Quite rightly there is a lot of talk around ‘slave labour’ and ‘modern slavery’. There is an undercurrent of this in the UK especially in the ‘hidden market’. There are vulnerable people who are exploited and their ‘exploiters’ – I won’t say employers – quiet rightly should be held to account.
However, I do believe this isn’t a black and white subject. I now hear of unpaid interns, work experience and similar programmes being labeled ‘modern slavery’ or exploitation. Is this right/fair?
From the Modern Slavery Act 2015 this definition is to me is very clear ‘These crimes include holding a person in a position of slavery , servitude forced or compulsory labour, or facilitating their travel with the intention of exploiting them soon after’
For those of us stereotyped by society due to our personal circumstances such as homeless, unemployed, single parent, on the domestic violence register, mental health or physical issues need a different route to sustainable employment to those not living with these labels.
Some time ago I was a single parent, officially homeless with two children under 6, on the domestic violence register and holding down a number of deadend casual jobs to feed my children. Although not diagnosed, the situation I was in was clearly making me anxious and depressed.
I knew the only way I could change my circumstances for the long term was to secure a job which would lead to a career. But how could I do that? I hadn’t worked in the previous 10 years apart from building up a business with my ex-husband who was not going to give me a reference! I saw the look on employers faces when I mentioned I was a single parent and officially homeless.
Then I had an idea. Before having my family, I’d worked for a global organisation in financial services. I was not on benefits – the DHSS at the time (prior to JobCentre Plus) advised me to get married again – sensitive right? I found a local accountant and offered to work for them for no money for a week. At the end of that week I would either be paid and given a permanent part time role or I would be unpaid and released. I worked for that accountant for over four years before securing a permanent full-time role in recruitment which led to some amazing achievements including setting-up my own business.
Was I exploited? No I had an opportunity to learn a role and showcase what I could do without having to ‘sell myself’ at interview with little recent experience and zero confidence.
Years later whilst working for a national facilities company as Recruitment Manager, I noticed how difficult it was to recruit and sustain local people. There are a lot of residential estates around Canary Wharf but, at the time, a lot of 3rd even 4th generation unemployed families. I remembered my experience all those years before and devised the Real Apprentice. A work experience programme that focussed on building self-esteem and work place ettiquette. The Real Apprentice ran for over eight years and got 75% into permanent jobs.
The Real Apprentice was vetted by multiple award bodies during this period and won several awards year on year including BiTC – Big Tick, Dragon Award – Lord Mayor, Opportunity Now, Race for Opportunity, ENEI, The best of Europe against 23 countries and a Justice Award.
So clearly – no one felt the Real Apprentice was in the category of the often, and not always correctly, used term ‘modern slavery’.
I was approached by one leading employer from the Real Apprentice and challenged to devise something better. In December 2013 Growing Talent was devised with a provisional permanent job offer upfront, an Orientation Week to build confidence and work place etiquette prior to going on site, a Holistic Week to deliver soft skills knowledge including personal finance, fitness, nutrition, art, as well as qualification as a Mental Health First Aider. An audit trail provides accurate progression status and is managed by the individual. Unpaid, participants retain their benefits and have their travel paid. If they choose to drop out they are not penalised by JCP. Giving them control and the ability to showcase what they can do without the pressure of traditional recruitment. Over 140 people from all backgrounds have secured permanent jobs and flourished
No cvs, no formal interviews and no job descriptions.
For those who don’t have ‘labels’ and aren’t stereotyped their default is often straight to shout exploitation/modern slavery. Just think for a moment. If you were stereotyped because of your ‘label’ would you be able to showcase your ability in a formal recruitment interview?
For those of us who have experienced this stereotyping, we need a different, bespoke solution to securing a permanent sustainable role.
What do you think?