While the concept of embracing diversity may be fairly new to some companies, it is an idea Middlesbrough's Talent recruitment agency has been pushing for more than a decade.

Jonathan Baldrey set up Talent 13 years ago to help place people from diverse groups into work because he felt many were being left out of the labour market.

"Nowadays diversity is a trendy word, but we have been preaching the message for a long time. The world has now caught up with us," he said.

"Britain now has a policy of integration and we have embraced ethnic minorities. As a country, we are one step ahead of other European countries.

"Companies are now recognising the strong need for diversity and the strong economic reasons for it.

"Businesses' customer bases are changing dramatically - they are getting older, there are more single parents and more ethnic minorities. To be able to service these customers, businesses need to recruit staff from different backgrounds.

"So more and more companies are now thinking about how to go about recruiting people from more diverse groups - even the big ones, such as BT, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Garlands call centre down the road."

Nationally, more than 50 per cent of the 4,000 people placed in jobs by Talent each year are from ethnic minority groups and the company was recently awarded the National Recruitment Industry Award for Ethical and Social Responsibility.

The company is driving forward a project in the region to match more vacancies to people from diverse groups by working with voluntary organisations and community groups.

The Third Way project is a national scheme, funded by the Government, which looks at how employers can make a positive impact by attracting a diverse workforce, including disabled people, single parents, and members of the gay community who are of working age but are not in employment.

Jonathan said: "There are high levels of unemployment among ethnic minorities, or the economically inactive, and one question that is frequently asked is 'how do we reach them?'.

"There are lots of different voluntary groups, clubs and centres reaching thousands of people across the UK and what The Third Way project aims to do is make use of these centres to spread job vacancies - in other words, making use of the power of networking and working in partnership.

"Talent has developed software in-house that can be used by these different organisations to allow them to get all the job details and input information electronically. We also train staff there to be able to run checks on people.

"The key impact of the Third Way will be to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of the voluntary and community sectors to provide a real solution to assisting hard-to-reach candidates into high quality jobs.

"This is a completely new way of getting staff and it offers companies a better selection and wider pool of talent."

The recruitment agency was set up by Jonathan in London in the 1990s, but he decided to move the headquarters to Middlesbrough five years ago. Only a few weeks ago, the firm moved its head offices to the up-and-coming Middlehaven area of the town, with the creation of about 30 jobs.

Penny Thomas, regional manager for Talent in the North-East, said: "This move to the Middlehaven area means we are a living example of a national company that has chosen to invest inwardly and support a previously deprived area, and that is utilising software it has developed on-site specifically to help those in other local deprived neighbourhoods find employment."

Talent also has an office in Hartlepool and two more in Newcastle and is considering opening another in Sunderland.

For more information, visit www.talent.co.uk