Community organisers help 1,200 people into Olympic jobs


communities, jobs, sport, welfare

Author(s):  Lina Jamoul
Published date:  22 Feb 2012
Source:  IPPR

Lina Jamoul from London Citizens argues that Work Programme contractors could learn lessons from London Citizens’ success in helping east Londoners to find jobs at the 2012 games.

For years, people in East London have been saying they struggle to find work, but two things happened that drove the East London Citizens Organisation's (TELCO) decision to jump into job and recruitment delivery. The first was the recession, which worsened an already entrenched problem; the second was the Olympics, the biggest development in East London for more than a generation. The neighbourhoods that make up the boroughs hosting the Olympics are among the poorest in the country with some of the highest rates of unemployment.

The London 2012 games have without a doubt physically regenerated east London, in some cases almost beyond recognition. Since 2004, London Citizens has campaigned for ‘ethical guarantees’ (jobs to be paid at a Living Wage; job opportunities to be taken up by people from east London; and a legacy of affordable housing) to be included in London’s bid for the games. For the people of east London, if the London 2012 games were to be successful, it had to do more than physical regeneration and be about helping people get jobs. 

So we struck a deal with the London organisers for the games, LOCOG. If they delivered contractors that were hiring in bulk to our member communities, we would use our relational networks to screen and select candidates for those recruitment events.

We can say with some pride that this initiative has been a great success. With limited resources, London Citizens has placed over 1,200 people into London 2012 jobs. Most other providers, with public funds have placed a fraction (if that) of that number. Huge public budgets are going to private contractors with no relationships in the community and a patchy track record. So we think it is important that the lessons we have learnt are passed on to the welfare-to-work industry and the public agencies that fund and scrutinise them.

What we did

London Citizens’ reach in the host boroughs stretches across Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Greenwich. There are 90 institutions in the host borough area that are members of London Citizens, making up an alliance of churches, mosques, synagogues, trade union branches, schools, colleges and civic associations that reach out to approximately 90,000 families. These institutions, strongly embedded in their neighbourhoods, have built up a track record of working together on campaigns like the Living Wage and CitySafe campaigns.

More than 100 people, trained by LOCOG and based in community institutions volunteered their time to help people get into jobs. Leaders in London Citizens member institutions opened up their doors and spread the word to their people. More than 20 selection events were held in neighbourhoods surrounding the Olympic Park. In the beginning, some people were sceptical. The community organisers heard reactions like: Will we really get these jobs? These jobs are not for us. Do these jobs really exist? We’re tired of going to jobs fairs and nothing happens, will this be the same? 

But, in the end over a period of three months, 1,747 people attended 22 selection events. The selection events were announced from the church pulpit, during Friday prayers at mosques, and tutors encouraged their students to sign up. When people were told that there were real jobs, paid at a Living Wage, available at the end of this process, word spread fast. Out of the 1,747 people who attended, 1,508 people were selected to go to the next stage, which was a recruitment event with a contractor. We worked with seven contractors, holding 12 recruitment events. To date, 1,280 people have had job offers through the work of London Citizens, LOCOG and their contractors.

The first of the selection events took place in Mile End and involved Queen Mary University students teaming up with local youth organisations, the East London Mosque, the Salvation Army and a local girls' school. Local volunteer leaders carried out the process. At one of the early events, it was suggested that  a 'candidates warm-up' before people's job interviews would go a long way in instilling confidence and serve as a much-needed practice run. This idea was taken up and sessions were held so people, who had never worked before, learned to talk about other experiences they had had which proved they had the skills needed to work at the London 2012 games. We found that often people had skills and a proven track record of success, but they wouldn't necessarily articulate it that way. One of the young women in Hackney asked one of the organisers if it was relevant to talk about being short-listed for a London young fashion designer award. The organiser teased out with the young woman how being short-listed for an award proved she was hard-working, talented and successful. 

The first session of main interviews took place at St Johns-at-Hackney, which was transformed for a day from a worship space into a recruitment event. That day, 144 people came through the doors; every single one of them secured a job offer. As the interview sessions proceeded some remarkable personal stories emerged. A 61-year-old, partially paralysed woman, from Stepney, was offered a job in catering and hospitality which she would never have been able to secure in any other way. When she heard about the job this woman said: “it’s my dream to serve my country”.  A Salvation Army volunteer personally went round to the house of a young Bengali man when she heard that he wasn’t intending to turn up for his interview. She got him to wash and smarten up, drove him to the interview and he ended up getting a job offer. In all, four people connected to her church found employment through the TELCO process. 

The key to success

These community-based institutions opened their doors to LOCOG and to their contractors for free without hesitation because they knew the effort was providing much-needed Living Wage jobs for their people. London Citizens' role was to be the conduit between the community groups and the Olympic authorities. Although we had never engaged in job delivery; building relationships, talent-scouting, developing leaders and mobilising people is our bread and butter. It turns out these were precisely the kinds of skills needed to put people into work. 

We saw and had conversations with 1,800 people, hungry for an opportunity. Some of those people are what the government and the Work Programme call 'long-term unemployed'. Some of them are ex-offenders, some of them had been previously homeless, some were refugees. The vast majority were young people in their late teens and early 20s, all eager for a chance to work, most with no work experience behind them.

Our success presents a challenge to the commercial organisations delivering the Work Programme. Currently, there are no full figures on what the prime providers are delivering. London Citizens calls for full accountability and transparency of the Work Programme and all prime providers' contracts. Specifically, we are calling for information on how many people have been placed into employment that can sustain families, and how much it has cost the taxpayer per person placed in employment.

London Citizens, using the tried and tested relational method of community organising (what the government would recognise as the big society), has delivered more people into Olympic jobs than any other organisation – including many of the well-funded providers. It certainly has cost less money than many of the providers are used to operating on. London Citizens has spent £50 per job secured. For 1,280 jobs, that makes a total of £64,000 on this community-based recruitment effort.

Our model has also cut through the bureaucratic red tape. There are multiple agencies and layers of bureaucracy that people looking for work have to deal with, and that creates confusion. London Citizens had initially wanted to plug people into existing mechanisms to get people into London 2012 jobs, but found them to be overly bureaucratic, unresponsive and confusing. This led us to carry out the process ourselves directly with LOCOG and their contractors, despite delivery not being something we would ordinarily engage in. We were able to devise a simple, relational and very effective method to screen and recruit people on a large scale across some of the poorest parts of London.

London Citizens is now calling to be at the centre of evaluating the Work Programme – a role we think we are well placed to play given the rare and striking success we have had in placing people in London 2012 jobs. If the golden opportunity presented by the 2012 games is not to be wasted, the success we have achieved needs to be replicated by others. But our call doesn’t end there. There are also aspects of our approach that could be applied more generally or hard-wired into the welfare-to-work system itself. Getting disadvantaged people into work, particularly if they have been unemployed for a long time, is never easy. But an approach that uses community organising techniques has proved itself and should be rolled out more widely.

London Citizens is an affiliate of CITIZENS UK, the national home of community organising. Its goal is to build the power of communities who work together for the common good.