Catch22 is a social business: a not-for-profit business with a social mission. For over 200 years we have designed and delivered public services that build resilience and aspiration in people of all ages and within communities across the UK.
Our work in digital skills includes partnerships with Microsoft, Google.org, Salesforce and others to upskill disadvantaged people and provide access digital careers. This forms part of our broader employability vision to tackle systemic inequality. We also work with young people and families in trouble, delivering intervention and response services across child sexual and criminal exploitation, gang involvement, mental health support, family and social care services.
Thinking of how your organisation adapted to work during the pandemic, will you be taking any of the practices you have changed or learned over the past 18 months forward?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work – from delivering training programmes and apprenticeships remotely to supporting our staff in prisons and alternative provision schools, all while keeping our head office closed – our organisation has adapted quickly and effectively throughout the last 16 months. We’ve still placed more than 500 individuals into work, supported over 120,000 people to lead better lives, and worked with 80 employers to support 400 apprentices.
Remote digital access for our staff has improved organisation-wide engagement, enabled us to improve our flexible working offer, and made our e-learning offers more accessible. Our induction events, now digital, enable staff to meet colleagues from across the organisation and learn about the range of other services that Catch22 runs, without the need for high transport costs, and the limits to location.
Apprenticeships: All our training and assessments are now being done digitally which is proving a real success. Employers are more aware of just how intense apprenticeships can be as they’re sitting in on presentations and assessments. Apprentices are also benefiting from more face time with tutors. We’re also tailoring modules to fit the current climate; including covering topics such as handling angry or difficult customers and managing expectations.
Remote Education: Catch22 runs five independent alternative provision schools and seven as part of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). We also run nine Colleges, offering learning and training opportunities for students who, for whatever reason, don’t want to stay in a traditional academic environment, or who were excluded. Catch22 delivered learning both within our schools and colleges but also via digital means. Microsoft Teams allowed our schools to adapt.
Upskilling service users:
Digital Edge, in partnership with Microsoft UK, and Digital Leap, in partnership with Salesforce, are four-week pre-apprenticeship training programmes to support young people from underserved communities access digital apprenticeships with local employers. Training continued remotely and work placements were able to start remotely throughout the pandemic.
The Social Switch Project, in collaboration with Redthread, and funded by the Mayor of London’s VRU and Google.org, opens up digital career opportunities for the most at- risk young people in London and trains frontline professionals to talk to young people about social media usage. Unable to have 50 professionals in one room holding robust discussions, nor being able to offer full-time courses to young people on site, the programme has continued delivery throughout the pandemic virtually. Smaller groups were hosted, but the team have still trained more than 1000 frontline professionals and upskilled more than 70 young people – focusing on shorter, more intense training sessions.
How can organisations best support their workforce beyond the pandemic?
- Flexibility must continue, where it can be allowed with business need.
- Young people have, for too long and prior to the pandemic, been working in more volatile environments; zero-hour contracts, part-time working, and subject to last in, first out, of many roles. Organisations must consider the long-term impact of this on young people.
- Recognising need for adaptation and extending health, both physical and mental, support.
- Investing in the skills of staff, through assistance with upskilling and through offering opportunities.
What can organisations do more of to support those that are not currently in work?
- Consider taking on an apprentice, for which you’ll be awarded the £3,000 govt grant.
- Partner with organisation that are committed to long-term, sustained employment for the unemployed. Our programmes ensure that by working with employers and employees before, during and at least six months after an employment placement, this increases the likelihood of sustained, permanent employment in any role. We extend this support through all our employability programmes, which we run with partners and funders including the likes of Barclays and JP Morgan, Microsoft, and Salesforce.
What policies would you like to see in the Government’s upcoming Digital Strategy?
To end digital poverty and achieve 100% digital inclusion by 2030, we need to see:
- every household able to access an appropriate device that allows them to connect to the internet,
- every household able to access high speed broadband,
- every school-aged child given an age-appropriate device, data and skills package upon starting school, and
- basic digital skills training is available to everyone, regardless of age, through local community hubs.
Catch22 wants to see more championing of the value of young people, the benefits that their creativity brings, and the responsibility we all have to help them recover.
Partnership and collaboration must be a priority, with the Government and employers working closely with civil society. Many charities act as a bridge between government schemes and employers, to submit applications for the likes of Kickstart. Civil society organisations who operate in this way, and truly understand the needs of their communities, should be able to use funding to go further than acting as an intermediary, enabling initiatives like Catch22’s Kickstart Community – where civic organisations can work together, at pace, to bring together purposeful employers and young people, while offering wrap-around holistic support – support which leads to sustainable jobs filled by young people who have been mentored throughout.
Build more flexibility, and incentives into the apprenticeship levy: A percentage of the levy should be allocated to ‘off the job costs’ – for example recruitment costs or the salary of an apprenticeship manager – as an added incentive for employers to continue (and ideally expand) their apprenticeship programmes. It could also be used for purchasing quality, targeted pre-employment training, which supports young, inexperienced participants into apprenticeships – and vitally gives them a direct route into employment. And for those young people from low-income backgrounds, unused levy could be used to purchase tech equipment, to mitigate the impact of digital poverty.
What recommendations or observations can you offer to policy makers on where digital skills policy could be improved to best support you or your sector moving forward.
Catch22 recommendations are broken down into three areas: devices, data, and devices:
Government should work with local civil society organisations to accurately assess the need for devices amongst services users – as part of a long-term, sustainable model.
Government should work with tech companies and hardware providers to provide high quality refurbished devices to meet needs, building on some of the good work started during the pandemic. This could work through:
- incentives for local and regional businesses to donate devices,
- Government subsidies for tech companies to refurbish devices with up-to- date software and distribute via local civil society organisations, and
- students using devices donated by tech companies to schools and colleges should be allowed to purchase the device (or an upgraded version) through a loan scheme.
Key health, wellbeing and education sites should be zero-rated, to ensure those currently in digital poverty are not further disadvantaged.
Social tariffs should be introduced by mobile phone and broadband providers, with data prices tiered depending on household income.
Data donation schemes should be explored so that individuals with excess monthly data can donate it, via local third sector organisations, to those unable to afford it.
Other cost saving measures such as VAT removal for those on the lowest incomes should be explored.
Broadband should be of sufficient quality (at least 40mb) to enable learning and job searching to take place (i.e. simultaneous video streams or online calls).
Within the digital inclusion strategy there should be a specific Digital Skills strategy which should look to; understand issues of motivation for getting online, address the increasing role of digital skills in work and life even within generic careers and employability skills training, include information and training to keep everyone safe online, and build on existing schemes such as The Government Skills Toolkit to include:
- A fund for specific digital skills training targeted at socially excluded groups, such as those in prison and leaving prison, those in care and leaving care, harder to reach community groups including non-English speakers and older
- Digital skills training to be included as part of the national
- Mandatory digital skills training for all employees in organisations of more than 50 employees to futureproof the UKs workforce and support society.
- Small businesses (<50 people) to have access to free online digital skills training, provided by tech companies.
- All digital skills training should include sign-posting or information on how to stay safe online – from a cyber security, fraud, physical harm and exploitation
Finally, more research is needed to establish exactly why some individuals are not accessing the opportunities.
Catch22, Nominet and Livity have partnered on a year-long research project to gain deeper insights on the barriers to digital skills and access for some of the most disadvantaged groups in the UK. The partners have come together to develop a research programme, which will produce a series of papers over the next 12 months, looking at the root causes for why so many young people remain excluded from work, specifically within digital roles. Bean Research will conduct the research as we seek to identify what the scale of the problem really is, what is and is not working, and how we can change things for the better.