Scheme can help get Wolverhampton's youngsters into work, says council leader

Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield explains how the city's Wolves at Work scheme can play a vital role in creating job opportunities for young people.

City Council leader Ian Brookfield
City Council leader Ian Brookfield

Unlocking the true potential of our city’s young people is a huge priority for me and my team.

But we can’t fully do this unless we tackle the scourge of youth unemployment in our city which is holding many young people back.

Let’s contextualise the problem. Youth unemployment is an old, intergenerational issue and the pandemic has made it worse. We have the highest unemployment rate for 18-24-year-olds in the country with 2,660 young people not in jobs, education, or training. Some parts of our city are harder hit than others, but even our lowest ward is above the English average of 6.5 per cent.

And this is despite significant effort by partners, businesses, and other organisations. The first Wolves at Work programme has helped 6,700 local people into work so far, 48 per cent under 30. At ages 16-17 our city is in the top quartile nationally because we have fewer youngsters at that age not in education, employment or training – commonly known as Neets. Our schools are better performing, and employers are reporting high levels of vacancies as the city’s economy bounces back. Right now, there are over 600 apprenticeship opportunities up for grabs.

I truly believe that this is a city that leaves no-one behind. But, to shift that dial, we need disruptive thinking, we need to shake things up – because all our best efforts to date, have not been enough.

Which is why we need to come together as ‘one city’ – as we’ve done throughout the pandemic – and we need to act because time is running out. We risk presiding over a ‘lost generation’ and we cannot keep kicking the can down the road.

We need urgent intervention and action. No single organisation can address this challenge independently. The council has an essential role to play, and we are happy to coordinate a ‘one city’ approach. But we need wider support – the support of our fantastic city employers, our partners, the West Midlands Combined Authority and government departments – with young people’s voices at the heart of everything.

The council is backing this ‘One City’ approach with £3 million in funding for a new Wolves at Work 18-24 initiative. We do not have all the answers. And that’s why we reached out to our partners at a City Summit last month. It was only the start, but it shows what we can do with our collective firepower. We received 62 pledges of support including one company who said they could take 100 into jobs there and then; the brilliant AF Blakemore’s pledged to take on new starters including on their ‘street 2 wheel’ driver training programme; the fabulous Collins Aerospace committed to engaging 4,000 young people over the next two years with their ‘Enthuse’ programme; we had pledges – collectively – to take on at least 80 apprentices and graduates. It’s a great start, but there is so much more to do.

We also launched a new ‘City Ideas Fund’ with an initial £100,000 to stimulate fresh thinking. To date, we’ve had five ideas submitted, around 700 unique visits to wolverhampton.gov.uk/cityideasfund website and 21 calls for support to apply. We will be assessing applications – with young people and partners – before Christmas with a view to get going and funding successful ideas.

We’ll also be getting out much more into our communities, initially targeting those neighbourhoods hardest hit, so that work coaches and other professionals who can help, are much more accessible to those that need that help most.

Most importantly – we will keep on talking, listening and engaging so we move forward, together, as ‘One City’ and connect our young people to the opportunities that are out there.

Councillor Brookfield with Jobchange administrator Aman Toor, Gazebo Theatre actor Mo Aldube, and Kevin Davis, CEO at The Vine Trust

How the programme works:

Wolverhampton Council says it wants to work with employers to tackle the problem of youth unemployment in the city.

The Wolves at Work 18-24 programme aims to target so-called ‘Neets’ – those who are not in education, employment or training.

It wants employers to embrace apprenticeships, but is also looking for fresh thinking on how to solve the problem.

The City Ideas Fund offers a one off grant of between £500 and £10,000, for city employers, partners, voluntary organisations, community groups and individuals to develop ideas and plans which help young people into jobs and learning.

Applicants to the City Ideas Fund are encouraged, as part of the application process to address some of the key challenges connected with reducing youth unemployment in the City.

They include:

  • Helping young people to recognise their skills

  • Enabling employers to support young people with limited experience of work

  • Removing barriers to accessing services and employment

  • Engaging with families to support young people with their aspiration

Wolverhampton Council has carved out an initial war chest of £3 million pounds for Wolves at Work 18-24 to help co-ordinate a ‘one city’ approach and to develop interventions. The City Ideas Fund provides an initial £100,000 to stimulate fresh thinking. It is aimed at employers, partners, voluntary organisations, community groups and individuals to propose creative and innovative ideas which support young people into jobs and learning opportunities.

Businesses and organisations are urged to ensure they have all the correct evidence to add to the form and have read the requirements before starting their application.

Business leaders who have an idea but who are not sure if it meets the criteria are encouraged to apply anyway.

For information, email cityideasfund@wolverhampton.gov.uk, or call 01902 290242.

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