Together Energy & University of Strathclyde: Recruitment Case Study

Together Energy & University of Strathclyde: Recruitment Case Study

"A big thank you is also due to the team at French Duncan who supported us throughout the project, and helped make this idea a reality.”

 

Working together, for everyone’s benefit.

You don’t need to look very far to see the crippling effect that COVID has had on our economy. Closed shops, reduced hours in bars and restaurants. Conferences and events, live music and sport all being relayed to a virtual audience. What perhaps we don’t consider is the students who rely on part-time jobs in these sectors to fund themselves through university. The same student that has typically overcome hardship to get to university, is now facing further hardship as they manage rising accommodation and living costs without the support of traditional part time opportunities.

Yet at the same time as the retail and hospitality industries are suffering so badly, other businesses were shifting to more flexible working from home situations, often whilst trying to simultaneously cope with increased customer demand.

To many businesses these two situations were relatively unrelated, but when your ethos from the outset has been to operate ethically and support communities suffering hardship you look at the opportunity this presents.

Together Energy is one of the UK’s most ethical companies – what sets them apart is their radical recruitment policy which focuses on employing 90% of their people from the poorest 10% of postcodes.  Through COVID, Together Energy was stretched to the limits in meeting customer needs - customer contact increased due to rapid growth and the pandemic, and yet staff productivity was impacted by remote working (partly due to the company’s unique recruitment strategy).

Together saw that underprivileged students needed new part-time working opportunities, and  the company needed additional enthusiastic, flexible people to work from home during this time.  So in keeping with their ethos, they took the visionary approach to the next level in developing a unique partnership with the University of Strathclyde to recruit almost 100 Strathclyde students part-time around their studies.  And to ensure this scheme supported those most in need, they specifically looked for students who either:

  • Live or originate from a Quintile 1 area (bottom 20%) of Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation;
  • Qualified Care Experienced Students; and/or
  • Applied for a Hardship Fund.

French Duncan were proud to support Together Energy throughout this project, having worked with the company over the past few years across tax, HR, payroll, corporate advisory, and recently with Together Energy’s acquisition of Bristol Energy. 

We therefore wanted to showcase this project to our client base as a commercially astute, novel and philanthropic approach to volume recruitment that had real benefits:

  • Together Energy scaled up to meet their sharp growth in customers, with a high volume of top calibre students who would work evenings and weekends (exactly when customer demand is high);
  • The students in real need of part time work as a result of COVID were given a helping hand to earn while they learn, plus they received training and Strathclyde is working towards awarding them credits for their course; and
  • University of Strathclyde were able to support their students to continue their studies in a financially challenging time.

This project demonstrates true corporate social responsibility – with a backdrop of a decimated job market and mass unemployment as a result of COVID, we believe this is something to really celebrate. 

Read on to find out more about the project’s background and how we at French Duncan helped make it happen…

 

Together Energy’s ethical recruitment approach.

Together Energy started in 2016, and the last 4 years have been a whirlwind of success – headquartered in Clydebank, the company has rapidly grown to a turnover of £100 million with 320,000 customers.  In 2019, they secured a £17.3 million investment from Warrington Council who now have a 50 per cent stake in the business.  They were recently ranked as the third most popular energy tariff in the UK as a result of providing the cheapest fixed deals in the market and supplying 100% renewable dual energy tariffs. 

Together’s approach to people has been revolutionary from the outset, and the company now has 400 ethically recruited staff across 3 locations and was recently shortlisted for the s1 jobs awards Best Recruitment Campaign having provided employment to a number of staff from Watt Brothers when it went into administration. 

 

Working together.

Given a significant growth in their customer base, the Leadership Team at Together recognised a need to quickly secure additional resource, and wanted to do this in line with the company’s social purpose.  The CEO Paul Richards took stock that had the COVID pandemic taken place during his time at university, he would have had no option but to drop out of his studies with part time work in such short supply.  

The company approached the University of Strathclyde – they too were eager to find ways to support their students who were struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. Between them, a unique and winning partnership was created:  Together Energy would provide internships to University of Strathclyde students who really needed it, and Strathclyde would provide recognition to those students completing internships through additional credits. 

As any employer will know, taking on nearly 100 staff in one fell swoop is no mean feat, but in the midst of a pandemic with all partners involved operating remotely, this could have seemed like trying to achieve the impossible.   However, Together Energy and the University of Strathclyde didn’t let that stand in their way, and supported by French Duncan HR, they executed a plan to successfully recruit and on board the students:

  • The dedicated Widening Access team at Strathclyde kicked off the process by determining which students would benefit most from this opportunity, and identified and contacted students living in or from the bottom postcodes in Scotland, who had had experience in care or had applied for a hardship fund. The interest for this opportunity was unprecedented – the volume was the highest the Strathclyde team had ever seen!
  • With a large number of interested students, the next step was to shortlist this to 90 successful interns. The management team at Together Energy worked tirelessly reviewing all applications received and holding remote interviews.  They were genuinely blown away by the calibre of students from Strathclyde and their stories of financial adversity during COVID, and found the experience to be incredibly moving.
  • Once shortlisted, the on boarding process commenced and given the numbers of people involved, technology was crucial in this – French Duncan HR used their existing software to deliver the news of success to the students, issue offers of employment, coordinate training schedules and ingather new joiner information.
  • Together then developed a bespoke one month training programme. Learning is at the core of the company with a dedicated in house teacher, but remote training was a new frontier.   The team recorded a large number of training videos and developed a mechanism for delivering the remote programme, alongside coordinating the issue of a laptop to each of the students to enable them to train and work from home. 

A project of this scale would be difficult in normal circumstances, and was exacerbated by COVID.  However, working in partnership to achieve what they set out, Together Energy and the University of Strathclyde are delighted the 90 students have now completed their training, and are adding real value to the company’s customer base. 

 

Achievements so far.

In October 2020, the Together and Strathclyde partnership has resulted in 90 students being given the opportunity to ‘earn while they learn’.  Their one year internship pays the living wage, work is completed from home in evenings and weekends to fit around studies, and is an opportunity for students to learn about the energy industry and develop their customer service skills.

 

Reflecting on the Partnership

Recruitment can sometimes feel like a transactional process, but this new and altruistic approach couldn’t be further from this.  The symbiosis of the partnership is palpable:

  • Together Energy are able to align their business needs and social purpose which is fundamental to the vision and values as a company;
  • The University of Strathclyde can meet their strategic priority of removing barriers for socially disadvantaged students which is all part and parcel of being the UK University of the Year; and
  • The 90 Strathclyde students can earn and learn at the same time, and also have the opportunity to gain extra credits and enhance their employability skills.

Paul Richards couldn’t be happier with the progress, he said:

“Working in partnership with the University of Strathclyde has been a game changer for Together Energy.  This partnership has allowed us to discover a talent pool of outstanding quality who can support us in achieving our business aims in the short and long term, alongside the students being able to continue with their higher education despite a difficult climate.   It really is a winning formula for all, and I hope this project excites other employers too.  A big thank you is also due to the team at French Duncan who supported us throughout the project, and helped make this idea a reality.”

Associate Principal and Executive Dean of Strathclyde University, David Hillier, is equally as enthusiastic about the partnership stating:

“This is our second pioneering project with Together Energy, the first was the launch of the access course and developing graduates from within Together Energy through the Graduate Levy Apprenticeship. As well as being important members of the Together team, I hope our students can inspire the next wave of Strathclyders from within Together.”

One newly appointed Together Energy intern expressed:

“I was over the moon to be offered an internship with Together – over the summer break, I was concerned about where the work I would normally do to support my studies was coming from, and then this opportunity presented itself.  I have already learnt so much, and am looking forward to continuing to work with Together Energy for the next year, and hopefully after I graduate too!”

 

Further Information

If you are inspired by this story and would like to explore a similar partnership opportunity with the University of Strathclyde, please contact Louise McCosh, HR Director for French Duncan HR at L.McCosh@frenchduncan.co.uk and she will make introductions to the University of Strathclyde Widening Access Team.

 

 

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