There is a chill wind blowing throughout the recruitment sector, largely caused over woe about the uncertainty of Brexit. As at the end of November 2018, the employers’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) issued a stark warning that nine out of ten UK businesses say that Brexit has affected their ability to recruit and train staff this year.

The picture is equally bleak in the public sector, with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the professional body for the recruitment industry, stating that the public sector, including the NHS and schools, face up to seven more years of skills shortages, based on current demand.

And on November 29, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of EU citizens coming to the UK for work had fallen to a six-year low.

Pretty bleak reading, if you are tasked with finding skilled people to recruit into your organisation. Even more challenging if you’re not a professional recruiter with lots of insight into what makes a great candidate.

However, the solution might be right in front of you. You just need to change your mindset. Raphael Mokades, founder and MD of Rare Recruitment, based in the City of London, explains his views on the role contextual screening can play in skills development.

His company uses contextual thinking to help place those from disadvantaged backgrounds into suitable roles – by helping people with an available job to look past their preconceptions to consider a broader range of candidates. His system uses a large volume of data to transform diversity in graduate recruitment from ambition to reality.

He achieves this because “traditional” qualifications don’t necessarily highlight today’s best candidates. Says Mokades: “Operating on the principle that three As at A-level for a candidate from Eton tells recruiters less about an individual’s potential and resilience than three As for a candidate from an inner-city comprehensive school in special measures, Rare provides a contextual report on individual candidates for some of the City’s biggest – and smartest – graduate recruiters.”

It’s an approach borne out by the facts. Mokades points out that high achievers from a disadvantaged background are 19% less likely to apply for jobs with top firms than their privileged peers. Using Rare’s CRS, however, their chances of a successful application to such firms increase by 50%.

For example, Ailsa Harris was told at university that she came across as “intimidating”. Says Ailsa: “I wasn’t – I was just black and six feet tall – but that caught in my subconscious and I struggled to be assertive.”

It’s an approach that changed her mindset, and changed the mindset of her prospective employers – she is now head of apprenticeship quality, standards and assessment at the Department for Education.

Another success story is that of Sengova Kailonda, who as an 11-year-old arrived in the UK from war-torn Sierra Leone and attended an inner-city school in special measures. Sengova is now an asset finance lawyer at Hogan Lovells.

Mokades says it is fear or doubt about the unfamiliar that causes unconscious prejudice. “Contextual screening has been a great success, but there is more for us to do. A related area is unconscious bias – a neurological reaction to the unfamiliar.

Mokades points to research that shows that some parts of the brain register increased activity when people are confronted by people from different backgrounds: “The pre-frontal cortex shows increased activity when an individual listens to unfamiliar patterns of speech, for example, while another region of the brain – the fusiform face area – is activated by people who look like us,” he says.

These “natural reactions” have an impact on recruitment, he says, especially when interviewers conclude that someone “isn’t the right fit”, or make other assumptions about how people seem, rather than how they are.

Being broad-minded is one of the essential managerial skills for recruitment. Contextual screening can help to ensure that you are blind to background and gives scientifically proven techniques to ensure you are recruiting the best available applicants for your organisation – regardless of background.

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