Young people in Coventry have described how a new £2 billion initiative to provide free work placements could transform their lives by boosting their careers.
Thousands of high-quality six-month work placements are expected to be created by the new Kickstart scheme, which has been launched to help those aged between 16 and 24 who are on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.
Young people have been especially hard hit by the economic impact of lockdown, with latest figures showing that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds claiming benefit has more than doubled to 44,000 since March when the pandemic first struck.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is leading the region in brokering and promoting the Kickstart scheme, working in partnership with local councils and Chambers of Commerce.
More than 800 West Midlands employers, including Coventry company PET-Xi Training and Warwickshire tech firm Webropol, have already signed up to Kickstart.
PET-Xi is offering 30 placements to work in community and resident engagement roles and across the wider business. The company has a range of support for young people from the city throughout their journey into work from looking for opportunities, through gaining qualifications including apprenticeships, accessing Kickstart placements, to landing new jobs with local employers.
Ryan Hughes, aged 17, from Coventry, was a trainee automotive technician but lost his job due to the coronavirus lockdown. He is using his time out of work to learn new skills and has signed up to PET-Xi’s training programme Positive Futures.
He said: “I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing and I’m keen to join the Kickstart scheme. It will help me build up my skills and confidence and I hope it will work as a stepping stone for me to get a full time, permanent job.”
Dayyan Hamad, aged 17, from Coventry, had been training in car mechanics but became disengaged from learning. He is now looking for a job or Kickstart placement at a garage which specialises in electric vehicles.
He said: “I had to leave college after getting mixed up with the wrong crowd but I’m now really enjoying training with PET-Xi, which is giving me the motivation to get into work.”
Fleur Sexton, managing director of PET-Xi Training, said: “Our whole team are absolutely thrilled to be running the Kickstart scheme in our business. This is all about social equity, making sure that no young person gets left behind, helping to rebuild communities, and a fabulous opportunity for young people to reset, to grasp opportunities and to fulfil their potential.”
Rugby company Webropol provides data analytics, survey and reporting software to businesses and also carries out research, including staff engagement for all 22 NHS health boards in Scotland. Headquartered in Finland, the company has three employees in the UK and five people on contract. It has registered to take on two young people through Kickstart.
Managing director Amy Bassi said: “We’re planning to hire a junior infrastructure technician to work on our IT and another person to work on product development. These will be great opportunities for two young people to gain qualifications in project management, together with hands-on experience working across a number of different areas of the business.
“We believe it’s vital to develop our future workforce to help our economic recovery, as investing in the next generation means investing in our future customers.”
Cllr Bob Sleigh OBE, deputy Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We know that young people have been hardest hit by lockdown, and this is why helping to get them into work has been such a high priority for us. It was really powerful to hear first hand from young people about the potential impact of the Kickstart scheme on their lives and those of others.
“Hundreds of businesses across the West Midlands have already signed up to Kickstart and we’re now calling on many more, big and small, to get involved and take on a young person at no or very little cost.”
Companies can join Kickstart and find out more information by visiting https://www.wmca.org.uk/kickstart-scheme.
Funding available for each placement will cover the national minimum wage for 25 hours a week, plus employer National Insurance and minimum auto-enrolment contributions. Young people will also be supported to develop new skills so they can move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart-funded job. Employers can spread the start date of the placements up to the end of December 2021.
The Kickstart scheme is expected to create 20,000 placements in the West Midlands.
Employers planning to offer more than 30 placements can apply direct to the Kickstart scheme, while those offering fewer should go through their local council or Chamber of Commerce.
Sean Rose, head of policy at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, which has already registered 350 placements for Kickstart on behalf of local businesses, said: “Kickstart will help to support young people with new opportunities and there has been extremely positive interest from businesses.
“As an aspiring Gateway organisation, we are ready to support small and medium-sized enterprises that want to utilise the scheme and give a young person a chance in employment within their business.”
Cllr Ian Brookfield, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA portfolio holder for the economy, chairs a WMCA taskforce focused on improving opportunities for young unemployed people.
He said: “The West Midlands is home to one of the youngest populations in Europe, with 32 per cent under the age of 25. Our young people are our future and we must do everything we can to support them.
“I would urge all local employers to think about taking on a young person and register their interest in Kickstart now. Their involvement is vital to improve the prospects of our region’s young people – and will bring fresh talent into their business.”