By Graham Hasting-Evans, NOCN Group Managing Director

As the commercial world becomes ever more complex, competitive and driven by technological advances, it is all too easy for organisations to lose sight of the importance of engaging on the human level and simply treating individuals fairly.

However, people will always be vital to businesses. Without employees and customers, they are nothing. There will forever be a pressing need for them to include social justice and FREDIE (Fairness, Respect, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement) – so fantastically promoted by the National Centre for Diversity – in everything they do.

For if they are to be successful – manned by motivated, fulfilled workers who are engaged and empowered and loyal clients who return again and again – these principles must be ingrained across every part of the organisation.

How you treat and relate to your people and your customers defines you to these two important audiences and determines how much goodwill they extend in return. And the higher their approval ratings, the greater the commercial dividends that follow – higher productivity; upticks in sales through customer retention and growth; reduced staff/trainee attrition; and reputational enhancement.

Put simply, social justice must run through an organisation’s objectives like a stick of rock.

Being in the people business, this is particularly the case for training providers and the employing organisations they work with.

As a progressive charity involved in educating people from every walk of life and delivering career-boosting learning, NOCN not only champions the equitable distribution of opportunities as widely and vigorously as possible, but practices what it preaches.

With that in mind, we ensure that we and our partners always have these principles woven into our cultural tapestries as we drive the application and delivery of apprenticeships and T-Levels.

However, we are concerned that such willingness to drive social justice is not widespread across the apprenticeship and learning sectors. In particular we do not feel it is embedded to the hundreds of pages of ‘rules’ the Government has imposed on employers and training providers. Our fear is that the ‘rules’ determine behaviour and social justice and FREDIE are lost in a slow bureaucratic system.

There is much virtuous talk about diversity, inclusion and equity, but when it comes to seeing to it that these qualities are actually felt by trainees, staff and customers, many providers and partner businesses just don’t walk the walk.

As such NOCN is calling on the Government to not merely pay ‘lip service’ to social justice – enshrining it at policy level but failing to roll it out universally and enforce it rigorously. Instead, legislators must see to it that it is consistently applied, tested and assessed – with rewards for exemplar organisations and penalties for those who fall short of acceptable standards.

Social justice must be fully integrated, just as it is within our own organisation, right down to the workforce level. For it is here, “on the ground” where the policies must be implemented and protected.

And it is possible for any training provider or employing organisation to import it into their DNA – and keepit in their genetic makeup. It only takes proper buy-in, which relies on directors and management team to appreciate the benefits and want to seize them with both hands.

However, people should realise that it is also the right thing to do and the hallmark of a healthy, democratic society.

After all, one of the prime drivers for apprenticeships is improved personal outcomes via education and training. They emphatically boost social mobility and careers by arming people with the skills to seize and make the most of opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them.

That IS social justice.

Our skills gap is a social justice issue just as much as one of the national economy. While the knowledge deficit ultimately affects us all, the most disadvantaged people pay the highest price.

It is they who have the most to gain by upskilling, but without the organisations who encourage them and arm them with the means to do so, are the least likely to do so.