By Anj Handa

As a Fellow of the RSA, I was interested to read its recent publication, Inclusive Growth. The report followed a research of consultations and evidence-gathering from a range of sources. It aims to address how the UK can create opportunities for people across all parts of society.

One of the four priorities the report addresses relates to placed-based approaches.

The report summary says:

Inclusive growth will require businesses and civic organisations to work together to create stronger institutional foundations in our towns and cities. The creation of quality jobs are at the heart of this.

Local businesses need to be directly engaged by local anchor institutions (universities, hospitals, colleges and other major employers) to drive up productivity and stimulate demand, particularly in the low-paid sectors such as hospitality, care, warehousing and logistics which constitute much of the long tail of low productivity in the UK.

At a local level, this means an approach based on: deep understanding of local assets; connecting people to quality jobs; resourcing place regeneration as well as business investment; and helping businesses keep ahead in the context of Brexit.

My Personal Experience of Leading Inclusive Growth

I have worked in the field of social impact and inclusion since 2003. First as a Regional Director of the Employer Coalitions, set up under the National Employment Panel; then as Head of Employment and Skills Partnerships at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Since 2011 I’ve run my own consultancy, working with bodies such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills as an adviser and lead bid appraiser on its demand-led programmes.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been around (in the nicest possible way). My work has taken me around Europe and the US to speak about business-led employment and skills programmes and to learn from global counterparts.

The Inclusive Growth report doesn’t tell me anything new, although it may seem ground-breaking to others. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there are some things I’ve learned along the way which I would love to share. The Commission made four recommendations. These are:

  • City regions work together to form sectoral coalitions linking industry sectors and places in order to modernise industrial strategy.
  • The creation of new institutions or civic enterprises to connect business and industry, schools, training providers and universities.
  • That cities become places of life-long learning, with a commitment to human capital development from ‘cradle to grave’ through coordinated investment and support at every level from pre-school, through schools, to FE colleges, technical institutes and universities. 

The sectoral approach works

In this article, I will focus on the first recommendation: ‘City regions work together to form sectoral coalitions linking industry sectors and places in order to modernise industrial strategy.’

My work as the Regional Director for the Employer Coalitions involved bringing employers together by sector or by cross-cutting themes (e.g. Diversity and Flexible Working).

Each group was chaired by a private sector employer and comprised of up to thirty others, drawn from the private, public and voluntary sectors and with observers from public agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and the Skills Funding Agency.

The aim was for businesses to co-design pre-employment routeways for people aged 18+ who were in receipt of benefits with public and voluntary sector partners. Standard Jobcentre Plus job placement outcomes were on average 30%. Ours were typically 70%, with some, such as a Heating and Ventilating programme, achieving 85%.

It worked – because of the focussed partnership approach and the conversations we facilitated with multiple stakeholders. Over twelve years on, some of these programmes, such as the Media Foundation Placement Scheme and West Yorkshire Diversity Forum, are still running.

The structures were sustainable because businesses were engaged and took an active role in benchmarking, designing and measuring the programmes.

Enabling ‘difficult’ conversations

My key observation, as noted above, is that there isn’t much in this report that I feel is new. We're still having the same ‘safe’ conversations, with a separation between policy-makers, businesses and the people they are seeking to help. Click To Tweet

There’s not enough challenge within the system. To be able to have the kind of conversations that really get under the skin of an issue, we need to create a space for such discussions to happen, without individuals feeling as if they are judged.

A business example

Let me give you an example. At a small event in 2016, which brought together policy-makers and businesses, a micro business owner admitted to their reluctance to hire women of childbearing age of financial concerns around parental leave.

As a result of the discussions, HSBC introduced its Parental Leave support package to help small UK businesses with under five employees. The package includes interest-free overdrafts, repayment support for small business loans and capital repayment holidays.

So how do we enable effective conversations?

I feel that dialogue should occur in multiple ways. Even as a micro business owner, I have been able to model this approach. Through another Inspiring Women Changemakers member, I was introduced to Kloeckner Metals UK. The organisation is headquartered in Germany and has a Leeds-based centre which is actively working on diversity within the business.

In partnership with the company, I organised a roundtable event to discuss the advancement of women in Manufacturing and Construction and subsequently produced a report with the input of participants.

The report is now publicly available and discussions are being held with a wider group of business within the sector to consider which of the priority areas they would like to take forward.

If you’d like to learn more about how I or a member of my team can facilitate your stakeholder engagement activity, get in touch.