Tees Valley Combined Authority aims to grow the local economy by focusing on transforming education, employment and skills across the area. Their Routes to Work pilot has supported almost 4,000 people and helped nearly 800 back into employment across the Tees Valley.
Vision for the local area
Tees Valley CA is driving forward an ambitious agenda for growth focused on transforming education, employment and skills across the area, with the aim of filling 133,000 new jobs that will be available in the region by 2024, whilst ensuring that local residents have increased access to the jobs created. Shona Duncan, Head of Education, Employment and Skills, said the five councils are proactive in their work around employability – leading the delivery of local support, funded by a variety of funding streams, and providing a range of different routes and products.
“What we have been discussing collectively, and what the combined authority is driving towards, is supporting councils and wider partners to collaborate, and getting all these different projects much more joined up and aligned – so that we end up with a single local point of contact for a service user. We want an objective information and guidance system that is supportive both in terms of signposting and mentoring.”
Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions
Routes to Work showed that joining up provision can work really well. However, Shona said, this is not easy in a nationally procured operating model.
“‘Restart’ coming in will require partners, including councils, to consider how they can engage and support the providers. This will take time and potentially reduce some of the benefits of previous aligned work.”
Tees Valley has some youth hubs, created with Jobcentre Plus, but their location can be a barrier as they were not always set up in consultation with the local council or in the most accessible location.
The funding landscape is critical and there is uncertainty around the new Shared Prosperity Fund.
“We have this vision of a one-stop-shop across the Tees Valley, access to the right employment and skills support regardless of administrative boundaries, but the eligibility criteria or constraints attached to the fund will determine how effectively councils and combined authorities can access or use the funding. It’s not about the ability or willingness to do it – our councils are absolutely committed – it’s just that we need the tools.
“One thing we need to do differently is create the opportunity for alignment of programmes and projects. It’s not as simple as co-location – it has to be about the wider landscape, because we have hundreds of stakeholders and providers. It all comes back to the councils and combined authority working together to really understand a local area, and joining up provision so that it’s simple and accessible for people and employers, ” explained Shona.
She also believes greater devolution would help.
“More devolved funding, with flexibilities built in, would mean we can achieve more. It would ensure residents can access support and opportunities locally whilst ensuring our businesses have access to a skilled workforce when they need it.”
While devolution is not always about money, funding is an essential part of enabling local influence and delivering accessible support.
“The alternative is that we look at having greater influence of employment and skills design in a local area early on, prior to procurement. Where provision has to be nationally procured, more notice needs to be taken of the needs of the local area, including what works locally in creating a collaborative, aligned, simple support infrastructure for people and businesses. This also includes identifying those providers with a proven track record of working locally in an aligned and collaborative way,” said Shona.
The local perspective
Redcar resident Jordan Taylor, 30, was one of the first to progress through the Teesworks Skills Academy. He registered in April 2021 and completed a ‘routeway to scaffolding’ course with provider Neta Training Group. He achieved six qualifications and now works for a Middlesbrough scaffolding firm. Redcar & Cleveland Council’s training and employment hub helped Jordan to access a bike and a train pass so he could get to work.
“I’ve worked all my life, so when I found myself unemployed, I wanted to get straight back into a job. It only took a few weeks from me signing up to the Skills Academy to being placed on a training course so I could gain some new qualifications and get another job. The whole process was spot-on – it was easy, friendly and fast…and I’ve already sent two people I know to the academy,” said Jordan.