As BRS look to build software and AI tools to improve indoor air quality and the indoor environment, we’ve been fortunate to take advantage of some truly global talent all based in Scotland. Our team currently includes not only native Scots, but talent, PhD’s and software developers from the likes of Bulgaira, Syria, Libya, Syria, India and Pakistan.
Sourcing people with abilities like this would be a strong task for any HR department, but we’ve had some fantastic help from the team at The Bridges Programme.
Bridges has been operating since the early 2000s with the aim of helping those in Scotland for whom English is a second language find jobs or work experience. That can be working with refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants.
Building talent to benefit everyone
This may seem straightforward, but as Bridges’ Assistant Director Liz Porter explains, there can be quite a lot in it.
She said: “In Scotland there are jobs and there are people wanting to work. The challenge can be in matching them up because some people won’t be sure how much English they need to know for a job and employers won’t be sure how much English someone can read, write or understand.
“But it’s not just about getting someone a full-time job. Quite often, employers and employees want to carry out work experience and there’s multiple benefits to that. It lets the employer see the talent that is out there and it lets the employee – who is often operating in a new field or area of work – learn more and interact.
“We’ve got doctors, dentists, a pilot, an architect and geologists amongst the people we are working with at the moment – a whole range of people from all over the world, including Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East. In essence, we’re showcasing the skills profile of these new citizens to employers, helping to break down barriers.
“There’s also huge interest in those with second and third languages – especially from call centre operations who will get in touch and say, ‘We’re looking to expand our operation for Asian or Far East speakers – do you have anyone who can speak Mandarin, Cantonese or other languages?’
IT Skills, opportunities and growth
One thing Bridges has been keen to do with people is make the most of what skills people have – or help them retrain if necessary.
Liz added: “When people come here from other countries, quite often they aren’t using their developed skillset so they’re looking to learn new things or work in new areas. Now, not everyone will get a job from their time in placement but it shows that they are looking to learn.
“The other hugely rewarding part to this is in seeing people that aren’t just in it for themselves. Yes, they want to make a difference in their own lives but they also want to improve their local communities and areas.
“The challenge – and opportunity – for me is in making that happen. So not only do I need to make sure we are attracting good positions for people – and good people for positions – but I need to horizon scan, see what’s happening in the market, keep building contacts and see what opportunities are out there.
“That was how I came across the team at BRS. I literally bumped into Raymond, one of the directors, on the staircase, we got chatting and from there we discovered opportunities that would benefit each other. We had some really clever IT-minded people on our books and BRS were looking for help in developing their software, so it was a great match and we’ve continued to work together ever since.
Helping firms grow their CSR mindset and seeing BAME perspectives
“The other thing we’re seeing is that companies are opening their eyes to the potential of what they can learn from new perspectives. For example, I think quite a lot of people that come from India that are very, very highly skilled and very highly educated. But they may have learned something that British companies don’t use as much.
One thing Liz finds particularly rewarding is when Bridges is able to help increase opportunities for women.
“There’s a huge momentum around the culture of here compared to elsewhere where perhaps women haven’t been allowed to do as much as they would like. And that’s not just self-empowering to the females, that can be an eye-opener for men and it shows the children that women can work and literally to make decisions and stuff like that. So that’s really, really important part of it.
“Breaking down barriers like that means a lot to us at Bridges. Removing the uncertainty that a lot of people have. People have all sorts of preconceived ideas of what a refugee or an asylum seeker or migrant are. And then when we introduce them, you begin to see the reality of it
Based in Glasgow, educating the world, working in every sector
While the team and its efforts are mostly Glasgow-based, they have also helped out in Dundee and advised in France, Poland, Italy, Greece and Spain, showing other organisations how to make the best of potential workforces.
And it’s clearly paying off. Working in partnership with City of Glasgow College, Glasgow Clyde College, the Open University, Police Scotland, the Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross and Workers Education Association, Bridges has worked with more than 100 employers in addition to BRS including Care in the Community, Royal Voluntary Service, Advinia Care, Glasgow University Veterinary Laboratories, Vidal Sassoon, Age Scotland, Unity, Oakminster Healthcare, SAL: Soil Analysis Laboratories, Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert McAlpine, Glasgow City Council Education Department which includes several primary, secondary and SEN schools, Buddies Clubs and Services, Novotel, Blythswood Square Hotel, Spruce Carpets, Second Opportunities, The Bike Station, Ironside Farrar ltd, North Glasgow Community Food Initiative, Legal Services Agency, Four Seasons Health Care and many many more.
Equality in IT, developing tools to improve everyone’s lot
Michael McKiernan, BRS Director, is a great believer in what Bridges is trying to do. He said: “We’re all about equality and opportunity. Our core mission is about using technology and software to improve housing quality for everyone and that means we’ve met and worked with a lot of families from abroad who are in low-cost living areas that need to be looked at or improved, so we’ve seen first-hand the problems facing a lot of people trying to get a start in Scotland.
“It’s also not just about improving homes. We’re improving office conditions – including our own – and one of the things we find incredible is the insight people from different backgrounds and countries bring to what we are trying to do. It may just be little shifts in perception but they can make all the difference to what you are trying to – especially when you are trying to work a problem from a new angle.
“We’ve hired from Bridges and we’ll look to do so again when the time is right. How can you not support an agency trying to do the right thing for so many people in Scotland? We’re an incredibly diverse and welcoming country and we should continue to be so.”