An interview with Michael Corrigan, CEO, Prosper 4 Group.
Michael Corrigan has always been a ‘get on and do it’ person. It’s a characteristic that took root making and selling biscuits at school and took him all the way to a partnership at Deloitte. Unfortunately, a search for a new challenge went badly wrong, and suddenly he was serving 16 months in Brixton prison for a banking offence. But even there, he got stuck in and started organising routes back into work and temporary release for offenders nearing the end of their sentences, with the prison’s full support.
From these first seeds has grown Prosper4 Group, an umbrella social enterprise whose first goal was to reduce reoffending rates by improving job prospects, and which has now dramatically expanded its remit with BRIDGEOFHOPE.CAREERS.
What inspired you to launch the Bridge of Hope?
The Bridge of Hope careers portal was formed on the back of the work that we had previously been doing – Prosper4 Group had established what we think was the largest digital jobs board across Europe working with a niche sector – the ex-offender sector.
We’d had significant social success – we worked with over sixty progressive employers willing to offer meaningful work to hundreds of ex-offenders. But we wanted to do more. So, what we decided to do at the beginning of 2020 was to broaden that out – to take the programme and make sure that as many people from as broad a range of society as we can are included. That includes people aged 16-24, who’ve been the worst hit by the pandemic; it includes people who experience racism in recruitment, people who might be veterans, or have lost their job as a result of Covid, people who might have a criminal record – it doesn't matter what your background is.
What we've also found is that, increasingly, employers really want to represent society – they want as broad a range of people working for them as possible. We’re careful to only work with properly inclusive employers who want that diversity, and then we work with them very closely.
Some of them want to simply post jobs onto our careers portal, BRIDGEOFHOPE.CAREERS, and enable candidates to apply for the jobs and see what they get. Others come to us with a specific need – for example, we’re working with one big company that wants to employ people from particular backgrounds to drive their vans and trucks around. As a result of Covid, there is much more distribution going on across the country and they need more drivers. And we’ve got the technology to match our candidates directly with that specific need.
I think what makes us different is that we're really a people business.
It's growing incredibly fast. What's made that possible?
Well, we’ve had a fantastically committed team who’ve been working with us since day one and have really come together. We’ve also been able to broaden our team, partly based on additional funding from organisations such as Nesta, Big Issue Invest, and Innovate UK. And then we work with some great technology providers: industry leaders like Bullhorn, Volcanic and Textkernelwho’ve come together to provide what we call our “tech stack”. This technology means we can obtain jobs from employers where we’ve got their permission, bring them onto our site and then match them with our candidates.
And a critical part of our opportunity here is to work with our referral partners. These organisations – and they may be third sector organisations, charities or universities dedicated to widening participation – connect their pools of untapped talent with us, get people registered with us – sometimes en masse. That support means that, over the last few months, more than 5,000 people have been registering on the portal every month, uploading their CVs and applying for jobs. In fact, our application rate for jobs right now is also running at more than 5,000 jobs every month.
There are lots of jobs sites out there – what makes the Bridge of Hope different?
I think what makes us different is that we're really a people business. We talk about the fact that we've got a great tech stack and that we’re able to include modern-day and cutting-edge technology, but actually at the core of it, we’re about the people.
So, we work with some fantastic recruiters who want to employ people on a diverse and inclusive basis. We work with some brilliant referral partners who help some of our most marginalised candidates to get back on their feet and re-enter the jobs market through our site.
And as a team we very much reflect our market: people with lived experience that’s similar to our candidates – so we employ people with disabilities, neurodiversity, and veterans, for example. There are also the wonderful benefits we get from the experience and wisdom of older team members, the energy and optimism of our younger staff, and the rich, lived experience of people of colour. And it's all those people – they’re what really makes the difference. Our USP is people.
Not everyone that signs up through Bridge of Hope will find work. How else can we help?
We recognise that getting a job is the ultimate ambition of people who come ontoBRIDGEOFHOPE.CAREERS, and that employers want to recruit those people. The transition that we're making from being a jobs board to being a careers portal is adding further benefits for both candidates and employers.
A job could be the result, but it may be that people take up a training course or other in-depth learning opportunity. And from our own lived experience as a team, we understand the well-being that comes about just from simply being able to apply for a job where you know that the employer is committed to seeing the whole person and looking past lazy labels – that is so important. It’s a real confidence-builder, too, and we want that for all our candidates.
What's your vision for the future of the Bridge of Hope?
At the moment, our numbers are going ever upwards. The scale is only limited really by the number of jobs that are out there and the number of people applying. Certainly, for the next few years, as we all come to manage the fallout from Covid, we expect to only grow in our capability to meet the aspirations of both employers and job-seekers.
We want to become a significant player in the area of marginalised or inclusive recruitment – to be the go-to organisation for both employers and jobseekers. We've got the technology, we've got the team that can bring all of this together. And we really mean it.