In early February 2021, we announced that we were signing up for the government’s Kickstart Scheme to support local young people in finding work and gaining useful work experience. Our Chief Executive Graham Fisher tells us more about why supporting young people is more important than ever and how other Letchworth businesses can play their part.
Across the UK, job losses and unemployment have surged since March 2020, due to the pandemic, with young people finding gainful employment harder than ever. With an increasing amount of time away from learning in a school and university environment and feelings of social isolation on the rise, people under the age of 24 are finding it more difficult than before to find work and opportunities.
In December 2020, unemployment figures stood at 12.1% for young people aged 18-24 in Letchworth, with youth unemployment in Letchworth Wilbury standing at 16.3% – higher than the average of 9.0% across England in the same month. For reference, back in March 2020, just under 4% of young people were out of work in Letchworth, which was marginally below the English average at the time.
In around nine months this figure increased by almost 9% and is now significantly higher than the English average of 9.2% and above the figures for Hertfordshire. This is really worrying data, particularly when the government has continued to invest heavily in the furlough scheme to try to protect jobs. Many national commentators are worried that unemployment will peak if furlough ends in April, creating an even larger problem as the year progresses.
Behind these statistics is the individual stories of the young people in our town and the impact COVID-19 is having on young people. Some of our partners across the town have found data that tells us that many are struggling with isolation from their friends and wider networks, facing increasing anxiety, deteriorating mental health due to this, as well as possibly grappling with debt and living in insecure housing. It is a bleak outlook when paired with the risk of facing prolonged periods of unemployment.
We know just how difficult it is right now. Our property and venue income has been hit badly due to businesses needing to shut to the public, and in 2020 the Foundation had to make more than 30 colleagues redundant in response to this. Large numbers of businesses in the town are facing a really challenging time, but it is essential we try to find ways to support young people back into employment to boost the local economy and provide relief at such an important time of their working lives.
There is a lot of evidence indicating that it can be difficult to get a job when young people are unemployed even if only for six months, as prospective employers can perceive long breaks on CVs to mean the applicant does not have up-to-date experience and that gaps in employment are reflective of the applicant’s ‘employability’. Although, with the backdrop of a pandemic, breaks on CVs may become more normal in the short term, but younger applicants are historically disadvantaged during the recruitment process due to their experience so may lose out in the long term to older prospects.
In an attempt to bridge this gap and bolster the workforce in Letchworth, the Foundation is working in partnership with business support social enterprise, Wenta, to take part in the government’s Kickstart Scheme. In this funded programme, we will be recruiting eight posts which have been created for Kickstart that will provide unemployed young people with an excellent quality job and training experience.
In addition to signing up to Kickstart ourselves, we are now calling on other Letchworth employers to sign up to this programme, with the help of Wenta, to make a collective pledge to every young person in the town to offer opportunities. If we can significantly increase the number of those roles in the town, we can support young people to keep active and to learn new skills and build their confidence. That way as the economy picks up again, they will be much better placed to get back into work and improve their career prospects.
Our Continuing Work
Over the years, we have worked as members of the North Herts Youth Strategy Group, which focuses on the needs of young people in the District. The group looks at what local action needs to be taken, both collectively and by individual organisations, to help address issues and to ensure young people have the best opportunities possible. As a member of this group, we actively create or signpost to services/activities that support young people in Letchworth .
The Foundation is also working with 30+ local partners to identify how we can support skills development and future careers opportunities for younger people.
Over the next few weeks, the Foundation will be writing to local employers inviting them to sign up to the Kickstart programme and help young people find gainful employment during such uncertain and tough times.
If you’d like to have a chat with us about signing up to this programme, call 01462 530350 or email email@example.com . Alternatively, you can email Parvena Begum, the Kickstart Lead at Wenta at ParvenaBegum@wenta.co.uk .
Follow us on Facebook to stay in touch and see the vacancies we have created for this scheme as soon as they are open for applications.