In Wiltshire the council has provided targeted support to those most at risk, setting up a dedicated team to work with young people not in education, employment or training.
The pandemic has had a major impact on the employment and skills development opportunities of young people. Apprenticeships and training opportunities saw a decline during the first 18 months of the pandemic, threatening to create a generation of young people who were dropping out of school with diminished future prospects.
In Wiltshire the council has provided targeted support to those most at risk, setting up a dedicated team to work with young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) as well as running events and a youth hub to bring young people and employers together.
A new team to help NEETs
Wiltshire already had a well-established employment and skills service before the pandemic. This included the Work Wiltshire website, a one-stop shop for careers advice and support, access to training grants and Building Bridges, a dedicated programme for people who are at risk of long-term unemployment.
But it was looking to do more when COVID-19 hit, recognising there were significant numbers at risk of becoming NEETs - Wiltshire was in the fifth highest quintile of local authority areas.
During late 2019 it had started to put in place plans to set up a dedicated NEET team with an employment and skills officer and three education and employment advisers. The new team was launched in the summer of 2020, just in time to support those young people who were dropping out of education following the first lockdown.
Wiltshire Head of Employment and Skills Mandy Timbrell said: “It was a very difficult period for young people. There were less apprenticeship opportunities available and these young people had missed out on the work experience that they would normally have done.
“The challenge though is always around finding and engaging these young people. The team worked closely with other services internally, including the youth offending team, Careers Hub, virtual school and SEND service. They know who is at risk of becoming NEET and were able to refer them on to us.”
The NEET team provides a range of one-to-one support and signposts to other services who are able to help with CVs, interviewing skills and accessing education opportunities. “The demand for the service is increasing,” said Ms Timbrell. But she added it was having such an impact that she was confident that Wiltshire will no longer be in the top quintile for NEETs when the next figures are released.
One of those who has been helped was John aged 17. He has started a carpentry course, but found it difficult to focus and concentrate during lockdown. When he started working with an adviser he was negative and reluctant, but between them they made a plan and he gained his construction skills certificate to demonstrate he has the right skills and experience to be a labourer. He is now working and financially stable. He said he really appreciated the support he was given and it had “boosted his confidence and motivation”.
‘We are optimistic for the future’
During the pandemic, the council has also run a series of Young Work Wiltshire events. It started off as a physical youth hub model after the first lockdown with face-to-face support provided from Trowbridge Town Hall. Employers were invited in to give talks on what they could offer, while the council’s employment and skills service was also on hand to provide support.
Ms Timbrell said: “It did not quite get the footfall we hoped – Wiltshire is a rural county and people do not always travel, especially at that point just after the first lockdown. But we knew the support was needed so we continued with a virtual model.”
This included a series of “Learn Live” events, funded through the Careers Hub, on a range of topics from mental and emotional health and re-training and re-skilling to a dedicated event for children who had been in care. The events proved extremely popular with more than 4,000 logging in to some.
Ms Timbrell said: “They could watch them live – and interact with the speakers - or put them on afterwards. We have found the digital approach has been really effective. We have promoted them on social media and engaged a lot of young people that way.
“We have found also that there has now been a rebound in opportunities – in fact we are finding we can’t always fill the apprenticeship posts we have. One of the problems is that there are lots of opportunities available for employment which offer a very competitive salary to start with. We, in collaboration with the local enterprise partnership, are planning a promotional campaign about what apprenticeships can offer and why it is worth pursuing roles in the long-term.
“We also want to expand our range of apprenticeship opportunities. We have a lot of micro-companies so we are working to support these firms to set up apprenticeship posts and then working with schools to help match candidates with them. We really believe we can give young people the opportunities they need after what has been a difficult two years.”
Mandy Timbrell, Head of Employment and Skills, Wiltshire Council: firstname.lastname@example.org