From education to employment

Reflections on Kickstart – An Expert Opinion from The 5% Club

Today, The 5% Club publishes the latest in its series of Expert Opinions, Learning the lessons from Kickstart – the Kickstart scheme which closes to new starts today, 31 March 2022.

The Kickstart scheme was launched in 2020 with the promise to invest £2 Billion to help employers create hundreds of thousands of high quality 6-month work placements for young people aged 16-24. The scheme started in September 2020, and ran for just over one year, closing to new employer applications on 17 December 2021, with the last work placement commencing by the end of March 2022. In an answer to parliamentary questions in September 2021, it was clear that 200,000 roles had been created with a total of 300,000 roles approved for funding; but take-up was just over 25% at just over 75,000 starts.

The 5% Club Silver Member, Thames Water, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Kickstart Scheme. Karima Khandker, Head of Resourcing, Skills and Emerging Talent at Thames Water shares her perspectives on this scheme and what could come next, in Learning the Lessons from Kickstart – Expert Opinion published by The 5% Club today.

In the piece Karima reflects on the importance of all workplace learning schemes in creating inclusive and accessible employment opportunities, but also in addressing critical skills shortages – nationally and within Thames Water. She explores how the Kickstart Scheme was integrated within the Skills Strategy, the challenges of doing so, and the benefits that were realised for the “Kickstarters” and existing employees alike. She concludes by exploring the broader perspectives to be drawn from initiatives such as Kickstart, and those aspects and learning that should be taken forward into future schemes. Her key points are:

  • Kickstart was an important measure to stimulate and create opportunity during the worst of the Pandemic.
  • A seamless shift from Kickstart to the broader “Way to Work” scheme is key to consolidating the gains made and overall momentum to the recovery.
  • Any work/skills initiative such as Kickstart cannot be viewed in isolation; rapid integration into an employer’s wider Skills Strategy is key, especially in identifying progression into real opportunities and job roles. 

Building on the exceptional insight provided by Karima, The 5% Club concludes by offering the following perspectives, aligned with its own charitable purpose and the supporting “Manifesto for Skills” published last May:

  • Despite criticisms of the scheme, there were some gains made and these should be protected. Effective “transition-to-work” is a critical part of the overall skills ecosystem, especially given its importance in transitioning young people into meaningful work. We should not be seduced by a high rate of job vacancies and a belief that the challenge has gone away. Kickstart was an important skills “supply-side” initiative that in some areas (such as in Thames Water) was just starting to work – the momentum gained should be protected as we shift to the “Way to Work” partnerships.
  • False starts in the skills ecosystem must be avoided, as this risks wasting resources in scheme start-ups and can drive employer scepticism and reduce participation. As with Thames Water, starting and driving momentum in a scheme takes time and resource, and these schemes permeate all aspects of early career business. Stopping programmes just as they start to gain momentum is worse than not starting in the first place.
  • The schemes to improve the Skill Eco-system must be coherent, and we reiterate our call for:
  • A cross-Whitehall Skills Taskforce to coordinate policy development, activity and follow-on. 
  • Create a centralised Employment and Skills Hub for employers to access all schemes.
  • Work with the devolved administrations to simplify and harmonise policy wherever possible.

Karima Khandker expanded on her piece and said, “As the Kickstart scheme draws to a close and we move towards “Way to Work” Partnerships, there are some important learnings to be made for the future. Within Thames Water we achieved relative success with Kickstart, largely because we were able to integrate the scheme into our career pathways, and also the broader culture and ethos of Thames Water, to the benefit of the “Kickstarters” and our wider workforce. Such integration takes time, and for us it is important to have consistency and stability across all those initiatives in our skills ecosystem – that way early success can be sustained, to the benefit of both Thames Water and the wider economy”.

Mark Cameron OBE, CEO of The 5% Club said, “Karima’s experience mirrors that of many of our Members who worked so hard to deliver the Kickstart Scheme. As initiatives such as these are launched, it is imperative that policy makers ensure employers can respond effectively and integrate the new initiatives into their strategies and their own skills frameworks. This takes time – as so eloquently outlined by Karima – and therefore we should ensure this is factored into considerations for change, especially as they now pursue the broadened “Way to Work” programme. That way we sustain true and enduring momentum across the complex skills ecosystem. This is so important if we are to address national skills shortages and build our prosperity in the post-pandemic era.” 

The 5% Club published its “Manifesto for skills across a lifetime of earning and learning” in May 2021, and today expands its previous calls on Government and Employers:

  • Employers are asked to sense check the qualifications and experience levels being used on job adverts and role descriptions – as has been seen in large employers such as the Armed Forces, BBC, Apple, Google, and IBM.
  • There is a broader ask of Government to create a national skills/attitude assessment framework – such a framework having tremendous benefit in terms of recruiting, as well its obvious utility for inclusive career progression.
  • The need for parity of esteem for all educational pathways is reiterated, as is the need to remove the sustained bias towards higher education. That way: every individual can achieve their full potential, without fear of negative judgement or prejudiced and outdated opinion from others; a balanced and effective eco-system will be created that delivers to meet the national skills need; and educational pathways will be matched to follow-on careers, which will do much to address the continued spectre of “Graduate Underemployment.”

The 5% Club passionately believes that these measures – along with the broader requests set out in their Manifesto for Skills – will have a transformational impact on millions of young people as well as businesses looking to recover and Build Back Better following the pandemic. It would turbocharge the Government’s skills agenda to address shortages and help to boost social mobility and prosperity for years to come. 

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