Retailers are benefiting by giving the formerly homeless a leg up into work, finds Joanne Ellul

New recruits can inject new life and ideas into a business. So hiring candidates with the right qualities is fundamental to success for retailers. Enthusiasm. Punctuality. Tenacity. Speed. Not qualities always associated with the homeless or vulnerable.

Morrisons aims to create 1,000 jobs nationally for formerly homeless and vulnerable people over the next three years. The grocer believes it can find loyal, hard-working employees by training and hiring from this group. The recruits will take up entry-level jobs in stores as well as back office roles such as those in manufacturing, distribution, logistics and packaging.

Eight such people have already been employed in Morrisons’ Harehills store in Leeds, and the retailer is planning 120 more such recruits for 2011. However, there are certain stigmas involved and some retailers might be deterred by negative stereotypes surrounding the homeless.

Morrisons’ partner, the social enterprise agency Create, trains recruits for three months to NVQ Level 1 before they go on to Morrisons for further training. Its deputy chair Gary Stott says there are no such concerns: “Agencies refer people to us once they are housed and ready for employment, like The Salvation Army and The Big Issue, and our training strips away these risks for retailers.”

Create also continues to provide support for recruits once they are working for Morrisons. The agency gave one 50-year-old man a bike to make his three-mile walk to work easier. Review meetings with Create mentors take place at increasing intervals until the recruits have been employed by Morrisons for a year.

“These sessions help recruits, giving them support they may not want to go to their employer for, as they don’t want to appear different from other employees,” Stott says.

Morrisons is equally enthusiastic about the scheme, and also insists there are no risks to hiring those who are classified as vulnerable or who have been homeless. Group HR director Norman Pickavance says: “Recruits come to us job-ready with practical experience of working in Create’s shops and cafes and go through the same training at the pre-employment academy that all Morrisons recruits do.”

This lengthy training makes them valuable members of the store team. “People become highly skilled through prolonged training. It also binds people to the organisation, encouraging them to give good service to customers and creates a good team,” Pickavance explains. This recruitment also helps stores develop deep links with the communities they operate in, he adds.

Other retailers appear to be following Morrisons’ lead in recruiting homeless and vulnerable people. Stott reveals: “We’re talking to a number of retailers to come on board as clients, including food retailers. It’s valuable for this type of retailer, as they have lots of entry level jobs and high churn rates.”

Reaching Out

  • 1,000 homeless and vulnerable people to be hired by 2013
  • Morrisons aims to offer 10% of jobs at its new stores to vulnerable people by 2013
  • 120 homeless or vulnerable people to be hired this year
  • Morrisons stores in Doncaster, Sunderland and London will take recruits this year
  • Eight out of 25 trainees at Create made it through to working at Morrisons