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Helping the homeless to hold on to work – Tips to help your company’s CSR employment programmes maximise their good intentions.

A great philosopher once said “if you’re gonna do it, do it right….” – granted the line is out of context, but the sentiment can apply! CSR plays a very real role in today’s corporate life, and its value is plain to see – both to employers and recipients of the initiatives. Whether it’s encouraging employees to volunteer their time to community projects, or active efforts from employers to give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the career break they need. One positive that has emerged from the recession is surely the growing prominence of employment programmes designed to engage people from disadvantaged backgrounds or marginalised social groups – obvious examples include apprentice schemes targeting youth unemployment. Without question any company that commits itself to such endeavours deserves commendation. They are helping change people’s lives, no matter how modest or grand their contribution – every little helps.

However, I recently attended a seminar to reveal research by Broadway, a charity tackling homelessness in London, which raised some questions for employers embarking on these types of employment programmes, perhaps which have been overlooked previously. Getting a job for someone from a homeless or disadvantaged background was one thing, but keeping it was quite another. Starting a new role is no mean feat at the best of times, but for someone who’s probably got a more ‘complicated’ history this can be extremely daunting, and carry even practical issues such as getting paid when you don’t have a bank account. The research was compiled in conjunction with DWP, Trust for London and Business in the Community, and Broadway have published a full report (link below) , with a guide for employers which can hopefully offer new ideas, points to consider or simply help to benchmark your company’s own best practice. It covers practical issues such as payment, organisational policies and practices, the important of a good induction, training and support (especially from Line Managers of Buddy schemes).

The link to the report is on the Broadway website

I am not an expert in this arena, but with representatives from employers, charitable trusts and organisations operating firmly in this space, it was safe to conclude that this research brought forward very welcome evidence to highlight an issue that was anecdotally recognised. Most employers talk about the importance of unlocking talent, and without question there is plenty out there that can be tapped into with a little extra effort. They say the average person in Britain is only 3 pay cheques away from homelessness, and the problems it brings. To illustrate the point, one of the speakers at the event hosted at Inner Temple recounted that a decade earlier he had been in that very venue studying for the bar, a year later he was sleeping rough – and was now being given a new role as a Project Manager with his current employer.

Employers which create these schemes are to be admired for their good intentions, and hopefully Broadways’ research and recommendations can make sure these intentions realise their ultimate goals to see long term success for the people they help. Whilst this report focused on employment for the homeless, there are also some enduring principles for broader CSR initiatives though. Putting the wheels in motion is one thing, but to really maximise the returns for all involved it’s also good to consider the on-going support and commitment that you as an employer can supply to stay the course.

The research is in…the challenge Broadway and others now face is raising the profile of this issue –to government, local authorities, employers…so feel free to pass the word on!