Transforming the jobs outlook for young people in Essex

By Nicole Wood | 01 March 2021

As we emerge from the latest wave of the pandemic, we are all trying to anticipate what lies ahead – what will be the COVID legacy? 

We know a defining issue for government – at all levels – will be the profound impact of the pandemic on young people.  Already they are the worst hit by the unemployment and furlough shockwaves. In Essex, in some districts we have two in five young people not working due to unemployment or furlough with all the consequent impact on their wellbeing.   We always have sought to create sustainable employment opportunities notably with apprenticeships, but has this really been enough?  Certainly our own workforce profile would suggest not – and that was a truth pre COVID times.

But as the world has moved on its axis, the necessity to create the ‘demand’, many more entry level opportunities, has never been so acute – and frankly, from a ‘supply side’ more attractive as more and more young people are on the market.

At Essex CC we want to make a real difference for young people of Essex and have an aim to create 1000 new entry level jobs for young people, of all abilities within 12 months.  This isn’t a philosophy, action matters.  And it isn’t simply about more apprenticeships – this is about diversification of opportunities, using our system ‘muscle’ and creating new great career opportunities.  There are so many reasons why we should care beyond the obvious issue of unemployment –  Local Government just isn’t representative of young people and at Essex our workforce simply does not have enough young people in it. Yet if we want to be relevant and representative of our communities we need more young people, bringing their expectations, their citizenship and greater technology literacy.

             

So what are we doing about it? – we have a three pronged approach:

  1. At Essex we have committed to urgently creating over 250 new opportunities for graduates, apprenticeships, kickstart jobs and other targeted programmes And within this celebrating diversity with schemes such as guaranteed interviews for care leavers and veterans as well as programmes that enable those who may have previously experienced barriers in to the work place. And we are already doing amazingly – we launched in June 2020 and already we have over 100 new opportunities created; plus the response to our campaigns is amazing  – why would we not want to capitalise on the great talent out there!  This isn’t just about recruitment of course, though we have put in place great campaigns and a digital platform to attract the young and ensure they get the right support to succeed – that’s just the front door. So at Essex we have been building the ‘movement’ – investing in the social networks for the young entrants, their career ladders, the broader training offer, building the framework in which they will grow and prosper. This is not incidental,  but that training and support has been underpinned by new investment.  This isn’t about busting the budget either. We all have churn and vacancies that we can use to creatively change the workforce profile, creating some swing room without creating cost pressures.   For example, in Technology we created a target of having 15% entry level employment roles (graduates and apprenticeships) and redesigned the workforce, reducing reliance on interims and redesigning roles notably where we have a ‘talent line’ need: and on our first recruitment round in Dec 2020 we appointed ten brand new apprentices into Technology Services on innovative courses to develop our talent for the future – the revolution has already started!
  2. We are asking our supply chain to match this with 250 new opportunities too – for every £10 spent in Essex, £7 is with our suppliers, the vast majority of whom are Essex based. Our supply chain has worked with us to increase the number of apprenticeships employed by more than 50% over the last three years and  now we want to maximise our relationships and build on these solid foundations by driving forward a new social value policy which puts employment at its heart – with equality of opportunity for care leavers, those with disabilities and those furthest from employment at its core.  We have seen the support the public sector has been able to offer the multi-billion supplier market throughout these exceptional times and now is the time to press the social value conscience and for them to give back to the communities and residents we support.  
  3. Essex CC has established the Kickstart Essex Gateway to enable Essex businesses to support at least 500 new jobs through the Kickstart scheme – the first 160 vacancies will be available to unemployed young people claiming Universal Credit via the Department for Work and Pensions in early March - with the next batch due in April.  Our Gateway is free to use and provides Essex businesses and participants with information, advice and guidance and a menu of employability and skills training that employers can buy with their £1500 grant to make their placements successful.  The kickstart scheme also pays for wage costs for placements up to 25 hours x 26 weeks.  For more information and to take part, businesses can contact KickstartEssex@essex.gov.uk and unemployed young people should contact their DWP Work Coach.

And the icing on the cake is we are working across other anchor institutions, with Essex public sector partners including Universities sharing practice and promoting this approach – the reach, power and influence of the public system is huge – much bigger than just Essex County Council.   

We know this is a brave move in financially uncertain times; we had to work hard to persuade leaders to reshape workforce plans to focus on more young talent. But local government finance is always uncertain.  At Essex we committed early on not paralysed by uncertainty but be ambitious given the unemployment context– and to move quickly.   And what a great opportunity to reinvigorate our own workforce, find new talent and make local government more relevant to young people in our communities – that’s a pretty powerful legacy of COVID.

Nicole Wood is executive director, finance and technology, at Essex CC

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