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Brotherhood of St Laurence: Building Employment Pathways

‘Given the Chance’ is a Social Traders’ certified social enterprise – operated by the Brotherhood of St Laurence – that works with organisations to support marginalised workers by providing labour hire services and opportunities for trainees and apprenticeships.

Brian Finnigan, Partnerships and Engagement Manager at the Brotherhood of St Laurence shares his insights on operating the enterprise and accessing new buyers through Social Traders.

Who are some of the Social Traders buyer members you’re currently working with?

Social Traders introduced us to the City of Melbourne procurement team and we’re now working with some of their contractors. We had an existing relationship with SECURECorp who re-won their security contract with the City of Melbourne. We’re now working with them to supply a cadetship and they’re currently in the process of interviewing candidates from our Security Cert III training program. We’ve also started placing people with the graffiti removal providers for City of Melbourne through our labour hire business.

We’re also working with John Holland and Lendlease on the Swanston Street Tunnel that has just been announced. There’s a number of other infrastructure contracts that are up for tender as well, so I’m working closely with the procurement and HR teams to guide them on how to engage individuals to meet the disadvantaged employment metrics of the contract. So we’re at the start of a road, or a rail track, quite literally.

How valuable was it to meet Social Traders buyer members face to face?

The networking provided through Social Traders was invaluable. We were already working with some of the organisations that were there, but we were able to start to develop traineeship and social enterprise labour hire opportunities with the likes of John Holland, Boral and potentially with Metro Trains.

My role at the Brotherhood is as an employment broker and partnership developer, and that’s all about warm contacts. Cold canvassing has its value but warm leads and recommendations from organisations like Social Traders to be able to make those connections to start those discussions is invaluable.

What kind of impact have these contracts had on your growth and scale?

Our forward forecasting has predicted a significant boost in growth in six months in comparison to the previous full year. It’s a big spike, so now we need to look at how we will actually resource and grow the organisation. For us, it’s about managing scale and managing our ability to grow and maintain the quality, not just of the service but also of the placement supports, field office support and the training we deliver.

We’re niche in our focus so we’re never going to be working at the volumes of a commercial labour hire business, but it’s very busy because of the social procurement policy and the enormous potential of major infrastructure projects.

What impact do these contracts have for the people you work with?

Enormous, it’s absolutely enormous. We’re lucky that the ‘Given the Chance’ program has been around for about 12 years and we have established partnerships like our refugee program with ANZ, but our focus now is broadening the range of industries that we can work with to open new opportunities.

Up until quite recently, the focus for employment organisations helping asylum seekers was just on getting jobs – whether it’s in a factory, picking and packing, in abattoirs or cash in hand work – and we’re talking about a group where 40% are tertiary qualified in their country of origin. We have a client who is working as a customer service operator in Woolworths in the western suburbs who is a genetic physicist by trade, so we’re looking to broaden the scope and put more vacancies and opportunities on the table.

It’s important that it’s not just about finding entry level work, it’s about finding meaningful employment pathways that not only match the business’ needs but also match the aspirations of the person seeking employment.

Have you seen an attitude shift towards social procurement in the corporate sector?

Social procurement is now a thing. Partly because it’s being imposed upon particular corporates operating in construction, but it is a thing that can’t be ignored and I do see a distinct shift because all of a sudden large organisations understand that there is a financial incentive to actually do this, because if they don’t do it they’re going to lose tenders and contracts.

In comparison, a large telco or retailer aren’t driven by mandates, they’re driven by their customer base and shareholders and executive strategy and direction. That’s still a work in progress but it’s often just a matter of chipping away at those organisations and finding the right person and timing. Sometimes you’ll wait for years and all of a sudden the right person comes into the role and off it goes.


Given the Chance is a ST certified social enterprise. Click here for more information on ST certification.