HomeInterviewSteve Shutts, Astriid: Businesses need to wake up to the opportunity of the invisible talent pool

Steve Shutts, Astriid: Businesses need to wake up to the opportunity of the invisible talent pool

Steve Shutts is the CEO of Astriid and one of the inspiring individuals working on finding meaningful employment for those who are living with a disability or long-term illness. Astriid, started by Steve’s brother David two years ago, aims to pair people living with long-term health issues with corporates willing to create flexible jobs for them. And that’s no easy task, considering some put the number of those living with a chronic issue in the UK alone in the millions. So we asked Steve about some of the challenges he’s faced and some of the lessons learned.


What is the Invisible Talent Pool? How many people do you think are in it, and what can you tell us about them?

Steve Shutts: The invisible talent pool is the name given to the community of individuals that Astriid seeks to support; they are individuals with a long-term or chronic illness who still have a desire to work, and are looking to be matched with organisations that can utilise their talents and experience. They include people who are recovering from cancer, all who have other long-term illnesses such as ME, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, what are the conditions which mean they cannot apply for jobs through the normal channels. We also include individuals with a physical disability, those on the neurodiversity spectrum, as well as the carers of all these groups. They share a collective ambition: to utilise the skills and experience they have built, sometimes over many years, to help businesses either in paid or voluntary roles.

In terms of numbers, no one can be quite sure, but our estimate is around 11 million people would be categorised as being in the invisible talent pool in the UK today.

Are corporates open to hiring people from this segment? What are the main pain points?

Steve Shutts: They most certainly are when they hear about us! There is a great deal of misinformation that has been put about regarding the needs for adaptations that will need to be made when you take on somebody with an illness.

People get hung up about ramps and disabled toilets and anticipate expensive capital projects like lifts to be installed. In a very small number of instances, this may, of course, be necessary, but in the vast majority, the ‘adaptation’ as such is simply a willingness on the side of the organisation to really think about what it means to be returning to work with a long-term health condition.

People in this situation have lost a great deal of self-confidence, and therefore will need active support from colleagues, team members and management alike. This can take the form of an appointed ‘buddy’ to support the return to work, and then amended KPIs and performance indicators that would be used to ensure the contribution is on track.

What are the solutions you have identified/are proposing?

Steve Shutts: Given the scale of the challenge represented by the UK skills crisis (the Open University Business Barometer has reported that 68% of businesses have struggled to find the right talent for their vacancies) we firmly believe that a more creative approach to the sourcing and placing of candidates is not just needed, it’s essential! We are therefore encouraging businesses of all sizes across the UK to take a serious look at the candidates we represent.

We are part of the diversity and inclusion agenda – and any business will benefit from the addition of different perspectives and different life experience as part of their team composition. Astriid also offers the opportunity for businesses to build a reputation as employers of choice for individuals who find themselves disadvantaged – this is becoming an increasingly important factor for the next generation of employees who demand that such policies are in place.

Is the UK legislation catering to people in that situation? What are the best practices in other countries? Can we learn anything from them?

Steve Shutts: As far as we know, we are the only organisation of this type anywhere in the world. Some countries undoubtedly do have firmer legislation that mandates the sourcing of talent from across the whole strata of society. One such example would be India, where large organisations, above a certain threshold, are required to invest 2% of their net profit in a series of CSR initiatives. These cover issues such as poverty, education and the environment; helping people in their society to improve the world in which they live and to build self-confidence through the industry.

In the UK there is no such mandate we are often asked why this is a problem that a charity, operating on a shoestring of donations, and staffed by volunteers, is tackling an issue that really should be high on the government agenda.

What is the time horizon for corporates to catch up to the movement in diversity and inclusion, and what steps will have to be taken for that to happen (from all sides of the table)?

Steve Shutts: Raising issues of diversity and inclusion, and in this case of health inequality, is critical if the country is to utilise the resources that are fully available today. Why would any company choose to ignore the talent on offer, plentiful, available and on their doorstep, and in many cases already fully trained? We have heard a great deal in the Brexit arguments about the loss of talent to UK plc; in Astriid an invisible talent pool we have a ready-made source of skilled labour that is eligible for work today!

But we do not have an endless horizon and time to burn as we solve this issue. Many candidates that have joined the program are sadly no longer with us, and we have missed the opportunity to redeploy their skill. Businesses need to wake up to the opportunity; the Government needs to step in and do more to promote causes such as this; and everyone can help by demanding that the companies they work for, and the products they buy are part of the solution.

See some of the Astriid candidates and support them here.


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