What we’re learning about homeless employment

We’re four months into HI Future, as we’ve already learnt a lot. In February and March, we ran user research.

Working with businesses leaders and employees, HR teams and line managers, we asked how well people understood homelessness, how much consideration each organisation had given to including homelessness within diversity and inclusion practise, and what “ready to work” would look like from a business perspective.

We also spoke with people with personal insight into homelessness and are now in steady employment, as well as those still experiencing the issue and looking for work. We asked what their experiences were like in securing a job, what factors were at play during the recruitment process and what was needed when each individual was willing and able to return to work.

We learned that people who have experienced homelessness often feel profiled. They’re aware they’re being judged for CV gaps, often in a way that gap year students wouldn’t be, and that visual differences can turn employers off in the early stages of recruitment. We also learned how important their job coaches and support workers were in getting them to the starting line. Invaluable, in fact.

From an employment perspective, we found a huge willingness to support people in work, particularly from co-workers and line managers. We found the potential to link existing diversity and inclusion policies – particularly around mental health – to the work our business community was opening up to do around homelessness.

We also happened upon some challenges. A general lack of awareness around homelessness, and a recognition that stigmas may creep into people’s belief and attitudes are a cause for concern. We also spotted blind spots during the recruitment process which may impact those with personal insight applying, and a gulf in expectations between the potential employer and employee.

So, our first step has been to educate. We ran our first education session in early April, and the feedback has led us to reviewing and prototyping a new workshop, which we’re in the process of testing with our business community, including KPMG and Lloyds Bank. The results of this will come back early July and give us a good idea of how well we’ve improved business understanding.

We also spotted some fundamental gaps in our knowledge. The recruitment process – beyond the issues in understanding homelessness – is the second major barrier in getting people with personal insight into homelessness back into work, so we’re undertaking more user research. We’re working with both Manchester Airports Group and Balfour Beatty’s HR teams to learn more.

The third challenge is supporting those people impacted whilst in work. We won’t know a huge amount about the potential challenges a person who has experienced homelessness might face until we launch HI Future in later 2019 or early 2020, but in the next couple of months, we’ll be working with support workers and job coaches to dig deeper into the potential pitfalls.

Fostering better understanding amongst the businesses we’re working with and plugging the gaps in our own understanding is essential to building an impactful first iteration of the homeless employment solution HI Future intends to be. Right now, we had hoped to be prototyping the matchmaking and support platform, but stage one and two determined otherwise.

Bringing together mixed groups, of business employees, charity teams, public sector workers and those impacted by homeless employment to co-create them is stage three in our design process, but due to the gaps we uncovered, education had to come first. So, we’re focusing on our education solution up front, before we move into developing the core solution.

The next two months will be jam-packed with testing, feedback and learning, and we can’t wait to share what we’re learning and moving close to helping create secure and stable futures for those impacted by homelessness.