Why Sourcing Untapped Talent is Great for your Employer Brand4 min read.
Companies seeking to create a truly diverse workforce may be overlooking untapped potential that can add talent and authenticity to their employer brand. Bridge of Hope Careers, founded by individuals who have experienced barriers to employment, is flying the flag for a unique set of candidates with stories to tell...
In the UK, being an Old Etonian – an alumnus of the elite Eton College public school – is usually a passport to unrivalled success in life. That’s why you pay the £45k a year fee.
“What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?” asked Paul Weller. Indeed. The school has produced 20 British PMs and two out of the last four. It's going well.
For one such old boy, James Fellowes, leadership of the British state was not an ambition. He did, however, forge a successful sales and marketing career, managing the Guinness brand both here and in the US and was rapidly ascending the corporate ladder, before….things started to unravel spectacularly.
“Suddenly for no explicable reason, I was unable to think straight, operate effectively and my productivity fell through the floor,” he describes. “For three months, I burnt up all those corporate credits I had strived so hard to earn and my colleagues discreetly started asking me if I was OK. I wasn’t. But I could hardly tell them that. And I had no clue why. I still vividly remember desperately trying to take a baked beans tin down from the cupboard – normally a simple everyday action for a physically abled person – and failing. It was too hard.”
You can read the whole harrowing story here.
But essentially, similar future episodes, leading to a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, ended up costing him his career, his marriage and his family and included a trip to a psychiatric ward outside New York for good measure.
“So, I - white, male and privileged - never having experienced anything resembling a barrier to employment, suddenly found nobody would give me a job,” he explains. “I was effectively unemployable couldn't even get a job in a pub or coffee shop. And so, I ended up as a janitor in a frozen food factory. I did manage to make my way back to corporate and then got made redundant one more time.
“That was four years ago. And that's when I had a bit of an epiphany moment, sitting on wall in East London. I asked myself - Are you going to actually do something meaningful with your career? And I didn't really know what, but I knew a job was central to it. After all, I'd had this linear experience when I was employed, life was fantastic and, when I wasn't …it was awful. And I didn't think it was just me that this applied to.
“A job is the biggest game changer in life. A meaningful career is rocket fuel to self-worth and sustenance to the soul. A job changes everything.”
Third sector, second chance
He started looking at employability in the third sector trying to understand where the gaps were and spoke to a lot of charities who helped people.
“Turns out they were very good at rehabilitation, and they were significantly less great at reintegration,” he says. “Essentially, they got their clients ready for a job, and then didn't know what to do with them.
“And when I'd spoken to 35 charities in a row that did the same thing. I thought, ‘this is bonkers’. You've got all these amazing people now ready to get back into society, and the one thing they need, the key to getting back on the horse, is a job and nobody's helping them with that.”
That insight, coupled with a staffing shortage and high demand from employers for diverse talent, lead to Fellowes creating Bridge of Hope, to connect ‘untapped talent’ (difficult to place candidates) with inclusive employers.
Initially piloted in the horse racing industry. Bridge of Hope Careers is now an inclusive careers platform across all sectors. Over 70,000 jobseekers signed up in the first year. The highly resilient and skilled candidates, many with varied lived experience, are largely introduced and supported by more than 100 charities, social enterprises and dozens of non-Russell Group universities.
“The premise for the charities is it’s free to them, free to their candidates but they’ve got to be job ready. They got to be good people and if they need any help, they do all that, they do the duty of care and so on.
“The whole thing about our unique inclusive talent portal is that most of our candidates are not ‘oven-ready.’ They may have a gap in the CV, they may have a condition etc. Most of these people are not on all the other job platforms.
“It has really gone haywire in a good way. Progressive blue chip Employer clients include Direct Line, the Royal Navy, TalkTalk, Santander, Timpson, Reed, the Body Shop to name but a few.
“Bad stuff can happen to anybody at any stage,” says Fellowes, “and we have refugees that were CEOs, former gambling addicts that could have been chief financial officers for large companies. It can happen to anybody. And on the demand side, we only work with large, blue-chip corporates, partly because, we want to make sure they have a good home to go to.”
He is very clear about one thing, however, Bridge of Hope Careers is not a charity initiative, but a valuable source of talent for employers that need and want to pick from a unique and diverse field of candidates.
“The research is very strong, that this group, when you aggregate them and the Business in the Community and CIPD research on it backs it up, work way harder, stay longer, and are good for your reputation.
Creating a diverse employer brand
According to the Government’s Business in the Community, Business Benefits of Work Inclusion report, 90 per cent of inclusive employers say it has been advantageous recruiting the disadvantaged.
There is no shortage of statistics in the report, backing the idea that ex-offenders, care leavers, former addicts and other such groups are an asset in the workplace.
“We don't ask employers to hire them because they feel sorry for them or because they want to do their good deed of the day. We're saying that this is a great bunch of people to hire, and nobody is hiring them. The system is designed to keep them out. Perhaps because the CV doesn't look very good or there's some algorithms designed to spit them out or whatever barrier you or your lawyer or compliance person put in place.”
Fellowes says that in his experience, while corporates are looking for more diverse talent and keen to create a diversified employer brand, many simply don’t know how to do it and their outlook is simply too narrow.
“We say don't be so myopic and when it comes to diversity. Don’t only think of race and gender. What about diversity of socio-economic background or age or, sexuality, you name it. And of course my very personal focus – neurodoversity.”
Seeking untapped talent
Fellowes has a stark question for employers: “Why are you not looking to hire candidates with the 'ability to think differently'? For example, if you are seeking compliance, operations or quality control talent, should you not proactively be sourcing from the autistic untapped talent pool. Shockingly less than 20 per cent of whom have a job. And now, with flexible working, that is a unique talent pool you shouldn't ignore. Or perhaps you are seeking highly creative marketing candidates,? If so, why are you not urgently seeking out dyslexic talent? Per world famous dyslexic perfumer Jo Malone, dyslexics are brilliant at thinking differently. They are proven to be highly creative – hardly surprising as they have had to work around the system all their lives.
“If you look at Direct Line, whom we have worked with, for example. What we're saying is, look, nobody cares how much insurance you've written in the last six months or that you're particularly good in the pet insurance space or whatever it might be. What they care about is that you've hired four people that were formerly ex-offenders and three of them have been promoted and you have an amazing network with the LGBTQ community.”
As for untapped talent, Fellowes stresses that, it’s all about grit and determination: “Bottom line they work harder, stay longer and are great for your reputation. Most of our ‘untapped talent’ come with resilience, perseverance, and built-in grit. Indeed, ‘Grit’ has been proven to be the number one predictor of success according to Angela Duckworth [ted.com]. More important than IQ, qualifications, and grades, by a mile. By. A. Mile.”