One of the dangers of the current crisis is that people who were already facing barriers to finding a job find themselves further excluded from the jobs market.
When there is a low level of vacancies and a large number of applicants, some employers miss out on the talent of great candidates who might have some form of additional barrier to overcome in finding a job.
A young person with great skills and shining potential but little work experience, for example, might not make the final shortlist. A disabled person who needs some simple (and usually cost-free) adjustments to enable them to thrive at work may lose out.
Worryingly, there is also evidence that racial prejudice and discrimination increases during recessions, exacerbating the already strong race inequalities in the labour market.
Consider the economic consequences of the crisis for so many people, such as the threat of homelessness or the difficulty of caring for children out of school while trying to conduct a job search, and we have a situation where for some, applying for a job is very far from a level playing field.
That is why now is the time for employers to step up action to promote inclusion, not pull back. There are fewer vacancies, but that means it is more important than ever to recruit from a wide talent pool to find the best candidate for the job.
For employers in a position to recruit, there are numerous organisations and schemes that can provide support to recruit under-represented talent.
For instance, taking disabled people or those with long-term health conditions as an example, signing up to the Government’s free Disability Confident scheme, designed to support employers recruit and retain disabled people, is a good place to start. A range of employment support services, such as the Government’s Work and Health Programme, due to be expanded following the Chancellor’s Summer Statement, can provide access to a large pool of candidates, specifically identified to fit your business need.
Moreover, the changed working environment brought about by the crisis does mean that increased homeworking, flexible hours or job redesign may present more opportunities for employers to break down some of the barriers to disabled people in the labour market.
Young people leaving education or training are at particular risk of long-term, negative career consequences from a recession. The Kickstart Scheme announced last week, which will seek to create initially around 200,000 work placements for young people at risk of long-term unemployment, will be one opportunity for employers to give disadvantaged young people a start. Others include traineeships, for which individual funding for training will increase and employers offering a high-quality work placement will receive a financial bonus of £1,000.
One thing is certain, that over the next few months there will be many different ways in which employers can play a part in promoting inclusive employment and social mobility in their communities, despite the scale of the challenge. Close partnerships and communication between employers, local/regional government, employment support services, recruitment agencies and Jobcentre Plus will be needed to do this.
We know that this pandemic is exacerbating inequalities in society, which damages the UK’s long-term economic prospects as well as the social cohesion of communities. We need to do everything that we can to make this a recovery that does not leave people behind, but instead can benefit from their talent and contribution.
Sarah Welfare is Policy and Research Manager at Reed in Partnership, which provides services across the UK to support people enter work, improve their health and develop their skills. To find out more, visit www.reedinpartnership.co.uk.