Can Homeless Workers End The UK’s Growing Skills Shortage?

Written by Nicola Wylie
Last updated January 2, 2023

Over half of UK businesses are experiencing skills shortages. The effects of Brexit and COVID-19 have exacerbated an already mounting problem. So much so, in fact, that the current skills shortage is estimated to cost companies £6.6bn a year in retraining, upskills, and temporary staffing. As the gap grows, UK employers are showing fears for the future. But could there be a sustainable solution to this issue?

Crisis estimated that there were around 227,000 people sleeping rough in the UK in 2021, and many others experiencing different forms of homelessness. As the demand for job candidates in the UK continues to grow, more employers are looking to homeless people to fill positions. 

Since the pandemic, Beam, a crowd-funding social enterprise supporting homeless people in finding work, estimates interest in its services from employers has tripled

This article looks at how employing the homeless can close the skills shortage UK. 

What Caused Skills Shortages In The UK?

There isn’t just one culprit behind the current UK skills shortage but rather a combination of factors. 

The effects of Brexit and the pandemic continue to impact the UK. As many EU workers left the UK following Brexit, skills shortages began to emerge. Then, when the pandemic hit, many older workers chose to take early retirement, and younger people decided to stay in full-time education. 

Some experts claim that a lack of investment in retraining and upskilling has also worsened the shortages. 

Whatever the root causes of the skills shortages are, there’s no doubt that it is costing UK employers dearly. That said, there has been one benefit to come out of the skills crisis. Now, more than ever, employers are looking for talent in new and diverse places.  

3 Ways Hiring Homeless People Can Close The Skills Shortage

Let’s look at 3 of the ways employing and upskilling homeless workers can benefit your business.

They have diverse life experiences and transferable skills

One of the main benefits of employing homeless people is diversity. There’s plenty of data that proves diverse teams perform better, make better decisions, and innovate more. Therefore, extending your search to homeless workers is a perfect way to build diverse teams.

Being homeless is mentally and physically gruelling. As such, those who have experienced it have built a strong set of transferable skills that can add value to your business. For instance, experiencing homelessness builds grit, resourcefulness, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. Being able to adapt to changes is one of the most desirable soft skills for employers and is incredibly tough to train. 

With the right training and mentorship, these skills can easily be transferred to your business.  

They have more to lose

While hiring graduates to fill the skills shortage is also effective, homeless workers have more to lose. After a few years of work, many graduates decide to take time off to travel, move abroad, or go back to education. As such, employers run the risk of losing the valuable skills they have spent several years developing. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it’s much more common with graduate employees.

On the other hand, this is less likely to happen with homeless candidates. Most homeless workers are focused on earning money and finding their feet. Therefore, it’s unlikely that they are going to quit their job in a year or two to travel or study. As they say, the harder you have to fight for something, the harder you hold onto it. This is certainly the case for most people who have experienced homelessness and the hardship of finding work. 

Essentially, if employers take a chance on hiring and upskilling a homeless worker, they are more likely to turn into a long-standing employee.

They are more open to different paths

Other types of job seekers, such as graduates or career changers, may have a clear idea of the career path they want to pursue. For instance, graduates will usually want to find a career in their field of study.  

Generally speaking, people experiencing homelessness are more open to alternative career options. This is great news when it comes to closing skills shortages in your business. As an employer, you can mould workers to plug the critical skills gaps in your business. 

Your organisation may also be eligible for government funding to provide the relevant training. Through retraining, on-the-job learning, and job shadowing, homeless workers can build the specific skills your company requires. 

Worth a read ? 5 benefits of employing homeless workers

How To Employ Homeless Workers And Close The Skills Shortage

Here are some tips on how you can attract more homeless workers to your business. 

Rethink your recruitment process

Of course, if you’re serious about hiring homeless workers in your organisation, you will need to tweak your recruitment strategy. First of all, you’ll need to reach a wider and more diverse talent pool. To do this, try partnering with local UK charities that help homeless people into work. You should also post your job adverts on homeless jobs boards.

Next, take a look at the job description itself. It’s important to remember that while homeless people aren’t less skilled, in many cases, they developed their skills in a different way. Rather than focusing on academic achievements and professional experience, put the spotlight on the skills, behaviours, and attitudes you’re looking for.

You may also want to offer different application methods. For some people experiencing homelessness, traditional job applications can prove challenging. Bear in mind that some candidates may not have a fixed address or contact number and may have gaps in the CV.

In addition, they may not also be in the position to dress in business attire for an interview or do an interview over Zoom. Be flexible and focus on how their skills and life experiences can translate into business results. 

Invest in training

The only way to overcome the skills shortage is to invest in continuous training, upskilling, and knowledge sharing. This starts by creating a learning culture in your business. Creating opportunities for learning and development will allow homeless job candidates to develop the skills they need on the job. 

While training can be expensive for employers, the results are worth it. Not only will you enjoy better performance and business results, but your employees will be more engaged. Considering the high cost of staff turnover, this could save you a substantial amount of time, money, and resources. 

Not all training has to be done in a classroom. There are other ways of upskilling homeless workers. For instance, creating internships, job shadowing initiatives, and even volunteering opportunities for homeless workers is a great place to start. They can develop the essential skills your business needs in return for the promise of work at the end of the training. 

Finding work after experiencing homelessness is tough, so employers that invest in homeless workers will often find they are repaid with loyalty. 

Create an inclusive work environment

Attracting homeless workers to your organisation is just the first step. Once you have successfully hired them, you must foster an inclusive culture that welcomes them. 

Taking actionable steps to promote diversity and inclusion will go a long way to creating a welcoming work environment. For example, you can invest in a D&I strategy, provide diversity training, implement a diverse hiring process, and build a culture that celebrates employees from diverse age groups, life experiences, and races.

When employees feel a sense of belonging, they are more engaged. This translates to higher performance, lower staff turnover, and better employer branding. The bottom line is that if you want homeless workers to plug the skills shortage, you need to keep them in your company long enough to develop those skills. It won’t happen overnight, but it will be worth it.

How We Can Help Your Organisation Close The Skills Shortage

Our experts at Refreshing a Career can help you attract homeless people to your organisation. Here are just some of the services we offer:

Call 03458724501 or email to learn more about our bespoke packages. 

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Last Updated: Friday August 25 2023
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