Hackney Borough Council: An inclusive approach to employment

An inclusive approach is integral to employment support within Hackney Borough Council. The design of programmes and opportunities are focused on engaging and supporting hard-to-reach groups in the area, including care leavers, young people with disabilities and young black males.


Introduction

Hackney is an ethnically diverse area that has experienced significant population growth and rapid economic change, including growth in local businesses, over the last 20 years. Whilst employment rates have improved, the borough has high levels of poverty and deprivation. Fast economic and inclusive growth are a core priority for this Labour Council.

An inclusive approach is integral to employment pathways delivery and support within Hackney Council. The design of programmes and opportunities is focused on engaging and supporting hard-to-reach groups in the area, including, care leavers, young people with disabilities, and young black males.

Description of activity

Hackney Council Apprenticeships have been operating for 5 years, with more than 100 apprenticeships delivered. The programme runs on a cohort model so that there are now a couple of new recruitments per year. Key features which enable a focus on hard-to-reach groups include:

  • Engagement. Good and interesting opportunities across different parts of the Council was key to attracting groups to apply (e.g. 25 digital-based apprenticeships) and working with provider organisations, including for example voluntary sector and youth organisations to promote and build momentum around apprenticeships.
  • Recruitment. Everyone is invited to an Open Day and the Employment Pathways team proactively engage in the recruitment to ensure that the application process is a positive one, that those that may not normally get invited to interview have an opportunity.
  • On-programme support. Pastoral and networking support for those on the apprenticeship programme.
  • Monitoring and review. The team regularly review progress to understand success in attracting and maintaining representation amongst the harder-to reach groups.

The Supported Internships programme is one of the programmes that also provides a stepping-stone to employment for young people with SEND. Young people are supported by a Job Coach from the Employment Pathways team and undertake work placements across the Council on a rotation basis. The Job Coach understands the specific needs of the young person, in partnership with Hackney Works and the Employer Engagement Team, supports them through the placements and towards follow-on employment. 

Impacts and outcomes

  • Representation amongst hard-to-reach groups (care leavers, young people with disabilities, young black males) and retention rates for apprenticeships at the Council are high.  There is evidence that the conversion rate is good – that is that not only has a high proportion of applications been received from hard-to-reach groups, but that this has also been converted into recruitment and retention rates.
  • The inclusiveness strategy has also supported the Council to be on a trajectory towards achieving more locally living employees (applicants are required to be a Hackney resident or have been to school/college within Hackney).
  • Hackney Apprenticeship Network deliver on average much higher wages compared to Hackney employers overall.
  • Distance travelled for some of the more excluded groups and success on the programme

Feedback from employers involved in more inclusive apprenticeship, internship and work placement opportunities is that changes are being achieved not only at an individual level but also at an organisational level – they operate on a more inclusive basis, changing the way they engage and recruit.

Successes

Senior level and cross-Council commitment have been key to success. There is sponsorship from senior leaders within the Council and the hospital involved in the apprenticeships and Supported Internships. The Chief Executives of both organisations regard inclusiveness as important and have set the agenda in terms of a need for culture change in this respect. Effort has also been put in to ensuring a broad understanding of what apprenticeships are about across the Council.

Advice for others includes:

  • recognise that inclusive delivery is a key lever to achieve wider Council objectives, set in context of alleviating deprivation for example
  • aim to achieve significant scale of impact (100+ apprenticeships across the Council)
  • maintain focus and ethos – there is a temptation when making budget cuts to cut the apprenticeships – so there is a need to be vigilant and not lose the ethos.

Challenges

In committing to paying high wages, you attract large numbers of good quality candidates. Working with recruiters to ensure they maintain a focus on recruiting hard-to-reach candidates alongside this can be a challenge. One of the ways of helping to overcome this is to ensure that the apprenticeships on offer have enough Level 2 positions.

Young people's voices

The experiences of two participants from the programme are as follows:

Junior Management Consultant (Level 4)

Before starting his apprenticeship, this young person had worked for an IT company that dealt with website building and marketing. They had considered going to university but decided an apprenticeship was the right route, although two rejections before securing this apprenticeship was demotivating.

They were pleased to have been given a chance to talk to some of the recruitment team and they gave top tips on what to do and what not to do, which was helpful to give them the best chance of being invited to a final interview. They have developed into the role of relationship manager. The most challenging part of their role is staying on top of things and being aware of changes that may affect a project: "This challenge [has been] a learning curve for me to develop my skills and make sure that I can get the best of my apprenticeship. I think I am looking forward to seeing where my apprenticeship can take me and what doors it can open".

Software Developer Apprentice (Level 4)

Before starting her apprenticeship, this young person was studying for A-Levels. The prospect of university did not appeal to her, particularly when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She decided to do an apprenticeship instead so that she could learn and get a qualification while also gaining practical experience. She works with other apprentices and agency developers that have more experience in technical fields such as C#, .NET, and Event-Driven Architecture.

The most challenging part of her apprenticeship has been remote working: "When I started my apprenticeship, I had just graduated from sixth form and had never had a job before. I had to learn about operating at HackIT, learn a lot of new technologies and programming techniques, all while working remotely and never seeing my colleagues face to face. In particular, I found asking questions very difficult.”

She enjoys the team approach and the ‘people first’ ethos at HackIT: “I can see how residents are the central point of discussions and planning work, which makes me happy as someone who has lived in Hackney my whole life. A definite ‘pro’ of this apprenticeship, for me, is that I can give back to my community.”

She hopes to progress to a Level 6 degree apprenticeship in the near future.