How Shaw Trust has used digital infrastructure to support job seekers over lockdown

Non-profit organisation Shaw Trust has been focused on helping people improve their employability since its inception in 1982, but the past year may have been the most challenging in the Trust’s history. COVID-19 unfortunately brought with it a need for companies of all sizes to let employees go in order to minimise financial impact, which has led to more people needing support to get back into employment. During that time, the charity’s team of 2,500 people, supported by 1,000 volunteers, had to rapidly transition to operating remotely.

According to Shaw Trust’s Director of Business Technology & Information Services, Alan Webb, “Traditionally most of our work was delivered on a face-to-face basis, and in certain locations we still have frontline staff helping people in care homes, but the lockdown changed a lot for us.

Alan Webb, Director of Business Technology & Information Services at Shaw Trust

“As a non-profit we’re expected by stakeholders to keep a cash reserve in place, so when the pandemic became a reality, we not only had to migrate the staff to remote working, but also protect ourselves financially. This brought certain caveats, including needing to be creative in how we invested in tech with limited resources, and learning to bring core services to people when our offices are closed.”

To smooth the transition to remote working, CDW was selected by Shaw Trust to help the charity continue its work, by moving its call centre operations to the cloud and offering its expertise in the field. After deliberating on the best fit for Shaw Trust’s requirements, CDW recommended 8×8 as a unified communication and contact centre-as-a-service provider for the charity’s needs, before going on to implement the cloud-based voice, video, messaging and call centre solution for Shaw Trust’s distributed team.

Ross Pedder, Head of Cloud Service Sales at CDW, commented: “Because we didn’t know what the short, medium or long-term future looked like, it was super important for us to find technology solutions and services that allowed users to work anywhere, and at any time.”

Participation in the JETS scheme

This digital transformation was instrumental in ensuring the Trust could continue its vital work, but it also set the stage for an even bigger challenge to come.

Shaw Trust were recently selected by the UK Government to help people across the country to get back to work in the wake of the pandemic, under the Job Entry: Targeted Support (JETS) scheme. Crucial to selection on the scheme was the ability to respond within a tight time window of four-months from placing a bid for the programme to being awarded the funding.

Reflecting on the lead-up to this achievement, Pedder said: “One of the biggest challenges that Shaw Trust seemed to face was the time in which the solution needed to be spun up.

“Leveraging more traditional communications solutions may not have allowed Shaw Trust to get the solution up and running in the time frame needed due to the requirement for procurement and shipping of hardware and software alongside the often more labour intensive professional services engagement in comparison to a cloud SaaS bases communication and contact centre service.”

Entry into the scheme meant that as well as building a solution from scratch, Shaw Trust had to scale up its workforce by onboarding over 600 people to support the delivery of the contract.

In the first 3 months, 225,000 calls were managed through Shaw Trust’s virtual contact centre, and as of the end of 2020, 2,100 people have been helped back into work. Since then, this figure has grown exponentially as the service reaches more people in need.

“The JETS scheme started in October, and is already having a positive effect,” said Webb. “Hopefully, as the economy starts returning to a new normal and more roles become available, we can help even more people get back into employment.”

Getting the executive team on board

Executive buy in is key to any digital transformation initiative. This entails determining the business use cases and goals that will benefit the company in the long-term. With budgets shrinking for many organisations during the pandemic, ensuring that the execution of digitisation will bring real value is paramount.

At Shaw Trust, a directive has been put in place, for use through until 2030, which includes the theme of “digital by design”, which promotes the need for constant innovation of digital deployments.

“Under this principle, anything we do in the future needs to be adopted with that mindset,” Webb explained.

“Because of this, the proposition of transforming our infrastructure wasn’t too hard to achieve due to it already being an understood topic by the board.”

Webb believes that while there were still some unknowns regarding what was possible and how effective current deployments were, the JETS scheme underpinned the ‘digital by design’ pillar, serving as a catalyst for achieving remote working.

He also believes that changes brought by the lockdown have been positive overall, including alterations to his role at the company. Webb continued: “Technology leadership in some organisations is sometimes unrecognised until it isn’t there, but I think the realisation of technology’s importance has promoted this area of business up the agenda.”

Have attitudes to tech investment changed at board level due to Covid-19?

Covid-19 caused a surge in tech investment, as organisations looked to avoid the disruption caused by the pandemic. Has this changed the boards perception of technology investment moving forward?. Read here

Getting bedded in

The expertise provided by CDW’s Cloud Community, its cloud specialist team, has helped Shaw Trust to increase the flexibility of its services. People who turned to the charity would have an initial front-end staff member to speak to, before being referred to more specialist advisors. The infrastructure in place aims to get relevant advice and information to those who need support, at speed.

“Historically, the not for profit sector hasn’t moved very quickly when it’s come to implementing technology,” said Webb. “There’s a lot of governance when making decisions, and we’ve needed to adjust our mindset and our perception of the pace of change.”

From here, the organisation spent the four month timeframe leading up to being awarded with participation in the JETS scheme, reimagining its IT services from the ground up. According to Webb, CDW eased adaption to an ever-changing landscape by putting in place the necessary foundations early on, including warehouse services and daily logistics.

Taking on the 600 employees necessary to deliver on its commitment was a seamless process, thanks to the flexibility and speed provided by the cloud solution, according to Webb. From home, once Dell Latitude laptops were unboxed, staff were guided through the onboarding process, allowing them to enroll their devices, ready for morning calls with their new colleagues. This has helped to ensure seamless operations across the workforce from day one.

Webb continued: “The portfolio of vendors and specialists that CDW has also helped us to understand helped us to navigate a world of changes on a daily basis, in terms of the services they provide and where they put them in place.”

Pedder added: “The cloud services needed to deliver the right user experiences, including communication and call centre service, have allowed to bring staff up to speed with the click of a button.”

Maintaining user experience

As well as ensuring that staff are settled into their new home working environments, it was paramount that the experience of users wasn’t compromised. For Shaw Trust, this meant continuing to support people looking to regain employment opportunities, an issue that’s intensified with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reflecting on how the transformation at Shaw Trust was carried out from its employees’ perspective, Leon Batchelor, Account Director at CDW, said: “A key part of the execution of this project was the way Alan worked with his team at Shaw Trust.

“This was a big change for them as they used to carry out operations in a traditional manner, but once Alan introduced his team to CDW, we spent time going through the technologies and outcomes needed for each step.

“We needed to deliver 600 devices to 600 homes, so a lot of planning was needed to meet the volume required, but when Alan rallied his team, it became evident they were excited about making this a success.”

Ross Pedder and Leon Batchelor, Head of Cloud Service Sales and Account Director at CDW

The new infrastructure facilitated by CDW went live on the 5th October, after a mobilisation period of four weeks for the call centre, and eight weeks for the rest of the service network. Reflecting on how the company has delivered its services with a distributed workforce, Webb said: “The procurement processes and design processes involved in transforming the contact centre meant that this area could go live sooner.

“Maintaining our services meant that those who had been displaced as a result of COVID-19 had somewhere to go, and someone to guide them as a key starting point in terms of their journey back into the workplace.

“As the UK transitions into the new normal and the country’s economy starts to rebuild, we’re hopeful that we can aid many more people in returning to employment, through the services and support that we offer.”

The conversation between CDW and Shaw Trust, discussing the digital infrastructure transformation, can be found here.

Avatar photo

Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.