Demonstrating social sustainability – but does anyone care?

Geoff Streetley will be known to many in procurement through his career with Banner, where he was latterly MD. He now works with QC Supplies, a growing supplier of computer consumables in the B2C, wholesale and B2B markets, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire. They employ around 180 people, are debt free (unusual these days) and last year opened warehouses in France and Germany to service B2C customers in those markets.

Following our recent series here, we thought Geoff and QC had a good example of actions in the area of ‘social/ economic sustainability’ that are a little unusual. As you’ll see, they do it because the business owner wants to, but they also see real potential for business advantage.  We thought it might provoke some thought amongst procurement leaders – could you do something similar? Or might you support firms in your supply chain who are talking steps such as these? You’ll also see that some developments in the public sector may not be helping firms like QC...  but over to Geoff.


QC Supplies was started in 1993 by the current owner. Since the creation of the business, the focus has been on continuous improvement and as a result we have gained accreditation to the ISO9001 and ISO14001 standards. In addition, we achieved the Investors in People (IIP) accreditation and were the first business in our market to achieve the Carbon Trust Standard. The motivation in gaining these accreditations was not to have shiny new certificates to place on the wall, but to embed in our business processes our objective to deliver continuous improvement to all of our customers.

One recent initiative is extremely exciting. For the past two years we have employed around ten young people, aged 16-24, from a variety of backgrounds. A number were unemployed, some were in temporary or casual jobs in sectors such as pubs and restaurants. A number have had a difficult start to their personal or working life. They are all looking for a stable, enjoyable job with the opportunity of progression. Each person is employed at or slightly above minimum wage and is immediately enrolled onto an induction process which encompasses all aspects of our business. Following the induction, they take a place in our SME Business Unit as a trainee Telesales Representative.

From that moment they are provided with 1-2-1 coaching from their line manager, ‘in the call’ training by an external trainer and field visits accompanied by an experienced sales manager. When they open a new account or gain a telephone order we celebrate their success. Very quickly, they begin to feel valued and part of a team. At the end of each day, each person presents their achievements to the rest of the group (calls made, accounts opened, orders gained,) together with any difficulties experienced and how they overcame them. As they progress and wish to work for an NVQ in Customer Service, we fund all of their study costs. The NVQ is completed in both company and private time. In addition, if an individual wishes to learn to drive we pay 50% of their lesson fees, and finally, we will pay for their first suit or business dress if they need to visit a customer.

So, why do we do we take this approach? Our owner believes this is a captive market of talent. Sometimes this talent is ‘high maintenance’, but equally, it comes to us without baggage from previous experience. Part of the interview process focuses on ‘how up for it are you?’ and many interviewees identify they are extremely keen to get the chance to prove to a potential employer they have the desire and work ethic to succeed. The result is a 90% success rate. Of those most have gone on to develop into first class telesales executives, earning a good salary, together with commission and driving a company car!

The interesting by product is that we are doing our bit for youth employment in Halifax - and we do not ask for assistance from the State in any form. It is difficult to put a monetary number on the savings to the public purse from our approach, but it is significant. In addition, the multiplier effect of giving young people this start in life and money to spend in their pocket is equally significant. We believe that, if our approach could be rolled out across ‘UK PLC’, sustainable employment in the 16-24 age range would be significantly increased.

Over recent years, we have grown our business successfully in many areas of the public sector and we are keen to increase our business in this sector. But we are finding it increasingly difficult to win tendered business as aggregation has led to the ‘larger’ players in our industry securing increased market share.

We believe that our approach to social sustainability has a real value to our business, the people we employ and ultimately to the public purse. But as yet, where we do get asked about sustainability in tenders, it is mainly a box-ticking exercise around environmental issues. So we’re not sure that anyone involved in a public sector tendering process as yet thinks the same way as us!

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First Voice

  1. Huhh?:

    This is an impressive achievement and I comment QC for the initiative.

    This is exactly what Cameron has in mind when he talks big society, I would most heartily assume!!

    To me organisations such as this should be given preference in bidding for government contracts – as surely the net socio-economic impact of this model taking off more widely would far outweigh the slightly higher short-term pricing issues? I mean, how much does a 16-24 get in benefits annually?

    But I fear that our glorous coalition will be, like all government pre and post it, too obtuse to grasp this opportunity.

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