardmore’s HR manager, Magdalena Torba, says one driver behind employing local people is the contracts with bodies such as the ODA and councils. While typically such contracts don’t make it compulsory to recruit a certain number of local people, they specify that Ardmore does its best to use local labour.
Torba says that Ardmore is in a strong position to influence the behaviour of contractors. As she explains, it directly engages the majority of its 2,000 contractors. The approach appears to be working, with local residents accounting for more than 50% of those working on one project in Stratford.
Torba adds that such an approach is less applicable to management roles, because the core staff move around from site to site. Torba won’t be drawn as to whether firms that fail to match clients’ expectations are likely to lose out on future contracts. “There is a lot of common sense written into the contracts,” she says.
The round peg must go into the round hole. If the individual hasn’t got the right raw material, it isn’t going to work
“One of the problems is skills shortages,” she explains. “While you have to show that you have done everything to source those skills locally, if we relied solely on the local market, we would never be able to meet our staffing needs.”
Torba adds that while originally contractual obligations provided the main motivation for Ardmore to recruit locals, this has changed. Not only has Ardmore realised the benefits of building relationships with Jobcentre Plus and local councils, but the whole community including Ardmore gains when, for example, an unemployed resident gets work, she says.
Clive Davis, a director at financial recruiter Robert Half, agrees that hiring local talent “enhances an employer’s standing in the local community”. It may also lead to longer job tenure, as staff enjoy their commute more, as well as a better life balance.
And while companies want the best person for the job, he says many operate rough guidelines, depending on the seniority and the type role. “Typically, the more senior the role, the wider they will cast their net,” he says. Part-qualified accountants are easier to source locally than qualified, adds Davis, by way of example.
Charlotte Factor, employer engagement manager at the City of London Corporation, says that persuading City employers such as banks and law firms to take on local people can be both difficult and time-consuming. And particularly when many local candidates are “probably not so academically inclined and haven’t gone to Russell Group universities”, she says.
Many of those who apply face an additional disadvantage because English is not their first language, she says. Factor focuses most of her efforts with local people on getting work experience and internships. “It is easier to get local people into facilities management companies in the City than into banks,” she adds.
Martin McCrum, director of Scottish firm Aspirare Recruitment, says the state of the economy has a major influence. At the moment the economy in Scotland is relatively weak, and as a consequence more local candidates are available, he says. Around 80% of Aspirare’s contractors come from the Scotland’s central belt, he adds.
McCrum applauds the efforts of local councils and enterprise companies to “push” local candidates through schemes such as an ’extra pair of hands’. Under this scheme, the employer pays the worker £1 an hour, while the council picks up the rest. However, he warns that this sort of subsidy must never be used as the reason to recruit someone. “The round peg must go into the round hole. If the individual hasn’t got the right raw material, it isn’t going to work.”
McCrum says the process is fair to everyone. “Every single applicant is put through a behavioural profile, irrespective of where they come from,” he explains.
John Lewis’s Donaldson also rejects the notion that giving local people a leg up through pre-employment courses compromises the principle of recruitment based on merit. “Our recruitment process ensures we are recruiting on skills and behaviours alone,” she says.
Indeed, as she points out, in the company’s shop openings at Leicester and Cardiff, those who came to the retailer through the pre-employment courses had a high success rate at assessment, but other local candidates were also successful.
Donaldson adds that John Lewis’s policy of encouraging branches to hire local people through working with local Jobcentres continues after a new store has opened its doors. However, this is left up to each individual branch, she adds.
Employers that wish to recruit more locals can learn lessons from the Olympics and Westfield 2. That said, as a general recruitment strategy, it is best-suited towards the semi-skilled end of the labour market or where there is a decent supply of suitable local candidates. Working with local partners to improve the chances of local candidates through pre-employment support can also prove effective.
Employers can take advantage of a clause in the Equality Act to boost the job chances for locals. ’Positive Action’ allows employers to take measures to help people from groups with different needs or with a past track record of disadvantage or low participation to apply for jobs.
For example, where the make-up of their workforce is different from the make-up of the local population, they may decide to run training courses for people who share particular under-represented protected characteristics (such as a particular ethnic background), giving them a better chance of applying for vacancies.
This is not the same as ’positive discrimination’, which equality law does not allow, and recruitment must still be based on merit.
Advantages of hiring local people
- Employees: it avoids a long commute for employees and improves work-life balance
- Company: seen as part of the community
- Staff: available at short notice to cope with sudden surges in work. It is good for business when staff are drawn from the local community and reflect its make-up
Article from The Recruiter