Ensuring people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups have every opportunity to enter and progress in work is important and we welcome the Prime Ministers’ new Race at Work Charter that commits businesses to a set of principles and actions. However, we also agree with ERSA’s response that while the employment gap between white British and people from ethnic minority backgrounds stands at nearly 12%, quality support is much needed within communities to help people enter and progress in work.

Business2Business has worked in the East Midlands for over 30 years. In that time and through over 50 Government programmes, we have helped many thousands of people from BAME groups into employment. Much of our work is focused on helping people with multiple barriers including English language needs take their first step into mainstream employment, sometimes helping them avoid exploitative working conditions in backstreet sweatshops. Our support involves tailored employment routeways and language provision alongside IAG provided by advisers with community language skills and insight derived from first-hand experience of seeking employment themselves as an adult from a BAME group. Our extensive relationships with local employers, who we bring together with jobseekers through our community-based jobs fairs, are pivotal to our success. We continuously innovate and look forward to hearing about the new ideas and recommendations within ERSA’s new report into provision for BAME groups, developed in partnership with PeoplePlus, being launched at a parliamentary reception on October 31st.

Changes in the labour market, which have led to lower pay, inconsistent working hours and job insecurity have particularly affected the bottom quintile of wage earners, within which the Race Disparity Audit’s data shows people from BAME groups are significantly overrepresented.  Through our in-work support offer, we provide assistance to newly employed people, many of whom are on Universal Credit, to access learning and development activities to help them progress in work.  However, this is not straightforward as there are many situational and dispositional barriers that can gravely hinder participation. As the latest Learning and Work Institute survey data shows, participation in learning is lower now than at any time in the survey’s history. The flexibility recently given to Adult Education Budget holders to fully fund employed workers on low wages will be very helpful but affordability is often just one of the challenges. The interplay of ethnicity and barriers to progression is complex and we believe it is important not to leave employers without assistance in their response to the Prime Minister’s call to action.  We would welcome the opportunity to explore approaches through which employment and skills providers can work in partnership with employers to resolve barriers. Demonstration projects can be very successful at pioneering new approaches to address complex challenges, as we showed when we were the highest achieving provider within the Ethnic Minority Outreach (EMO) programme that ran in the early 2000s.  At the time, in their “Enterprising People, Enterprising Places” report, the National Employment Panel said that “EMO has been highly successful in increasing ethnic minority awareness of employment and training opportunities particularly for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women”. Mainstream employment programmes have benefitted from what was learnt through the EMO ever since but the challenges are now different and we believe it is now time to explore effective approaches that prepare people from BAME groups for employment and support them when newly in employment in a way that ensures progression. Only then can we really have confidence that the Prime Minister’s announcement will radically improve the prospects of many people from BAME groups.

Veejay Patel is Mangaging Director of Business2Business