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Doing Corporate Social Responsibility Right

James Witcombe, winner of the 2018 RCSA Outstanding Contribution Award, talks to The Brief about why corporate social responsibility is more than handing over a cheque and why it’s important to ensure it’s the right fit to make a real difference.

James Witcombe could easily be the poster boy for how to do Corporate Social Responsibility well.

The Associate Director of SMAART Recruitment has been overseeing the organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program for the past few years and 18 months ago, committed the company to develop a long-term partnership which is already reaping rewards for those involved.

SMAART’s informal partnership with Fitted For Work, a program designed to help women experiencing disadvantage return to the workforce in sustainable jobs, was last year named the winner of RCSA’s CSR Award.

Fitted For Work provides practical help for women from a wide variety of backgrounds by providing clothing for job interviews as well as assistance with writing resumes and cover letters for job applications and interview preparation.“I had heard about Fitted For Work and knew they were trying to assist women who were from disadvantaged backgrounds get back into work,” Witcombe said.

“We were looking for an organisation we could partner with for the long-term. We didn’t want it to be a one-off where we write a cheque or have a fundraising day and that be the first, last and only thing we have to do with them.

“We wanted our contribution to be a more sustainable giving of time or money because we felt that would allow for that organisation to have some surety about their programs. It was also clear that our recruitment skills could be used to help those women looking for work.”

SMAART is an Australian recruitment firm with 25 consultants specialising in accounts, marketing, office administration and volume recruitment for contact centres, sales and retail. The company, which has offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane averages 500 placements each year.

SMAART now hosts two workshops a month for Fitted For Work participants with another 22 planned for the remainder of 2018.

Additional workshops are offered to those who are incarcerated at both of Victoria’s women’s prisons to prepare them for when they are released.

“The idea is Fitted For Work knows these workshops will be offered consistently for them and it gives the women two opportunities every month to get some help from recruitment professionals,” Witcombe said.

“The program started with the aim of providing suitable clothing for women struggling with disadvantage to help improve their chances of securing employment. Not having suitable clothes matters because the women are not confident to go for job interviews or to even apply for jobs if they know they don’t have the clothes to wear to interview.

“We feel that sharing our knowledge about how to write the best cover letter, how to identify skills for resumes and how to prepare for interviews also helps to build the confidence of the women involved with Fitted For Work while offering the practical know-how to find a job.

“As soon as we ran a couple of these sessions, it was easy to see the impact we were having.”

While Witcombe happily acknowledges the brand and reputational benefits of the CSR partnership SMAART has developed with Fitted For Work, he says the benefits to the individuals involved – both within SMAART and the program itself – are immeasurable.

“Yes, we do get a lot of benefit from it as a business,” Witcombe – who has 5000 interviews and 500 group interviews to his name – said.

“The way we work as an agency is usually by placing the top exceptional candidates only – others don’t normally get a look in”

“Our work with Fitted For Work is a reality check for our staff and a good reminder there are those candidates who can walk from job to job easily and those who can’t.

“It’s a reminder we need to treat all candidates equally.”

Elizabeth Trewhella, National Operations Manager with Fitted For Work, said it is the first organisation of its kind in Australia, established in 2005 with the sole purpose of helping women experiencing disadvantage to break through employment barriers by providing practical help.

That included ensuring the women had access to the clothes needed to confidently attend job interviews (thus the name Fitted For Work) as well as practical advice on how to apply and interview.

“Our approach to corporate partnerships is based on shared value principles,” Trewhella said. “All our partnerships are unique and are designed to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes which are clearly defined and measured.

“SMAART have been a valued supporter of Fitted for Work for a number of years and have been really flexible in their approach of assisting the women we help.

“Women who have attended the SMAART session have reported feeling increased confidence and knowledge around attending job interviews and being successful in finding work.”

Trewhella added that the organisation was lucky enough to have a number of corporate partnerships, all of which contribute in a multitude of ways from financial assistance and advice to providing access to skills, knowledge, networks, resources and work experience.

As well as the assistance of SMAART with practical tips for jobseekers, Fitted For Work also has partnerships with organisations offering workshops on styling, presentation and make-up, all of which help to build confidence.

“Through these partnerships we have been able to assist over 28,000 women realise their goal of financial independence through paid work,” Elizabeth said. “Currently 64 per cent of women accessing our service are finding work within four months.”

Witcombe said he is pleased SMAART’s CSR activities are receiving attention because he believes it is an example others can emulate with very little difficulty.

“I really think these kinds of partnerships should become the norm,” he said.

“It doesn’t take that much work. I did a session this morning and it took two hours. We do that twice a month. It’s not that hard or that difficult at all if you have the will and the desire.

“I think a lot of organisations get caught up in CSR being very strictly managed and well planned when really it is about donating a little bit of time or effort and having the right intention. It’s not that hard.

“The fact we are getting so much attention for this shows the lack of meaningful CSR which is being done. Instead of praising us, we encourage other organisations to get out there and do something worthwhile themselves.

“CSR work is not for the benefit of an organisation to solely use for promotional activity. If an organisation really is committed to doing meaningful CSR work, it will be a long-term commitment.”

And because Witcombe is clearly a man who is interested in supporting change, he hopes the work SMAART is doing with Fitted For Work will have more enduring consequences.

“I hope this is the start of a discussion as a broader community to walk the walk rather than talk the talk when it comes to giving people from different backgrounds – including those with criminal records – a second chance,” he said.

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