For National Careers Week, David Barker, Project Director of Placer, shares his thoughts on how employers can use work experience to address diversity in the workplace, and a bit about what Placer is and does.
For many employers, improving workforce diversity and inclusion has become a fundamental long-term business objective. Beyond it being ‘the right thing to do’, there has been a shift in attitudes from businesses,recognising that cultivating a diverse workplace is a real driver for business success. In fact, research from McKinsey uncovered companies with a diverse mix of employees are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors and have financial returns above the national industry average. Yet, to tackle the issue of diversity head on, employers need to unlock opportunities for young people and build a diverse workforce from the outset. This starts with work experience.
Breaking down barriers
For students from underrepresented groups, there are often multiple barriers before they even make it through the front-door of a company. Research from the National Centre for Universities and Business reveals organisations cite word-of-mouth as the key channel to accessing work experience applicants. With internships or work placements being the key ingredient to developing work-ready graduates, businesses taking this approach immediately excludestudents without family connections, outside of exclusive networks, or based in remote locations. And, ultimately,this route risks shrinking the pool of talentat this critical first rung on the career ladder.
Confronting this problem is what Placer is all about. Work experience provides young people with an opportunity not only to develop their skills, but to open their eyes to what they really want to achieve – and by opening up employment opportunities, we want to be part of a bigger movement to improve social mobility for people across the country.
Opportunities for all
Our technology provides the mechanism by which we engage with students, universities and employers, at scale.By creating an app and platform whereby businesses can advertise work experience placements publicly and transparently, we can help better ensure young people are recruited on merit rather than on a ‘who-you-know’ basis.
Placer’s matchmaking technology also reduces unconscious bias by matching students with employers based on their interests and skills alone. With recent research from the Open University revealing nearly a third of senior managers hire people just like them, offering employers the tools to help tackle these biases is of significant value.
Reducing unconscious bias benefits in two ways; firstly, it levels the playing field for the student as employers’ shortlist candidates based on their potential, not their past. Secondly, presenting employers to students in the same way, it enables students to look beyond familiar big brand names, and learn where their skills and interests fit with a wide range of employers and SMEs they may not have previously heard of or considered.Using technology to bring structure and scale to the way work experience is offered, democratises opportunities for young people and widens access to a more diverse pool of talent.
Of course, recruiting diverse work experience talent also benefits young people, enabling a wider range of students to develop essential workplace skills. Work experience exposes undergraduates to a workplace culture, shapes employability skills such as communication, self-motivation and time management, and builds vital employer relationships– helping them overcome some of the hurdles to employment.
It’s encouraging for us at Placer to have conversations with more and more businesses on how work experience can aid diversity. And not just because it is expected of them to offer opportunities to all, but because they really see the business benefits of having a range of varied voices around the table.
There’s always more work to do. While many businesses are recognising that talking about diversity is not enough, all employers need to act to implement work experience programmes that attract and retain a diverse talent from the outset, or risk falling behind.
Placer is a new social enterprise created through a partnership between not-for-profit the National Centre for Universities and Business, Jisc, and Unite Students. It enables employers to reach a diverse young talent pool of digitally native students with key skills, far beyond their word-of-mouth networks with just one post. Employers can find out more and register with Placer at placer.co.uk.
This article was written by, and is (c) David Barker. All opinions, recommendations and views expressed in this article are solely those of David Barker.