Best Practice Guide to Open and Inclusive Recruitment

A step-by-step guide for Oxfordshire employers to unlock potential through diverse recruitment. This guide is designed to support you to adapt your organisation’s recruitment practices in order to access talented and motivated candidates from disadvantaged groups – to help you reach the widest possible pool of talent. These include ex-offenders; young people who are ‘NEET’ […]

A step-by-step guide for Oxfordshire employers to unlock potential through diverse recruitment.

This guide is designed to support you to adapt your organisation’s recruitment practices in order to access talented and motivated candidates from disadvantaged groups – to help you reach the widest possible pool of talent. These include ex-offenders; young people who are ‘NEET’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and those leaving the care system; homeless people; single parents; military veterans; and refugees.

Drawing on the latest advice and guidance from the national ‘See Potential’ recruitment campaign and from Business in the Community (BITC), this guide sets out expert advice on reviewing staffing practices, and a step-by-step guide for how to introduce ‘open recruitment’ for each of these disadvantaged groups to your workplace. It also provides information on the local recruitment context in Oxfordshire, and useful links to the organisations working with these disadvantaged groups locally and nationally.

The employment context

Oxfordshire has an extremely tight labour market, with low levels of unemployment and high job density – there are 95 jobs available for every 100 residents of ‘working age’. However, with the working-age population expected to decrease in the years to come, and with increased uncertainty over the future availability of migrant labour from Europe, businesses are likely to face multiple employment challenges and skills shortages.

Yet there is also a significant proportion of the population not in work; whilst there are 14,100 registered unemployed, an additional 15,400 people would like to enter into employment but are classed as ‘economically inactive’ – that is, they have been unable to find employment for a range of reasons, and are not claiming anything from the state. Within this group are talented, motivated candidates working hard to overcome their disadvantage, who – with the right support and opportunity – can fill the county’s pressing skills shortages, boost our productivity, and become some of our best employees.

What are the benefits?

Aside from the very real, positive impact of changing individuals’ lives, employing a more diverse workforce can benefit your business in the following ways:

  • Resolve skills shortages
  • Be cost-effective
  • Increase staff retention
  • Reduce staff absence
  • Improve client relationships
  • Upskill the existing workforce and boost morale
  • Demonstrate a social conscience
  • Boost corporate reputation

Evidence suggests that people from disadvantaged groups can become some of your best employees. They go the extra mile to secure results, tend to stay in a job for longer, and have a strong commitment to their employer and lower rates of absenteeism.

The positive effects are not limited to the individual or your business; society benefits greatly from reduced re-offending, a reduced burden on our benefits system and less need for expensive criminal justice and health and social care interventions. The National Audit Office has estimated that the social and economic costs of re-offending by those released from short sentences alone are between seven and ten billion pounds a year, and evidence shows that having a job reduces re-offending by 25–33%.

What are open recruitment practices?

Open recruitment means removing unfair and unnecessary barriers to appointing talented staff from disadvantaged groups that could be contributing to your organisation. It’s about opening doors and welcoming people to job interviews – and ultimately to your workforce.

Having an open recruitment policy covers everything from the job advert you publish and questions you ask (or don’t ask), through to the people you invite to interview. It includes the way you ask about criminal convictions and peoples’ addresses, and how you set out the working hours of the job. It could also mean offering training programmes such as apprenticeships, internships and work placements to those furthest from the labour market, whose skills might otherwise be overlooked.

Three simple steps to open recruitment

1. Make the Decision to Change

The first step is to focus on the business case for developing more open recruitment practices, and to make a collective decision, as a senior management team, to tap into the widest possible talent pool.

  • Assess your existing recruitment policy
  • Identify your business objectives
  • Consider inclusive policies, partnerships and initiatives that will work for your business
  • Gain internal buy-in from senior managers
  • Select your target group(s)
  • Agree your success measures

2. Adapt Your Recruitment Practices

Once you’ve committed to open recruitment and secured internal buy-in from senior management, it’s time to make real alterations to your recruitment practices.

  • Select and approach partner organisations to advise and guide you
  • Amend your standard recruitment processes and checks
  • Set up a mentoring programme for disadvantaged recruits
  • Consider appointing a project leader to ensure changes are implemented at every level

3. Evaluate Outcomes and Share Best Practices

Having implemented an open recruitment policy and made strides towards appointing more candidates from disadvantaged groups, you could set a time frame for evaluating how it’s working. And make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to tell people about what you’re doing.

  • Measure business and social benefit using quantitative and qualitative data
  • Put your diversity initiative at the heart of your communications strategy
  • Share best practice with your industry via Reciprocate and other networks

Step-by-step guidance

In the section that follows, you will find step-by-step best-practice guidance for employing people from a series of different disadvantaged groups. At the end of this guide, there is a comprehensive list of organisations in Oxfordshire and nationally that can help you adopt inclusive and open recruitment policies, connect you with potential candidates and advise you on how exactly to recruit people from these groups.

Nationally, Business in the Community also offers programmes and support for employers to become more inclusive and benefit from access to a wider talent pool. Jobcentre Plus also has a range of recruitment services that can help you. They have offices in Oxford and in market towns across the county. They offer recruitment advice, including specialist support for businesses in setting up work trials to give you the opportunity to try out potential recruits. Locally, Aspire Oxford is an award-winning employment charity that has over 15 years’ experience in engaging with the disadvantaged groups listed here.


Some employers worry that the public may not respond well to them hiring people who have broken the law in the past. However, evidence actually shows that the public warm to the idea of employers being socially responsible. There are more than 10 million people in the UK with a criminal record, so this isn’t a niche issue. It’s also a complete myth that your business’ insurance will automatically prevent you from employing ex-offenders.

When it comes to the way you deal with recruitment and criminal records, follow these steps:

  1. Consider whether you need to ask candidates about criminal records. In most cases, there’s no legal obligation on you to enquire, unless you’re recruiting for a role that requires you to do a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
  2. Have a clear and accessible policy linked to from your online vacancies, setting out how you deal with applicants who have a criminal record. In order to manage applicants’ expectations, the policy should be clear on whether you will ask about it and, if so, when and how this will happen for each role.
  3. ‘Ban the Box’: only ask about criminal convictions on your application form once a candidate has been shortlisted or a conditional offer is made. This helps you to focus on the candidate’s skills and experience.
  4. Written information about a conviction, whether official or provided by an individual, can be difficult to put into context. So if you do have concerns and feel you might have to refuse an individual because of their criminal record, give them an opportunity to explain the surrounding circumstances in person.
  5. If you do ask about convictions, make sure that you ask the right question. For most jobs, you’re not allowed to consider convictions that are ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA). You would also be acting unlawfully if you were to carry out a criminal record check at a level inappropriate to the role. Employers who do this could be charged for unlawfully processing data of a sensitive nature.
  6. Make sure you also make a written record of verbal disclosures of criminal convictions. This avoids unfair dismissals caused by misunderstandings surrounding non-disclosure.

Young people NEET (including care leavers)

NEET stands for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ and refers to a group of young people who are often not fulfilling their potential due to poverty, family breakdown or disengagement with education. Often this can include young people who have been in the care system for large parts of their childhood, and on leaving the system struggle to find their way when much of the support they were afforded when younger disappears.

Follow these steps to engage these valuable young people:

  1. Some jobs or apprenticeships require minimum education and experience requirements, which can sometimes unfairly filter out young people NEET, who will have had fewer opportunities. Consider offering short-term traineeships as a way of sampling their talents and helping them acquire experience in the field.
  2. Make the application process as accessible as possible. That includes making sure your application forms are in plain English. Some young people NEET may struggle with the application process, having received little or no career support from their families. Lots of employers are using creative application procedures outside of the workplace, assessing personal aptitude and capacity to develop in a particular industry rather than more formal processes.
  3. Consider offering greater discretion on leave entitlement for young people NEET to attend any necessary appointments with organisations that help them get on their feet. Local authorities offer care leavers support up to the age of 21 (24 if still in education). Consider offering a buddying scheme to help them grow in their roles.

Homeless people

In its broadest sense, homelessness is the problem faced by people who lack a place to live that is supportive, affordable, decent and secure. For every rough sleeper, there are around 100 people in hostels, and 1,100 households in overcrowded accommodation. This means that there are many unseen individuals affected by homelessness who will struggle to access employment and bring themselves out of their predicament.

Follow these steps when recruiting homeless people:

  1. Remember that homeless people will come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Lots of homeless people will have previously been in highly skilled jobs.
  2. Don’t sift out candidates just because they have gaps in their work histories. Gaps on CVs can be for a variety of reasons, including periods of homelessness.
  3. Train line managers to understand the impact of homelessness. Understanding the effect on a candidate’s self-esteem, and having strong support networks in place, can help candidates with histories of homelessness give you their best as employees.
  4. Offer secure contracts wherever possible. Homelessness is characterised by instability, so it is important for those who are rebuilding their lives to have enough security to plan for the future – and subsequently thrive at work.

Single parents

Single parents often need to overcome a number of factors when moving into employment. For example it can be a struggle to find reliable, affordable childcare; they may be lacking in confidence and relevant skills and experience due to having been out of work whilst caring for their children for a number of years; and they will continue to have care responsibilities for their children which will affect their flexibility of working hours.

Follow these steps when making allowances for single parents:

  1. Broaden your appeal as an employer by advertising jobs on a compressed hours or job share basis. Promote the fact you offer flexible working practices in your job adverts.
  2. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. Although employers aren’t legally obliged to offer this to employees that have been working with them for less than 26 weeks, it’s good practice to be as flexible as you can and consider what you can do to help employees who are single parents.
  3. Going back to work after time out to look after children isn’t always easy. Consider introducing a family-friendly induction period. Perhaps start with reduced working hours of 9.30am to 3.00pm, to help single parents settle into the workplace, build their confidence and support them in realising they can manage work and looking after a family on their own. After an initial induction period, gradually introduce the shift pattern to help parents adjust.
  4. It would help your single parent colleagues to let them know of Ofsted-registered local childcare providers, which offer tax-free childcare and the new 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds.
  5. A buddy scheme during the first few months, ideally with another parent, can also prove effective in supporting single parent colleagues to settle in.

Military veterans

Ex-military personnel have a unique set of skills and abilities, such as leadership, resilience and discipline – all of which are transferable to the civilian workplace. However, veterans can sometimes struggle in the initial recruitment stages to translate their skills and experience in a way that resonates with employers.

Follow these steps when recruiting military veterans:

  1. Work with military organisations to identify talented veterans, or hire someone with military experience to help you become better at spotting talent.
  2. It’s difficult for some veterans to know where to start their job search. Try to make your business known by attending job fairs and advertise your vacancies through the Career Transition Partnership and other military charities.
  3. Military culture can affect how veterans approach job interviews. They are trained to emphasise their teams and not take credit for their achievements. Try to help them ‘sell themselves’ during the interview process.
  4. The majority of military veterans have not engaged in combat and will not have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nevertheless, experience shows that people with PTSD can perform well in jobs with the right help and support.
  5. Adjusting from the military to the business world can be a challenging process for some veterans. Offering a buddying or mentoring scheme can help them feel welcome and settle into the business quicker. Veterans can also benefit from a community of fellow veterans, so consider setting up an internal military network at your company.


The majority of refugees were working before they arrived in the UK, and have backgrounds in a wide variety of roles, from skilled trades to managers and senior officials. Research shows that refugees are highly motivated to find employment in the UK and to make a positive contribution at work.

Follow these steps when recruiting refugees:

  1. Refugees have the same protection against discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of protected characteristics as everyone else in the UK. But they can also experience particular problems because there is confusion about their rights and entitlements. It is important to ensure that all job selections are made on the basis of suitability for the post. You should not make assumptions about a person’s right to work or immigration status on the basis of their colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, accent or the length of time they have been resident in the UK.
  2. Refugees are not part of the points-based system, where migrants are required to meet particular skill and experience levels and employers are given sponsorship duties. They are able to work in the UK without any restrictions and, in common with other employees in the UK, are covered by the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.
  3. There are documents that refugees, and some asylum seekers, have that demonstrate their entitlement to work in the UK, which you can check as an employer to ensure that you are employing them legally.

Other disadvantaged groups

This guide is by no means comprehensive, and has been put together based on the expertise of Aspire Oxford. There are a number of fantastic organisations supporting people towards and into employment in Oxfordshire with the following barriers:

Learning disabilities and autism: Mencap runs the excellent ‘Employ Me’ programme, and Yellow Submarine have a great track record of supporting young people with learning disabilities into employment.

Mental health: Restore offers employment coaching for people who are unemployed due to poor mental health.

Useful Organisations


  • Thames Valley Probation Community Rehabilitation Company’s probation officers support offenders with a wide range of rehabilitation activities
  • Spring Hill and Bullingdon Prisons have dedicated staff in their teams organising work experience, training and employment for serving offenders
  • Business in the Community’s Ban the Box campaign guides employers on when and how to ask about criminal convictions
  • Nacro provides free expert advice to help employers considering recruiting someone with a criminal record
  • The St Giles Trust has a dedicated employment service, helping place ex-offenders
  • Blue Sky helps companies recruit committed workers
  • Unlock supports fair treatment of people with criminal records

Young People NEET (including Care Leavers)

  • TRAX delivers services and training to young people in Oxford, including mechanical bicycle building and catering
  • Base 33 is based in Witney and supports young people to develop their self-confidence, skills and work readiness
  • ACE Training provides quality apprenticeship in brickwork, bench joinery, groundworks and site carpentry
  • South Oxfordshire Food and Education Alliance trains deprived young people in logistics-related work, redistributing food donated by supermarkets to local charities
  • Oxfordshire County Council’s Education, Employment & Training Team operates from the eight Children and Family Centres across the county
  • Further education colleges, including Activate Learning and Abingdon and Witney College, have employer engagement programmes
  • The Prince’s Trust works with young people who need practical, financial and emotional support and places them with employers looking for fresh talent
  • The School of Hard Knocks is a sports charity that prepares people from disadvantaged groups, including those who grew up in care, to become work-ready
  • Street League provides work-ready, enthusiastic young people for employment
  • Catch 22 supports those who have grown up in care begin their career journey
  • Barnardo’s provides employment, training and skills for young people, to equip them to find work and pursue a career
  • Become offers affordable training and consultancy to organisations that hire those who have grown up in care

Homeless People

  • Crisis Skylight is a café in Oxford that trains homeless people in the hospitality industry
  • Banbury Young Homeless Project (BYHP) supports young people through employment coaching and engagement programmes with local employers
  • Crisis supports homeless people into meaningful, sustainable employment through its recruitment service

Single Parents

  • Activate Learning is an FE college operating the ‘Building Better Opportunities’ programme, designed to support longterm unemployed Oxfordshire residents into employment
  • Gingerbread is England and Wales’ leading single parent charity and can help match employers with skilled and passionate workers

Military Veterans

  • The Royal British Legion has branches across Oxfordshire, and a website to support service leavers,
  • Regular Forces Employment Association (RFEA) has an Oxfordshire advisor and provides support, jobs and training opportunities to service leavers and veterans
  • The Career Transition Partnership (CTP) is the official provider of Armed Forces resettlement
  • The Forces Employment Charity offers companies a no-cost, high-quality recruitment service through which they can access highly qualified Service leavers
  • Veterans Employment Transition Support brings together charities, businesses and the MOD to improve employment outcomes for veterans


  • Asylum Welcome provides advice and practical help to asylum seekers and refugees on employment
  • The Refugee Council provides guidance for employers on recruiting refugees

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