By Sheila Heard (Managing Director, Transitions London)

Transitions CIC is a social enterprise operating in the talent acquisition market, providing a very specific employment service to big corporates. All of our candidates have refugee backgrounds and are either architects, engineers or business service (i.e. accountancy and HR) professionals.

As a Community Interest Company (CIC) we’re framed as an inclusive business and not a charity.

Many businesses – and, indeed, members of the public – simply don’t know about the high average skill level of refugees and the number of refugee engineers in the UK. There’s often an assumption that they don’t have permission to work here and are unskilled, entry-level employees who don’t speak particularly good English. The reality is quite the opposite!

Highlighting a waste of talent

The unemployment rate for refugees is sixteen times the national average. That includes academics, doctors, engineers, accountants as well as the entry-level people. This is a dreadful waste of talent and the British government unfortunately doesn’t have any kind of settlement service for these people.

This is where we come in. Our job, in my mind, is to both provide a service for unemployed refugees and to raise awareness of the issue.

Overall, we’ve registered 208 candidates since 2011, and 42% of those people have found professional roles. This illustrates how challenging it is to find placements for unemployed refugees in the UK. Similarly, 70% of the people for whom we find internships are retained by the business in question; a higher number, but it’s still very difficult to find internships for refugees.

Very few corporates seem to have internship programs. They often have student programs, but that means refugees aren’t eligible for those placements. There simply isn’t a way in if you’re a refugee who wants to be, for example, a civil engineer or an architect – unless you’ve got a UK reference or happen to be a student.

The reason we contacted Inspire2Enterprise

I originally contacted Inspire2Enterprise in 2013 and developed a fantastic relationship with Andrew Cook. We’re very small, but just like any other enterprise of our size, we’ve cultivated a culture and have a clear mission. We’ve always wanted to be a collaborative organisation that continues to learn and remain competitive by not trying to do everything ourselves – hence the call to Inspire2Enterprise.

As a board, we’re great at challenging each other constructively, and our staff are brilliant at putting forward ideas. Despite this, I realised back then that I also needed a mentor; someone I could talk to who wasn’t directly involved in the organisation and from whom I could seek guidance and benefit from their experience.

Andrew has been so supportive in that role. I think one of his greatest strengths is to be gently challenging without making you want to give up or feel as though you’ve done something drastically wrong. He’s worked with businesses on a much bigger scale to us, but that enables him to provide incredible business insight and strategic thinking that we simply wouldn’t gain ourselves.

I’ve never had a call with Andrew where the business hasn’t benefitted in some way. It’s hard to believe that the Inspire2Enterprise service is free – it’s that good! We still speak once every five or so weeks, and after the call (which lasts about an hour), Andrew writes up everything we discussed, along with the various action points, which is wonderful to be able to refer to as notes in the future.

Steady as she goes…

The advice we’ve had from Andrew has very much been a ‘steady as she goes’ approach. He’s great at convincing me to not panic if it’s been a bad month, and if we’ve had a really good month, he’s quick to remind us not to get too excited and make decisions that haven’t been properly thought through.

Most importantly, Andrew encourages us to always think about the bigger picture and to make sure we have future plans, projected numbers and cash in the bank covered. During the early days, he also helped us significantly with the business plan by reviewing what we’d already written and offering templates for the various sections.

When we last talked about our experiences with Inspire2Enterprise, we were about to introduce a proper information management system and bring on board a new recruiter. I’m delighted to say we’ve successfully done both! A consultant was brought in to help us implement the Insightly customer relationship management (CRM) platform, which has really helped us develop more efficient procedures. It’s been quite a learning curve, but the ability to record and prioritise the milestones and steps required for a successful placement is already proving hugely beneficial. This isn’t an investment we would have considered without Andrew’s guidance.

Our next big decision relates to recruitment. The challenges will be the budget and how the successful candidate will work for us; i.e. will they be directly employed, a volunteer or self-employed consultant? We also need to define what the role will entail – will they be a career advisor or recruiter? As you’d guess, that’s my next discussion with Andrew!

“They thought he was too good to be true”

I sometimes think it’s a miracle we still exist – and we probably wouldn’t without such a fantastic team and external support from Inspire2Enterprise. To be able to generate income with a business that includes the word ‘refugee’ is somehow seen as a contradiction – far too many organisations can’t see a business case for it. That is, until they work with us and realise the wealth of talent out there!

We dealt with an Ethiopian mechanical engineer recently, who had worked on German ships all over the world for five years. He was a really smart guy and a great problem solver – a catch for any business. He’d been hired by an energy company and agreed with the boss that she could tell the staff about his refugee background. When asked why this was necessary, the boss revealed that it was because some members of staff thought he was too good to be true.

As unfortunate as it is that certain people think that way, stories like this really justify what we do.

Don’t hesitate if you’re considering contacting Inspire2Enterprise!

I don’t expect Transitions to take over the world – I think our service and growth aspirations are far more about delivering quality candidates at a sustainable level, and we simply couldn’t do it without Inspire2Enterprise’s ongoing support.

If you’re a social entrepreneur and you’re unsure about contacting Inspire2Enterprise, I couldn’t recommend them enough. My advice would be to first work out what it is you’re trying to achieve and what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you think you can achieve your goals without reaching out – go for it, but if you know there are certain elements in which you’re under skilled (particularly if it relates to business aspects of the enterprise), Inspire2Enterprise should absolutely be one of your first ports of call.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Andrew and the rest of the Inspire2Enterprise team. They’ve had a significant, positive impact on Transitions. We’ve definitely avoided (and dealt with) some fairly serious mistakes by talking to Andrew! I’d also like to think our clients (who include Arcadis, ARUP, Capgemini and Network Rail) for using our social enterprise to host internships and retain the fantastically talented refugees we send their way.

To find out how Inspire2Enterprise can help your social enterprise achieve its goals, contact us today!

To find out more about Transitions, click here.