‘We’ve been able to recruit for the first time’: how hiring through Jobcentre Plus helped a startup flourish during the pandemic

The impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the jobs market in the UK has been enormous. By January 2021, unemployment had risen to 5% – the highest it had been since 2016. That figure has since improved, with unemployment back down to 3.9%.

Indeed, there are now many businesses struggling with staffing issues, just as there are jobseekers trying to find the right employer. In response to this, the government has launched the Way to Work campaign, a partnership between employers and Jobcentre Plus, designed to help 500,000 jobseekers on universal credit or jobseeker’s allowance into work by the end of June 2022. Figures from the Office for National Statistics in January show the demand for workers is there, with a record 1.3m vacancies to fill (59% higher than pre-pandemic levels). This number of vacancies shows why engagement between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and employers is more important than ever.

“We work with every sector to provide staff, especially but not only in retail, hospitality, construction and logistics, and we see what we do as a partnership with the employer,” says David, an employer adviser for the DWP’s Dudley borough employer adviser team.

“We want to work with everybody. Anyone looking for staff. The Way to Work campaign is about trying to increase the profile of the Jobcentre Plus network so that the employers then use us as their first port of call.”

Abdhesh Kumar is an electrical engineer by trade and founder of Edinburgh-based energy tech startup, Copper & Carbon. Through Jobcentre Plus, he was given access to multiple candidates during a critical time for his business. “Copper & Carbon was officially set up in July 2020 – it began as a PhD project proposal – with a goal of reducing CO2 emissions by developing products and services,” says Kumar. “We’re currently working on converting our initial wind turbine concept into a tangible product.”

The startup is part of the Edinburgh Business School Incubator – which includes office space, mentoring and support. But, as Kumar explains, until he engaged with Jobcentre Plus through the Kickstart scheme – which ended in December 2021, but at the time offered funding for six-month job placements – Copper & Carbon had been a one-man operation.

“It was actually me just trying to develop the idea alone,” he says. But with the help of Jobcentre Plus, the startup’s first employees joined in June 2021. The hiring process was surprisingly smooth, says Kumar. “We were sent an application form to complete, which asked for as much detail as we could offer in terms of what our company does and how the scheme could possibly help us.”

In Kumar’s case, he says it was only through the assistance provided by the government and Jobcentre Plus that he was able to hire anyone to join the business at all. “I’m still at the ideas stage, so receiving funding for recruitment would be a few years down the line,” he adds.

Matthew, a mechanical engineering graduate, was employed by Kumar in August 2021 after being on universal credit for two weeks. While his placement was scheduled to end in January he’s been able to remain with Copper & Carbon beyond this initial contract.

“I graduated at the height of the pandemic and most companies weren’t taking on employees – some were even getting rid of people,” says Matthew. This meant that finding a job wasn’t easy, he says, but then he was given assistance through Jobcentre Plus once he was on universal credit.

“Jobcentre Plus recommended various companies to apply for jobs with, based on my CV and degree. The whole thing was pretty straightforward – I was sent job descriptions and applications by my work coach, which I’d read through and if I was happy, I could apply,” he says.

Any initial concerns, he adds, were immediately allayed after seeing the wide range of suitable roles available. “As soon as I told them I had a degree and experience in this specific area [mechanical engineering], they matched suitable jobs to my expertise, which was a pleasant surprise.”

As well as finding paid employment during a precarious time, the wider opportunities the role has provided have surpassed his expectations. It’s largely due to working at a startup, he says: “It’s been really great and actually very different to how I pictured my first job to be, purely because we’re a small company.

“The best thing is definitely that myself and the other engineer here have a lot of responsibility and influence over what we’re doing day-to-day. We have a lot of freedom in that sense, which I really appreciate because in a bigger company, it would take years to get to that point. We also have input into other things that aren’t purely mechanical, too. For example, I’ve learned business skills and electronic engineering skills – we’re all collaborating on everything.”

Kumar remains grateful for the support he received from Jobcentre Plus, which has enabled the business to grow, and he hopes similar initiatives will be available in the future. “Without it, I think the progress we’ve made would have taken an additional year and a half,” he says. “It was really beneficial.”

And, as Kumar points out, it works equally well for all parties involved. “Everyone benefits at the same time – candidates are better equipped with the knowledge and skills to find other roles going forward. It’s a great opportunity to prepare each candidate with experience, learning and training, so by the time the pandemic is over, they will have something to showcase,” he says.

Matthew adds: “My advice is to make sure your skills and experience are clearly known to your work coach, because that way, you’re going to be matched with jobs that really fit your skill set. I can only speak from my own experience, but when I joined there were quite a lot of engineering jobs that fitted my experience, all across the UK. I’d say go for it.”

To find out how job-ready candidates can quickly fill your recruitment needs, or for advice to help you find your next job, visit gov.uk/waytowork. Eligibility criteria apply

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (“Way to Work”) is a UK government-backed public information initiative. For more information on Way to Work, visit gov.uk/waytowork

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