Speaking out – Roy Charles: Business and the Mayor

April 01, 2000

So much has been written over the past three years on the pressing subject of staff shortages, the result of London’s booming economy, that there’s a real risk of glazed eyes. But the problem still exists, which is why London First on behalf of the capital’s business community made skills one of the key planks of its Business Manifesto for the Mayor and GLA and has now promised to find permanent jobs for 1,000 more young people in the Mayor’s first year.

The crazy fact is that young people are still without jobs, and businesses in the growth sectors are still desperate to fill vacancies. Just why does this nonsensical situation continue to blight an otherwise prosperous city?

The explanation is that although organisations like the Prince’s Trust Volunteers are helping to turn demoralised and disadvantaged youngsters into job-ready potential employees, too many employers are unwilling to develop this talent into a productive workforce. They take the easy, and expensive, option of only recruiting staff with experience.

But things are changing. A small but growing number of businesses are enhancing their bottom lines, whilst at the same time tackling social exclusion – particularly acute in several London boroughs – via a radically new approach to recruitment.

Around two years ago we found that our growth had led to a shortage of the skilled workers needed to ensure that we could satisfy our customers’ demands. The conventional approach would have been to pay the sky-high wages demanded by the market place. We chose instead to take on unemployed youngsters from Bruce House, a foyer for the homeless in Covent Garden which was working with the New Deal and running a successful IT training programme. We scrutinised our engineers’ job descriptions and separated out the tasks which did not require experience; this opened up an entry gateway into our company.

We accepted that there was risk involved, but it has worked for our business: we have trained on the job and of the twelve we have taken on in this way, eight are still with us. Crucially we’ve had to change our attitudes and modify our interviewing approach. We’ve had to become a more understanding management, realising that our new recruits will be unfamiliar with so much of that which others take for granted. We push to one side traditional views of appearance and CVs – call them prejudices if you will – and make our new selections based on attitude and aptitude. In our experience, within three or four months recruits are able to deal with customers and in return gain pay increases in line with the rest of our staff.

The lazy manager would not contemplate employing some of the previously deprived individuals we’ve taken on. Our expensive experienced resource now does much more of the challenging, revenue generating work, leaving the day-to-day tasks as a learning ground for new blood. And our business, and its employees, are thriving. n

Roy Charles joined the IT industry as a trainee with a major corporation in 1978. In 1991 he started Advanced Systems And Support, which now employs some fifty personnel. Growth has been controlled with the emphasis upon quality service; commercial success has gone hand in glove with a socially sensitive attitude to recruitment.

Roy has also created ByteAid, Britain’s first free-of-charge PC recycling initiative for good causes; to date, 350 PCs provided for local schools and charities. He has developed courses with Lewisham College to encourage local business leaders to train job candidates in basic communication skills to bridge the gap between education and work.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 51 – April, 2000