Community Employment Hubs have been set up in various locations across Somerset West and Taunton (SWT). The hubs offer flexible support to people who want to overcome personal barriers to their skills development and employment prospects. The holistic approach and ethos of the hubs contribute towards the confidence, self-esteem, social interaction, health and wellbeing of attendees. The hub model has proved to be a success and the aims are to develop and expand the provision to ten hubs across the district delivering employment, apprenticeships, skills development as well as training support and information by mid-2022.
West Somerset forms a significant part of the district and has been identified as having the lowest social mobility in the country. The district also has large rurally dispersed areas which means limited transportation is available. This has had an adverse effect on people gaining employment and training. There is also limited digital access in some areas within the district, especially West Somerset.
Residents in these areas have difficulty accessing employment due to barriers of confidence and accumulative issues which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has had an adverse effect on individuals, especially those in traditionally hard to reach groups. Two thirds of those looking for work are a long way from the job market due to complex cases involving mental health, low esteem, and low skills. Those in employment are often on low income, short-term contracts and/or seasonal work. The average salary in SWT is £32,000 and the United Kingdom is £37,000. Therefore, low wage potential and high living costs are also challenges in some areas.
Ordinarily people within the district are often prevented from accessing mainstream support routes. A bespoke service is therefore needed to support them. The council recognised that the best way to do this would be to establish support services in community centres and other venues they know and use in their locality.
The solution identified to build confidence and support people into employment is a community hub model. This is a community led facility for the community using volunteers. High-quality training is delivered to ensure engagement and retention of interested volunteers and to establish and deliver a consistent high-quality service across all hubs. Through the hubs, the council works with support organisations and partners to reduce the time period between gaining new employment and redundancy support.
Through a partnership network which acts as a conduit to specialist support, they work together to reach the aims and objectives of a person-centered approach to meet individual needs. The council has built a list of signposting referral contacts and agencies to ensure a robust avenue of external support is in place outside of the remit for hub volunteers.
Various social media platforms are used to promote and access the hub service as well as advertise local job opportunities and provide information on work/careers/training as well as related events (careers fairs etc).
The hubs are now engaged with over 40 partnership organisations. They aim to reduce the challenges facing individuals living in rural areas by providing increased access to employment and training support in localised venues. This includes:
- Development of a dedicated case management system to monitor utilisation and benefits of employment hubs, with key information captured around support provided and the outcomes achieved for the individuals accessing the service. This reporting facility will allow evidential support for future funding bids with the ambition of ensuring it becomes a sustainable model.
- Hosting regular sector specific engagement events both virtually and in person within the hubs and local district venues.
- Creating posts for volunteers to enable volunteering with a sense of purpose in the community. Volunteering and helping others can help reduce stress, combat depression, give mental stimulation also achieving workplace experience, increased network links, personal satisfaction and importantly build confidence and self-esteem.
- Engagement with local businesses to identify job opportunities and skills requirements and enable job matching with local people. This includes organising and delivering online recruitment events.
- Complementary support services are brought in as required to support with associated issues and barriers (money and debt, housing etc) reducing acceleration of debt, housing issues and mental health.
- The education of many of our young people has been seriously affected by the crisis and are at greater risk of becoming NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Younger employed people are also at greater risk of being made redundant. In response, two of the hubs are Youth Employment Hubs (16 to 25 year olds) focusing on their specific needs and helping them to re-engage and move on towards education, training, or employment. SWT are working in partnership with DWP youth teams who also operate within the hubs themselves.
In addition to the above, there are open lines of communications across internal departments of the council which are integral to providing a holistic support offer for the individual. These include economic development colleagues, housing departments and community teams. SWT is also part of the employment and skills support network across the County with other district councils and Somerset County Council.
Somerset West and Taunton Council also created the ‘Access to Learning and Employment Grant’ to help remove the barriers towards work and associated costs including; the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), training, childcare, transport, etc.
- The cost benefit varies depending on the circumstances of each individual; however, it is estimated that if eight to ten individuals sustain employment for one year the cost benefit could be as much as £80,000 per annum.
- The recruitment and high quality training of local volunteers under the Somerset West and Taunton council umbrella provides skills and confidence to the local community and ensures consistency of service across the hubs.
- In terms of the running costs, by using the skills of volunteers it reduces delivery costs. Volunteer time has been conservatively estimated at an average of 80 hours a week which if converted to a monetary value at minimum wage equates to approximately just under £91k for a three year term.
How is the new approach being sustained?
- There is a concern for future funding with European Social Funding (ESF) coming to an end.
- At present the hubs are sustained through grant funding from a range of partners including the DWP.
- It is anticipated that some form of an employment hub model will form part of the County’s employment and skills plan which will be drawn up under the ‘One Somerset’ local government reorganisation (transformation is set to take place in April 2023).
- CMS evidence of outcomes and outputs will provide evidence to try and secure future funding.
- Creating and maintaining active partnerships with Community Interest Companies (CICs) and charity organisations will enable funding streams to support the engagement of those who are in most need.
- The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the hubs which meant face to face delivery was not possible. Virtual delivery continued throughout lockdown and continues to be part of the hubs service.
- The need to have input from a voluntary sector organisation to work with the community. SWT utilised Spark Somerset for support to ensure the correct procedures and policies were in place for the local authority and to meet the needs for volunteers including advertising volunteer roles and vacancies.
- The need to work with other organisations to ensure holistic support is provided such as Citizens Advice and National Careers Service.
- To be attuned with what is going on within industries and keep up to speed with identifying future and current needs (ie. green and digital skills) and keep abreast of new training opportunities.
- Keeping abreast of potential funding opportunities and understanding the eligibility criteria.
- Being flexible to meet needs especially throughout Covid and establish a virtual support offer.