Stoke-on-Trent City Council: Developing a learning and skills strategy for 14–25 year olds

Stoke-on-Trent City Council are undertaking the development of a learning and skills strategy for 14-25 year olds in the city. With support from a consultant as part of the LGA’s Economic Growth Advisers programme, the council is undertaking a review to map the economic and employer skill needs in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire and provide more opportunities for young people to study and work in the area.

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The challenge

Stoke City Council have developed a prospectus to engage with all government departments and with partners about a single set of priority projects and interventions for Stoke-on-Trent to drive economic development.  The prospectus, ‘Powering Up’ comprises four key priorities, one of which centres around Education and Skills.

As a result, the council (with its partners) has set itself three main ambitions in relation to providing skills development and employment opportunities for 14-25 year olds. These are:

  • ‘…to be renowned nationally for our ambition and progress on specialist digital education and skills pathways’
  • to have one of the best technical education and skills offers in the country, properly aligned to the needs of growth sectors
  • ‘…strengthening of the 14-19 offer, including vocational pathways, with an explicit equal recognition of the value of these pathways…’

The solution

To deliver on these challenges, Stoke-on-Trent City Council are undertaking the development of a strategy for 14-25 year olds with a focus on skills and employment that triangulates the aspirations of young people; the skills needs of employers and the city; and the current and future post-14 curriculum offer. As part of the LGA’s Economic Growth Advisers programme, Chimera Consulting were commissioned to carry out research and provide expert advice to help map the support needs for young people and employer skill needs to make recommendations which could shape the development of the strategy.

Chimera’s approach to carrying out this research assignment included desk-based research (for example a review of key strategies, relevant plans and reports and data sets) but also a significant amount of their time was invested in one- to one- consultations with key stakeholders, some employers and other contacts who could provide insights on good practice elsewhere. These included officers at the council, local universities, DWP and Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire Careers and Enterprise Company.

The final report contains the main findings from the research which are summarized below across three key themes, employment and skills issues, careers advice and employer engagement for young people and employer need and careers awareness.

Key messages: Employment and skills issues

  • There is a need to improve social mobility.
  • There is a need to raise aspirations, educational achievement.
  • There are too many NEETs.
  • Too few young people are going to university (19 per cent).
  • T Levels are more academic than modular BTECs which is a concern for Stoke on Trent’s young people who prefer the BTEC format.
  • Employers are struggling to fill apprenticeships.
  • The jobs market is strong for job seekers but there are challenges for employers in recruitment and retention (for example as a result of wages rising and other business costs increasing).
  • There is a need to improve employability skills and work-readiness of young people.
  • The increasing importance of creating a pipeline of digital skills / digital literacy to meet the demands of this growing sector.
  • Importance of transferable skills as job roles and skills are changing rapidly (research predicts that 85 per cent of jobs that will be available in 2030 do not exist yet).

Key messages: Careers advice and employer engagement

  • The landscape is confusing for employers, young people, parents and careers advisors, therefore more simplicity and clarity is needed.
  • There needs to be better joined up working between different service providers and collaboration between partners.
  • “Old ways of working” are not dynamic and new jobs need to accommodate the increasing demand for remote working and hybrid working patterns.
  • Careers advice can vary and is under-resourced – schools need more support
  • There can be a misunderstanding of available jobs, career paths, employer needs and expectations in fast changing workplaces
  • There needs to be more awareness of the career opportunities and the wide variety of roles available for example through bitesized videos describing different job roles as perceptions can be wide of the mark compared to reality.

Key messages: Employer needs and careers awareness

  • Employers value “softer skills” including attitude and effort.
  • Work with employers in more effective engagement (not large careers fairs) and facilitate more engagement between employers and smaller numbers of interested young people
  • More opportunities should be provided to engage with young people and provide work experience and give them exposure to a variety of workplaces
  • More awareness is needed of growth sectors and future skills needs – for example digital, STEM, green economy, modern methods of construction, advanced manufacturing, health and social care.

A number of recommendations were made through this research to feed into the development of the strategy as well as potential “next steps” to be taken forward.


Careers service offer

  • Look to develop a single portal for careers information, advice and guidance that students, employers and careers advisors can access and make use of. This may bring together existing formats and portals under one new brand.
  • Seek to integrate careers advice and support services at a strategic and operational level, drawing upon the city council’s careers service, CEC, DWP’s careers advisors and National Citizens Service.
  • Develop a package of careers awareness-raising with employers (career / occupation videos, online presentations, talks, mentoring).

Work experience and employability skills

  • Convene a roundtable discussion with employers to develop a list of agreed employability skills and discuss how these can become more embedded within the educational system.
  • Develop a work experience package / “employer pledge” – an offer of three work experience opportunities per young person.
  • Focus on key growth opportunities and invite guest employer speakers to highlight the opportunities for their sector and for local young people.
  • Focus on digital skills.

Furthermore, a Task and Finish group was set up by the council to lead on developing the strategy. It was recommended that it should seek to bolster employer representation to help provide direct “employer perspectives” and input into strategy development and implementation including SMEs and micro businesses.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The research, findings, views and advice of the LGA-appointed consultant will inform the 14-25 strategy and will inform the collaborative approach taken by the city council and its partners into the future.

The research and insights of Chimera have informed the thinking of the Task and Finish group as it has gone along as well as the partners who are also involved in the development of the strategy including schools, colleges, training providers, third sector partners universities and Job Centre Plus. The recommendations will be taken forward by the local authority officers developing the 14-25 strategy and will shape the final document.

Lessons learned:

  • the value of having someone ‘on the outside looking in’ and being willing and able to ‘go with the flow’ and deal with the non-linear nature of a work in progress
  • it was valuable also to have someone to whom partners may speak more honestly and openly
  • the importance of mapping the “supply side” of education, skills development and careers advisory services
  • the importance of understanding the needs of local employers and wider local economy, both in terms of qualification requirements and also “softer” employability skills
  • an honest and objective approach in assessing strengths and weaknesses, together with opportunities and threats
  • the need for a strong partnership approach and genuine collaboration between institutions and organisations in public, private and community sectors – a need for “buy in” across relevant stakeholders
  • the benefits of co-production in terms of scoping and developing the strategy but also longer term, in implementation
  • Providing flexibility and some resources to allow new and innovative approaches to be tested
  • The benefit of learning lessons from other towns, cities and localities to identify good practice and consider aspects which will add value to local partners in shaping their strategy.
  • The need for clear leadership and drive together with an openness to change where this is required to deliver greater impact.


David O’Connell, Service Manager - Employment, Learning and Skills