Hampshire Employment and Skills Hub

COVID-19 is proving to disproportionately affect 16-24 year olds who will find it tough to compete in a crowded job market against the newly unemployed with more experience and relevant skills.

The Employment and Skills Hub (ESH) team engage with employers to source work experience and careers fairs, contacting construction employers for Employment and Skills Plans (ESPs), and finding extended work experience placements for training programmes. There has been a significant reduction in opportunities because of COVID-19 due to social distancing in work and reduced demand in industries such as retail and hospitality. The ESH has been vital in ensuring coherent employer engagement around incentives for Apprenticeships, Apprenticeship Levy transfers, Traineeship bonuses, and the kickstart scheme in order to secure physical and virtual work experience based pathways into businesses for young people in Hampshire.

The challenge

The ESH would typically carry out in an academic year upwards of 1300 H&S assessments for school work experience placements, source employers for over 20 School Careers Events with some attracting 1000 students at a time, and source industry placements for hundreds of students on long term study placements. The team would also manage
Employment and Skills Plans (ESP’s) for construction developments across Hampshire which create hundreds of opportunities for young people around jobs, work experience, and careers advice interactions.

The economic and logistical challenges faced by businesses just trying to stay open after the initial lockdown and having to create Covid Secure working practices meant that traditional requests for work experience and careers engagement were falling behind many other priorities. Many businesses were not confident hosting new entrants to their business for work experience and wanted to decline based on the perceived difficulty of creating COVID-19 Risk Assessments.

The 79 NEETS across our study programmes were struggling to find meaningful industry placements and strict Covid practices in schools meant that providing school aged children with Careers engagement from industry experts was exceptionally challenging.

The solution
A Plan for Jobs outlined core incentives aimed at training and jobs for young people as well as financial support for businesses throughout the UK. What became clear was that there was significant information about how to apply for grants, loans and industry support both locally and nationally that many employers struggled to process the volume and complexity of the offer.

The ESH team engaged with new and existing employers to talk to them about Apprenticeships bonuses for taking on 16-24 year olds, Apprenticeship Levy Transfers to help pay the cost of training for Apprenticeships, the Traineeship bonus, and the Kickstart scheme. The plan was to help identify business needs around employment and skills and link them to NEET study programmes run by Hampshire so that they could then offer the students a pathway into employment using the correlating incentives. This approach was based on the founding reasons for creating the ESH; to support economic development and growth, whilst also providing social value opportunities for our residents.

Hampshire County Council is also be participating in the Kickstart Scheme as a Gateway employer and will be supporting employers through the ESH to participate in the scheme who are unable to commit to 30 Kickstart placements. As a Gateway Hampshire County Council will be focusing on our key priority sectors. These sectors include:

• Education
• Health & Social Care
• Public sector, including Police and Fire and Rescue Service
• Voluntary and Communities Sector

The ESH team helped to signpost the Health and Safety Executive’s COVID-19 Risk Assessment for employers to complete to accompany the ESH standalone H&S Assessment resulting in increased confidence in the placement from employers, tutors, young people and their carers was secure.

As part of fulfilling school requirements to offer careers information and guidance to school age children the ESH team had to look to alternative methods to overcome the challenge of restricted access into schools for external organisations. The ESH team approached employers and Hampshire County Council departments to produce quality digital content that could be shared through the Careers Team and partnered with a virtual delivery platform Speakers 4 Schools. A ‘menu’ of digital and live virtual careers engagements was created and shared with partners. A more in-depth project based Virtual Experience week is being piloted by our STEP programme for NEET young people which will be rolled out to schools later in the year.

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable):
The Employment and Skills Hub enabled us to create strong relationships with key partners including construction partners through ESPs. The focus on the announcements in ‘A Plan for Jobs’ has led to professional and consistent engagement around future pathways in employment and training opportunities being created for the young people involved in all our programmes and across Hampshire throughout the Covid pandemic.

Since March 2020, the ESH has been able to place 53 young people in long term work experience placements and have assisted over 80 businesses with Covid19 Risk Assessments. Exploring virtual and digital engagement for schools in Hampshire has resulted in 63 careers fair videos, 11 ‘guess my job’ videos, and 12 ‘career talk’ videos that we can share with our partners ensuring school children and young adults
continue to get high quality Careers Information and Guidance.

We have created 56 Employment and Skills plans for construction developments across Hampshire since the hub started in 2017, creating 427 work experience, 461 job opportunities and 266 Construction Careers Information Advice and Guidance engagements for individuals and young people across Hampshire. This has led to an increased interest in Construction across many of our schools and culminated in a Careers Conference on Construction for careers advisors to learn more about the industry. Construction has been a key sector in maintaining opportunities for young people throughout lockdown due to the outdoor nature and their quick response to enacting Covid secure work practices.

The ESH has over 50 businesses who have registered interest in the Kickstart Scheme expressing an interest in 90 placements. Where a business is not ‘in scope’ we have signposted them to the Kickstart provider list to ensure no opportunities are missed. The ESH is meeting with internal departments to encourage uptake of placements and a training offer and package of wraparound support for both internal departments and external partners is currently being created.

This approach from the ESH has enabled our sold Careers Service to support more schools across Hampshire, as they now focus on providing excellent careers advice to young people in the schools and have the support of a dedicated employer facing team to support the sourcing and checking of work-related opportunities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The ESH team has six full time team members who are dedicated to employer engagement to support our study programmes and schools we are contracted with. Initiatives such as the Kickstart Scheme are supported and led by the same team and where external funded contracts such as ESF and CSF need support the team do so aligning our wider priorities.

Regular training and development ensure that team members are knowledgeable and persuasive and able to talk with businesses about all of the latest initiatives and incentives.

Lessons learned

The first lockdown affected the ESH significantly as the majority of businesses closed down, as did the study programmes and educational settings that the ESH services. However, as businesses began resuming normal operations it quickly became apparent that those industries suffering skills shortages prior to the pandemic were still needing new entrants to fill the gaps. The ESH team fully consider business needs especially in the current climate when identifying potential opportunities for young people prior to contact, many businesses in Hampshire have shown huge innovation to remain trading and continue to want to host and engage with young people.

The lessons learnt from the virtual work experience and careers engagement has been around embracing and learning to use new technology to be able to respond to new types of requests. Creating the menu for Careers Advice Information and Guidance has given the ESH opportunities to reflect that a clear and concise offering was needed and appreciated and that sometimes simple is best.