How we do what we do, and why
“It’s What’s Next IT” is a project to show that a normal “boring” business can be done as a social enterprise.
Specifically, we are an IT outsourced support business that draws its workforce from groups of people who are for whatever reason distant from traditional recruitment pools.
A social enterprise is a business that looks to make a profit, like any business does, but any profit made is reinvested to create positive social change, as opposed to enriching shareholders.
There are plenty of examples. For example, a water brand you may have heard of — Belu — sells bottled water but donates all of its profits to the charity Wateraid. Any type of business can be run as a social enterprise –- we happen to be the first traditional IT outsourced support business that operates in this way.
We are first and foremost an IT support business. Our social mission is by-the-by. We’d would delight our customers and give them the best possible service, even without our social mission. We always say that we could win business and grow as we are without having a social mission, but we prefer to have a social mission.
Every business needs IT, but IT is a specialist discipline, and most SMEs find it cost-effective to outsource it. To put it another way – you were going to spend a sum of money on IT support anyway, and spending it with us helps your corporate social responsibility objectives.
It’s whatever a business or organisation does to act in an ethical way. Some businesses choose to ensure their supply chain meets particular environmental or employment standards or practices, or that their local community is supported in some practical way.
The huge advantage of using social enterprises as suppliers in business is that every pound spent with a supplier like us can be automatically counted towards your corporate social responsibility.
We are not a traditional employment project, in that we don’t work with a given group of people and give them an employment opportunity. We help anyone who has, for whatever reason, had a rough run of it, build a career in IT. We ultimately want people that we help go on to run other social enterprises, or start their own.
Whereas an employment project might take on a large group of people for a short time, we take on small numbers of people for a long time.
We are happy to consider anyone from any background – known groups such as ex-offenders, survivors of human trafficking, neurodiverse individuals, those with a history of mental illness, etc, as well as individuals who have a story to tell but have “slipped through the cracks”. If you are a professional and wish to refer in to us, please see our For Professionals page.
When we take on a new member of staff, they are placed on an apprenticeship – typically lasting 15 months. This is a Level 3 apprenticeship, in an IT-based discipline, such as IT Technician or Network Technician. The member of staff is usually quite vulnerable at this point, and lots of support is given to them both internally, and in concert with any case worker working with them from external support organisations.
After this, they can come into the business for a two-year training to take them from a good qualified apprentice to an excellent IT specialist with equally excellent career prospects. Once this is done, they come into the business to support the next wave of apprentices, graduate off to a partner business (e.g. a larger corporate where they can do work aligned with their passion and skills), or off into another business.
Your account will be serviced by anyone in the business qualified and capable to do whatever needs to be done, but you will always have a single “point person” who is a senior member of staff who will develop a close working relationship with you and your team who is ultimately responsibility for the quality of work delivered.
We pay apprentices a living wage, aligned with recommendations from the Living Wage Foundation. Most organisations pay apprentices far less than this.
Our business is run by our employees, and as such there is transparency around pay. In particular, pay levels are set by employees and everyone knows how much anyone else within the business gets paid. This ensures that “baked in” to our business model everyone gets paid fairly, and we don’t have any concerns about one group of people being paid more than another group to do the same work.
Less than you’d think. If you have vulnerable people working of you, you have to factor in that they will probably need to spend more time off work – for example, accessing support services during office hours – and that they would likely need time off work on very short notice. We account for that in how we are set-up, plus everyone in the business understands the needs of the vulnerable people that we do hope and are supportive.
The objective is to create a safe space for someone who is vulnerable to come in, heal, learn a trade, build their confidence and self-esteem, and make a contribution.
Most businesses consider shareholders their main stakeholder, whereas social enterprises have more flexibility. Our stakeholders are our staff, our customers, our suppliers, and the environment – which means that we consider the positive and negative effects on all of those whenever we take any action.
For example, when we make proposals to customers, we include a section about environmental impacts of different options that we might propose. For example, The Good Shopping Guide says that Acer has a better ethical business score than Dell, scoring 96/100 compared to 72/100, and we would indicate this ethical difference in our proposal.
It means that we treat you in an ethical and fair way. We don’t hedge or obfuscate, and we particularly do not have “favourite” customers that get better treatment than others. Everyone gets the same high standard of customer service.
It makes it harder to get finance. We don’t have equity, so we can’t sell equity positions to investors. Our financing is limited to grants and debt financing, although in the social enterprise space there is a great deal of innovation in this space.
However, it is essential to us – like it is to any social mission – that we have longevity. We exist to help people, which means that we have to be around for the long term. A big advantage is that having no shareholders means no exit, and no pressure to exit – no one is looking to cash in on our growth.
As an employee-run business, everyone in the business gets a say to where our money goes. We only grant money to aligned social missions, based in the UK, but anyone can nominate a social enterprise company or charity to support. Votes are collected and then the profits distributed in proportion to that vote.
The person behind "It's What's Next IT" is Matthew Reynolds. You can learn more about him here.
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