Bristol City Council: Bristol WORKS

To address high levels of disengagement with young people, leading post-16 providers in Bristol have developed a collaborative strategy for building a high quality system. A key part of this includes the Bristol WORKS programme, providing access to quality work experience and apprenticeships to every young person in the city.


Background and context

Bristol, a UNESCO Learning City and one of the eleven UK Core Cities, has a relatively young age profile compared to the average across England and Wales. Like many cities, Bristol’s neighbourhoods have distinct identities with large variances in wealth and poverty levels. Bristol’s young people are more likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) and significantly fewer are likely to go onto higher education than the national average.

To address these levels of disengagement, leading post-16 providers have developed the Improving Bristol Post-16: Education, Skills and Careers Pathways Strategy 2019-2024, a collaborative strategy for building a post-16 system appropriate for the 21st Century. A key part of post-16 delivery includes the Bristol WORKS programme, providing access to quality work experience and apprenticeships to every young person in the city. Through working across schools and employers to create young people’s experience of work opportunities and deliver post-16 pathways, it aims to raise aspirations from an early, pre-16 age, with a particular focus on those who face the greatest learning, skills and employment challenges and barriers.

Description of activity

A series of activities have developed under the WORKS umbrella programme specifically targeting hard-to-reach and marginalised audiences. These include:

  • Career Coach: a bespoke five-year coaching programme that matches children in care with local employer mentors. It matches volunteer coaches with young people, aged 13 or 14 and looked after by the local authority, with inspirational local professionals, based on their interests and preferred ways of learning
  • Bristol WORKS for Everyone: tailored provision for SEND young people that starts from year 9 with careers exploration and moves beyond year 11 with progression planning and supported mentoring into paid employment
  • Realising Talent: provides additional support to SEND 14-16 year olds in need of support to improve their opportunities at, and transitions to Post-16 education and training.

Challenges and barriers

  • Broader level challenges: General issues faced by young people relating to poverty, racial and disability discrimination and subsequently the challenges associated with finding employees that are “poverty aware”, able to navigate these complexities, and have the capability and strategic knowledge to help steer young people through them effectively. Further, being part of a Combined Authority adds another layer of policy and service considerations with Bristol facing challenges balancing and aligning regional and local needs and retaining local ownership of issues and solutions.
  • Programme specific challenges: One of the key challenges has been building links and relationships and establishing trust with communities and schools in deprived and inner-city areas. Motivating in-need schools and encouraging them to participate in the programme can be challenging. It involves having difficult and diplomatic conversations with senior teams and employees and some resistance to change and/or intervention is experienced by the project teams.  

Successes and lessons learnt

  • Building a recognised, trusted brand: Key to accessing harder-to-reach audiences has been a well-established core, central offer in the WORKS programme. This acts as a platform on which to launch tailored, targeted projects and a hub through which an evidence base can be built on successful approaches. Strong brand recognition in the area helps the team when approaching new schools and employees who understand they will be receiving high-quality, meaningful support with young people at the centre. 
  • Bespoke experience: The team works closely with the senior teams to deliver a creative, tailored package for their schools, focusing on their biggest gaps and cohorts most at risk of becoming NEET.
  • Building sustainability: The programme aims to ensure work has an imprint on organisational memory and the momentum is kept following support. The team support staff in schools to build effective and sustainable careers systems suited to their school and needs, and subsequently remain a “critical friend” through ad-hoc interventions at the end of the support period.
  • Listening to schools and employers: The team regularly collect feedback from schools, employers and young people involved in the programme. Often employers and schools want to work each other more but aren’t sure what each other want from the experience or how to facilitate it. WORKS gathers feedback on how experiences of work can be made valuable to both parties, links them together and provides the support, logistics and delivery mechanisms. 
  • Strong evidence base: The programme design is based on research that young adults are five times more likely to engage in further education, employment and training if they have had four or more meaningful experiences of work while at school.
  • Support from senior officials: Well-supported, respected and promoted by the Bristol Mayor.

Impacts and outcomes

In 2020-2021,the programme delivered 2,850 experiences of work to young people and this included supporting young people with additional needs:

  • Between March 2019 – March 2020 there were 930 experiences of work delivered for SEND young people
  • Between March 2020 – March 2021 there were 611 experiences of work delivered for SEND young people virtually during the pandemic.
  • 60 learners were supported through “Realising Talent”.
  • Team growth: Additional Delivery officers and admin staff increased the team’s capacity to deliver experiences of work.

Examples of recent activity

Bristol WORKS for Everyone has run targeted workshops and careers engagement across six schools in Bristol with their contracted delivery partner, Sixteen, to help with next steps planning for marginalised young people this includes:

  • What Is my Dream Job? To create a discussion about employment and give students an opportunity to voice thoughts and opinions about their future.
  • Why Do I Want To Work? Self-evaluation on motivations for getting a job, evaluating their own skill set, debating the importance of money. 
  • What Makes A Good Life? To create a discussion of what is important in life, and how having a paid job would provide the means for you to access this. The discussion focuses on how work and leisure/life aspirations are interlinked.
  • Design and curation of a fully virtual SEND careers day for students and staff in one of the participating schools.
  • Sixteen successful WEX placements delivered within Bristol City Council for SEND young people throughout 2020-21.

Young people’s voices

In February 2021, Bristol WORKS, Bell Group UK and Black Professionals in Construction delivered the “Global Youth Construct” pilot, an international virtual work experience project in the construction industry. The following is taken from participant case studies:

Overall this week has taught me to believe in myself and never cave in and give up when times get tough. Whether that’s when being interviewed or maybe not being able to complete a task or even when giving a presentation. I would like to thank everyone who gave me this opportunity and who have worked so hard to make it happen.

Will, aged 14

 This project brought out many skills from me and my peers who I was working with. I felt more confident, and we all worked as a team to come together with a finished product. This taught me to be creative and to come up with ideas. I now know who I want to be and what I need to achieve to become that person.

Kirah, aged 15