In his monthly Western Mail column, Acorn's Matt Southall addresses why businesses getting involved in the local community should be much more than just a PR exercise.
Just over a week ago, we had a welcome break from the daily updates of Brexit and the ensuing political fallout when colleagues of mine participated in a humbling and inspiring event at the Senedd organised by The Wallich.
The Wallich as you may know, is a Welsh charity that provides help and advice to homeless and vulnerable people, and the event they organised attracted numerous business people and politicians to explore how businesses can provide employment opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness.
Some of The Wallich’s ‘business partners’ took part in a panel to discuss their experiences of offering employment and training for homeless people including how they addressed initial potential barriers and perceptions, which was so perfectly summed up by Wayne Phillips, Managing Director of the PS Group when he said, “There is a stigma around homelessness that we must get away from. We need to give a person a chance and someone with a give-it-a-go attitude and a strong work ethic is a no-brainer.”
We also heard from a panel of people who had experienced homelessness and were now successfully in work through the support of The Wallich. Their stories were powerful, and against all the odds, the effort and commitment they have put in themselves to get back on their feet is incredible – it is absolutely no wonder why their new employers value their contribution so much.
As a result of the support and guidance Acorn has received through working with the charity, we too have managed to place an amazing individual who had been seriously affected by homelessness, and following some early meetings with our consultants to help with interview techniques, confidence-building and so on, he is now doing very well working for one of our construction clients on a high-profile development in the Capital.
It is going very well for him and his employer ensures he has access to all the same internal training that their longstanding, permanent employees receive. It is a resounding success and we are continuing to work with The Wallich with the aim of trying to find suitable employment for others.
During the event it was heartening to hear from the other businesses present that they got involved for the same reason we have at Acorn – because they can and they feel they should.
These businesses haven’t simply attempted to tick a ‘responsible business’ box for some short-term objective or PR gain; they have, rightly, considered their place in the communities in which they work and made the decision that being socially responsible will be a strategic part of who they are and what they do.
A business acting in this way demonstrates vision, leadership and a genuine commitment to all its stakeholders; it does so because it is the right thing to do – it is the right thing for its staff, for its customers, for its shareholders and of course, for the communities in which it operates. It is a strategic choice – your business is either a responsible one or it is not.
As my colleague Dan Langford suggested when speaking at the event, “responsible business should be engrained within the DNA of every organisation, it should be strategic and behavioural, not short-term or tactical.”
So, I guess my message here is clear; I would implore all businesses leaders to consider how your company can provide support to getting those affected by homelessness back in to the work place. Talk to organisations like The Wallich to hear how they can support you in doing so, they can help you deal with any initial concerns or barriers you may perceive, and they can showcase examples of tremendous success stories of individuals and businesses who have benefited greatly from the contributions of these employees.
Something likes this touches the soul of the organisation, it inspires other staff around them, it generates admiration from customers, and it makes a sincere and lasting impression upon many others.
There is a latent, untapped workforce out there with skills, ideas and resolve to get back on their feet and give something back to those who support them on the way.