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Employment and training

Supporting young people into work: skilling up for the future

A man wearing a hoodie smiles at the camera whilst looking up from his laptop. In the background, there are three people having a conversation at another bank of desks.

At Catch22’s recent Employability Summit we discussed how employers can support young people in preparing for an increasingly challenging job market.

With youth unemployment levels rising, focus is right on programmes and initiatives that can help young people get into work. And crucially, how can we ensure those roles are meaningful and sustainable?

At Catch22, last year we successfully placed more than 500 young people into jobs, during a pandemic and often while diverting many people into entirely new careers.

What challenges are young people facing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many employment problems which already existed for young people; many were already on short term or zero-hour contracts, and there was little priority given for upskilling and developing a young, motivated workforce. In addition many of the roles that young people may traditionally go into at the start of their working life – in retail or hospitality – virtually disappeared overnight.

Now that the UK is set to reach one million unemployed young people, we are hearing deepening concerns from young people, asking “How am I going to compete with all of these other people out of work?”

What are we doing about it?

At Catch22, our programmes are focused on finding young people sustainable, long-term roles. Horizons, our flagship employability programme, is one of the first to address both unemployment and underemployment: where work is either low paid, unstable or without opportunities to progress.

We’re also a Kickstart gateway provider. As part of the Government’s Kickstart scheme, we created Kickstart Community to help people aged 16-24 into 6-month work placements. Again, our approach is to build wider skills and support young people (and the employers) during the placements so that the placements lead to longer term employment.

Additionally, our teams do not wait for unemployed people to find them. All of Catch22’s work, across all our services, is focused on outreach – ensuring that we find those who need us, in a location and in a way that works for them.

Many of our programmes also offer pre-employment and pre-apprenticeship training programmes free of charge to service users. Depending on the programme, the nature of these will vary, but they may focus on soft skills and building confidence, or they may focus on technical skills that can get a person ready for a prestigious digital apprenticeship, for example. 

Has the pandemic changed our approach?

Catch22’s employability services have been able to access courses through our existing partners, such as Microsoft and Google, to help service users upskill during lockdowns. For many, this may be basic digital skills – which counters the widely held assumption that young people are inherently ‘digital natives’. With the digital exclusion issues we have seen for the past decade – and heightened during the pandemic – Catch22 continues to tackle the inequalities this causes.

Assistant Director of Employability at Catch22, Emma Allix, says that additional support has been needed throughout:

“We’ve had to adapt really quickly to continue our support remotely. Many young people were not actually able to get online so we had to help them with that – to close that digital divide. We put on several events and job fairs online.

“Along with our own digital skills development, we’ve had to add training to almost all service users too to ensure we are developing everyone’s transferable skills, so that they can adapt in these times.

“We’ve also held wellbeing sessions – particularly with Bright Light, which supports care leavers. In some cases, we are the one main, stable contact for that young person – that one lifeline for some of these isolated young people. It’s essential that we can offer support in all areas, particularly during this last year.”

She says that the pandemic has opened some new opportunities though, as well as resulted in a rapid increase in digital roles.

“We had 66 people going through to COVID-related jobs into testing centres, care work, and roles within the NHS. All these sorts of roles in health are being classed as key workers and opportunities in these spaces continue to increase.

“We are also seeing young people supported to go into construction roles, with real development opportunity, more so than they would’ve been before, which makes them more employable in future.”

What does success look like?

Christina Hicks, Assistant Director of Employability and Skills, who has run The Social Switch Project since 2019, says they have seen direct reward for embracing young people’s creativity:

“Some incredible success stories have come about, including a young man who found himself placed into an apprenticeship with Google. He obviously got the shiny job but we’ve seen many young people going into a job with a local charity working for an organisation they are passionate about to use their digital skills to be a social media manager.”

Inspiring Families participant, Hayley, says that the support she has received over the last 12 months was invaluable, after she unexpectedly found herself as a single mum, with a large work history gap, and real lack of confidence returning to the job market:

“I had an amazing work advisor who worked with me very closely. She worked with me to help me understand the skills I did have. She helped me my potential for myself.”

Hayley’s support advisor worked with her on her CV, cover letters, and with practice interviews, and Hayley is now an employment advisor herself.

“I want other people to be able to see their gifts. I already had a background in mentoring and supporting young people, but now I can quite literally speak as if I have been in their shoes, because I have. I have faced the barriers so many young people face today and now I work for Catch22 doing a similar role as my coach had.”

As society and businesses begin to open up, Catch22 wants to see new value given to young employment. A first job can offer a stepping stone to a thriving career, but more is needed to ensure both employers and employees value this early on.

As we continue to place young people into some of the most forward-thinking organisations, we’ll be asking:

  • Is this young person able to develop their talent?
  • How can we build the social capital of the young person we are working with?
  • And how many of these jobs are leading to sustainable long-term careers?

What employability programmes does Catch22 offer young people?

Bright Light – supporting care leavers aged 16 to 25 years into apprenticeships, employment, education and training, whilst supporting them to build confidence, overcome personal and professional barriers, and upskill where needed. This programme is currently delivered across London, in partnership with The Children’s Society, and thanks to funding from the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Inspiring Families – delivered in collaboration with Serco and on behalf of DWP, this supports local people who are part of a family with complex barriers to gain employment, improving life for the whole family. Each client receives a dedicated personal advisor to fully support them on their transitional journey from unemployment into work.

Digital Edge and Digital Leap – backed by Microsoft and Salesforce respectively, our pre-apprenticeship programmes provides a pathway for individuals to access top digital apprenticeship programmes, by providing a free four-week training programme prior to the start of any training course or job.

Horizons– Catch22’s core employability programme is set to initially help 400 people into jobs and training. Working with the support of partners such as JPMorgan Chase, Horizons will address the UK employment crisis and empower those furthest from the job market to take a positive first step.

Grid for Good– in partnership with National Grid, the ‘Grid for Good’ scheme will support young people aged 16 to 30 from our networks, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, into careers in the energy industry. This is part of the wider Grid for Good programme, which includes mentoring, work experience, exclusive access to jobs in the energy sector, and a strong alumni support network.

LifeSkills – in partnership with Barclays and working on both sides of the recruitment process, this programme provides support and advice for employers, and support and training for the employee. Often participants are not yet job-ready so three weeks of free training in soft skills and basic is included, as well as up to 12 months in-work support.

The Social Switch Project – funded by Google.org and the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit, and delivered in partnership with Redthread, this programme specifically works with young people at risk of violence, to divert them into sustainable and creative roles using their digital and social media skills. During the programme, young people work on live creative campaigns with businesses, and are then given 12 months support from careers advisor to get them into a long-term role.

Kickstart Community – Kickstart Community is creating Kickstart placements with a difference. In addition to connecting young people aged 16-24 currently on Universal Credit a six months paid placement for 25 hours a week, and a salary at the National Minimum Wage or higher (age dependent), we provide wraparound support, training, volunteering opportunities and mentoring.