Social value in recruitment – 5 things you can do

Recruitment companies are under increasing pressure to deliver social value. Whether your organisation is working directly with a public body to provide recruitment services, or as part of a supply chain, having a robust social value offer can now be the difference between winning and losing a contract. 

The good news is that recruitment firms are in a unique position to support groups into work and deliver real value for society and the economy. 

Many already consider their social and environmental impact as part of their day-to-day operations. But when it comes to optimising and articulating that good work, or capturing it at project level to include in bids, it can pose a real challenge.

In this article, we’ll look at some helpful things to think about to enhance the social value offered by your recruitment business.

What is social value and why do we need it?

Since 2021, all private companies bidding for work with the public sector have been required to demonstrate their capacity to deliver additional work that creates ‘social value’, i.e. has a positive social impact. 

While the government has provided guidance in the form of the Social Value Model, the focus in the early days was more on the construction sector. This means there has been a historic focus on skills training and apprenticeships. But these are not as easy to deliver for recruitment companies, where a contracted project is far less likely to offer these opportunities.

Consequently, social value in recruitment has often leant on ‘business as usual’ activities like company volunteering, equitable hiring policies and CSR initiatives. But, as clients start demanding more social value from recruitment contractors, with weightings now sometimes up to 25%, these activities don’t always provide enough evidence for companies to present a compelling social value offer in bids or to get themselves on a PSL.

So what can recruitment companies do to improve their social value scores? Here are five ways recruitment businesses can get better at social value:

1. Address ‘Workforce Representation’

The Social Value Model talks explicitly about supporting workers who face barriers to employment and this is an area where recruitment companies really have an advantage.

    Groups may include:

    • Domestic violence survivors
    • Ex-armed forces personnel
    • Care leavers
    • Homeless people
    • School and college leavers
    • Displaced talent
    • Offenders Released on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and prison leavers

    By sharing expertise, networks and data, recruitment companies can make a real difference to those who struggle to enter the job market and to industries where marginalised groups are still underrepresented.

    Use your data to examine where the gaps lie – who is not getting the opportunity to work? This could be tailored to the sector or specialisms required for a project, or might focus on a key segment, like temporary workers. 

    What measures could you put in place to enhance the social impact of the projects you’re delivering?

    This could be anything from delivering training opportunities to NEETs (perhaps through BTEC, City & Guilds, NVQ, HNC), delivering talks at prisons, providing skill- based training in local communities etc. 

    You could also consider identifying socially responsible employers and working together to match their vacancies with disadvantaged job seekers. Or you could help them bring their expertise to job seekers who are trying to break into areas where they are traditionally underrepresented – for example, partnering with a tech firm to support more women into tech roles via training and work placements.

    women in engineering recruitment

    PSR Group saw this gap in the market and in 2019 launched PSR Build a Career specifically to support socially disadvantaged cohorts into sustained employment.

    With access to more than 50,000 professionals, Build A Career engages with governments, refugee-serving organisations and local communities, to create safe and legal pathways that enable displaced talent to move for work. Some of this is project work, some of this is social value accounted for within their own business.

    Reed supports Care Leaver Covenant, offering free career advice, one-to-one and group sessions for care leavers looking to progress in the working world.

    Another example we have been impressed by is Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS) who  has made social mobility a core part of its company mission

    Recognising that being in recruitment offers a unique opportunity to help remove barriers to work, many teams and individuals within the organisation raise awareness by lending their expertise to publications and round tables.

    They also partner with charities and social enterprises such as Recruit for Spouses and Bridge of Hope to support the reach to underrepresented groups.

    Use your resources. Apply the skills which exist within your business to help those around you who face these barriers. 

    2. Collaborate…

      With other businesses, with social enterprises, with SMEs and VCSEs…

      Working together with your clients and supply chain will enhance your social value and result in better outcomes for the communities you serve.

      If you’re working with a client that has a strong social value offering, you could identify opportunities to enhance their social value delivery. 

      For example, if your client is running a community hub – could you offer volunteers? Or repurpose office equipment for them to use, like tables and chairs?

      Partnering with charities and not-for-profits can offer good opportunities to tease out more of your social value.

      In the example of AMS above, they formed a Social Mobility Working Group to draw all their good work together. They partnered with the Social Mobility Foundation, to unite efforts across the organisation and create an even bigger impact. As of November 2023, they are ranked #39 in the SMF’s top 75 Social Mobility Employers list.    

      The Social Value Model is quite overt in asking bidders to look at their local organisations for social value creation.

      MAC 2.1 – “Create opportunities for entrepreneurship and help new organisations to grow, supporting economic growth and business creation”

      MAC 3.1 – “Create a diverse supply chain to deliver the contract including new businesses and entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMEs, VCSEs and mutuals”

      Can you divert more of your company spend to local businesses, particularly VCSEs or SMEs?

      3. Measure up!

      With initiatives running across the business and good work happening in different teams, it can be hard for recruitment companies to keep track of their overall social impact. 

      Using a centralised platform makes it easier for everyone to contribute to the monitoring and measurement of social value delivery, and allows information to be collated and tracked consistently. 

      Data can then be quickly accessed for inclusion in bids and can be used to demonstrate your overall impact to your stakeholders and employees.

      Thrive Project Dashboard

      But measurement isn’t only about showing the outside world what you’re doing well.

      Tracking and sharing social value data across your organisation with a software like Thrive – which tracks and reports social value for companies from 100 to 100,000 employees – can help with target setting and continuous improvement. 

      Using Thrive’s social value module PSR Group mentioned above has been able to report detailed, quantified data on the impact that its own work has had – not only to stakeholders but also to contracting authorities when it bids for government work.

      Because tracking and collating the good work you do is one thing. For bids, stakeholders and wider community press you may need to find a more financial value for the work you have so carefully tracked. So that leads us on to…

      4. Quantify your impact and maximise your resources 

      A social value measurement tool like the Impact Evaluation Standard is essential for evaluating your impact activities, benchmarking for continuous improvement and knowing where to focus next for maximum impact. 

      The Thrive platform has the Impact Evaluation Standard built-in. This measurement tool was developed by a panel of social value experts and is supported by detailed rationale. It contains 130+ metrics representing different benefits to society that can be delivered under a contract. Many of these have proxy values – monetary values that calculate the economic benefit to society. 

      Impact Evaluation Standard User Guidance 2024

      Being able to quantify your social value outputs in this way can be essential for articulating the impact you have to stakeholders and in setting targets for the business. 

      But as well as helping a business quantify the good work it does, using a social value measurement tool can also give you ideas about where you’ll have the biggest impact.

      For example, does a recruitment company enable more social value when its employee volunteers paint a school fence, or when they go to a school to give career guidance?

      As well as the volunteering you might be doing, are there donations you can make? 

      While some companies may choose to donate a percentage of their fees to charity, you can look deeper within your business for non-financial donations. Are there existing resources that are no longer needed like old office furniture or devices? Could these be passed on or safely recycled to support community projects? 

      Examine the metrics for ideas about where your existing time and resources will be spent for the most impact. It only takes a little extra thought, has little or no effect on a company’s bottom line and could make a huge difference for those in need.

      5. Make social value part of your business strategy

      Getting strategic about social value and making it a central part of your organisational mission gives the best possible chance of creating a positive legacy. 

      And this isn’t just a nice to have, it can significantly improve the bottom line. Telling the world about your company purpose has many benefits  – motivating staff and attracting customers, partners, investors and talent. 

      There is an extensive, growing body of evidence to correlate higher levels of employee engagement with companies that live by their values and deliver a social purpose. Gallup has reported that companies with highly engaged workforces have:

      • 24% less staff turnover
      • 10% higher customer ratings
      • 17% higher productivity
      • 21% higher profitability

      Engaged employees who are committed to the business they work for go the extra mile – and it pays off. 

      If you want to understand more about how your social value strategy can improve employee engagement we have this explainer blog.

      So get your workforce on board with your social value mission. A strong social value culture starts on the inside of the organisation and needs to be led from the top.

      Start conversations about social value via internal channels like working groups. Share social value wins through company newsletters; host helpful information on dedicated intranet areas. 

      By integrating social value into your company culture shows that you see it as more than just a tick box exercise, more than just a commercial tool to win or retain work.

      Thrive customer Reed have been carbon neutral since 2005, long before legislation made it beneficial to do so. Their latest ESG report highlights a wide range of activities that have existed for decades, highlighting where their core company values sit.

      When the whole company works together, a business will make more connections, spot more opportunities and generate more social value than a social value team working alone ever could.