Recruited to the cause: helping people find rewarding jobs
David Hinton had spent most of his career in the recruitment sector. Enthused by helping people find rewarding work, he decided he wanted to improve the models of both the public and private sector.
‘I worked both in house for a local council, as well as for private businesses,’ says David, ‘My experience was that the local council had their heart in the right place, but weren’t in a position to take innovative risks to seize on opportunities.’
‘Private welfare to work contractors did do things a different way, but at the end of the day were motivated by profit, often at the expense of doing the right thing for those they are tasked with helping. I wanted to create something in between, taking the best of both worlds – doing things differently, for the right reasons.’
He set up The Work People, a social venture that blends careers advice and training with a recruitment agency. They work with local businesses to find people for jobs, while putting their profit and expertise back into the local community to help people develop skills and confidence.
In 2016, they helped 2,842 people in their hubs in Hastings and St Leonards, through 1,020 careers advice appointments and 12,854 career management activities. That work led to 206 people securing work.
Taking a risk
‘I quit my job to start the venture,’ he explains, ‘I didn’t know what a social enterprise was at the time, but I knew what I wanted to achieve.’
David had seen others getting contracts from his local council and believed that he could do the same. He soon hit the barrier of having no track record, he found himself unemployed with no funding to take his idea forward.
Desperate to find a way to achieve his mission of helping local people find jobs he started researching different models, discovering social entrepreneurship. He applied for, and received an UnLtd Do It Award, which helped him to start up.
‘I’d forgotten that I’d applied,’ he says ‘I was firing off applications to lots of places at that point, but UnLtd were the ones that believed in me. They were prepared to take a risk on my idea. Even though I might have failed, they knew I’d learn.’
On the high street
The Do It Award helped David secure a three month lease on a property on the high street.
‘Being on the high street is a big part of our USP. It gives us visibility and makes it easy for anyone to come and see us,’ David explains.
It allows David to fulfill some core aims for the venture. It means that he can offer career advice regardless of a person’s situation, create a space where people feel comfortable and have a role in co-designing the service, and forge a reliable presence on the high street.
‘In some ways the individual parts of what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking,’ he says, ‘but the small things work together. Being on the high street, being consistent – not just being here for a year or two – and creating a joined up, universal service.
Refining the offer
David was awarded an UnLtd Big Venture Challenge Award in 2015, support designed to help social entrepreneurs expand their business and their impact.
‘We had some ambitious plans to grow,’ he explains, ‘For example we wanted to be in 20 places by 2020. Going through Big Venture Challenge altered that slightly; we still have those ambitions, but we have other priorities. We want to be sharper in the short term and build our market here.’
UnLtd’s support to scale-up helped David realise some important things about his venture. The process of support enabled him to reflect on the previous couple of years.
‘We had to think about our returns more,’ he explains, ‘It seems obvious, but we’d got caught up in the day to day, our growth had caused us to become disjointed.’
They realised that they had to sharpen the profit generating side of their venture – the recruitment agency. In order to guarantee that the social mission was being delivered they wanted to become more efficient, earning enough through their profit-making activities to fund the other parts of the venture.
Profit versus purpose
The challenge of this process was balancing the need to make a profit with sticking to the social principles of the business.
‘The recruitment side of the business, and the careers advice and training do intertwine,’ says David, ‘But there is potential for conflict between the two roles.’
‘Two weeks ago we redesigned the shop floor. We’d started out with an office designed for anyone to use, but needed to tweak that if we wanted to bring in businesses. We had to balance people feeling comfortable in the space, with a professional feel for clients. We consulted a lot with the people who used it, managing to reach a compromise that everyone was pleased with, where the office was split a little.’
For David a big part of resolving these conflicts is to talk to the people you’re helping, to listen and get them to help you to design the solutions. It’s working for him, he’s managed to create a social venture that is supporting local people according to their needs.
‘I didn’t know what social entrepreneurship was,’ he says ‘But now I believe it’s an incredible tool to change the world. It lets us use the, often unfair, free market system we live in as a tool to create advantage for others. It’s letting me create change in a sector I care about.’