As one of our partner charities, Groundwork in Greater Manchester has brought some much-needed insight to our HI Future user research, and challenged our thinking on how trauma and vulnerability can impact the settling in period at work. We spoke to Venetia Knight who heads up the charity’s employment initiatives across the region…
Tell us about you…
I am the Head of Employment and Enterprise at Groundwork in Greater Manchester – a not-for-profit organisation that delivers a wide range of services to create a sustainable future for people, places and businesses in Greater Manchester. In my spare time, I am a primary school Chair of Governors and secretary for my local allotment society. I have spent my whole career at Groundwork working on many different programmes and services – from physical landscape improvements to environmental education and crime prevention initiatives. My real passion is about achieving better social justice for marginalised groups and ensuring that all children get the best chance in life.
Why HI Future for you and for Groundwork?
My team deliver services coaching, developing and training unemployed people to enable them to move into work and build new careers. We also run social trading businesses which create transitional employment for people with criminal convictions, including the catering business HMPasties run by Lee Wakeham. Our programmes are led by people with shared lived experience who have built successful working lives, they specialise in working with people with criminal convictions, care leavers, people that have served in the armed forces and young people aged 18-25. Although we are not a specialist charity working with homeless people, homelessness is a problem affecting some of our service users and it is becoming more prevalent. Through our social enterprises, we also have particular insight as an employer of people that have experienced homelessness, about the practical challenges faced and also what works.
What’re the challenges around homeless employment?
Homelessness affects a lot more people than the most visible people that we see sleeping rough in the City Centre and in towns across Greater Manchester. Some of our service users live in temporary or unstable accommodation or are sofa surfing with a network of friends, family and associates – this causes anxiety and uncertainty – and can make people dependent on people they might really be better avoiding, all of which makes it difficult for people to get into the settled routines you need to hold down full-time employment. Not having a fixed address can cause administrative challenges when trying to get work such as organising ID, getting hold of previous qualifications and certificates, opening a bank account, providing checkable address history or being easily contactable by employers to arrange interviews. People may also have lost their essential tools of the trade by constantly moving about.
For some people that have experienced homelessness, there can be other person-specific challenges or barriers that make it harder to secure and sustain employment, which may have originally led to them becoming homeless in the first place. Childhood trauma, family and relationship breakdowns, problems with drugs and alcohol, involvement with the criminal justice system or debts. These issues can affect mental wellbeing and confidence so people require additional support and coaching to move into and sustain work in the long term. Also, just being out of work for a long time can mean that people’s skills and qualifications are out of date, as well as understanding of current employer needs and getting through recruitment processes successfully.
What’re the opportunities with the HI Future project?
Building understanding by more employers of the issues faced by people and how this relates to securing and sustaining work in the long term, coupled with creating proven models of in-work support, provides the opportunity for better outcomes for more people. I think it is important to remember that just getting a job is not always job done. It can take a bit longer to resolve some problems for some people whilst in those first few months of work.
We know that financial capability skills and managing debt are also problems that a lot of people will face, including when they are in work. Building this support into the model can help people in the long term.
What’s the potential impact for Groundwork and the third sector?
Groundwork, and other third-sector organisations, are skilled at engaging and developing people to get them ready for work. We already work with some great employers, particularly SME’s, who take on people from our programmes and are realistic that there can be bumps along the way as people settle into a normal working life and start to consistently perform well at work. Connecting with more employers, understanding their needs and how we as providers can support them can only be a good thing so we can match people into work at the time when they need it.
Collaboration, which raises awareness of the work of social enterprises and the benefits of ‘buying social’ as a choice to contribute to achieving multiple benefits including reducing unemployment of vulnerable groups, is also important to us.
Who else should be involved?
Any employer who has recruitment needs and is open to being a bit more flexible in recruiting and settling people into their business and is happy collaborating with providers such as Groundwork to find the right people for them.
Find out more about the work of Groundwork here.