Posted by:10 April, 2012
How best should a council react when faced with a jobs crisis affecting thousands of its young people? Cllr Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk CC explains how her local authority is rising to the challenge.
We are proud that Norfolk is known as a beautiful place to live and work in and home to a string of world class businesses including Lotus, Aviva and Virgin Money. But the recession has hit home here as elsewhere, and with some of the most deprived areas in the country - in places such as Norwich and Great Yarmouth - and issues of rural deprivation, our Cabinet was clear about the need for leadership and bold action when planning for 2012/13.
Prudently we had already identified sufficient savings to freeze council tax for a second year, so we seized on the Government’s cash incentive to create a welcome one-off funding opportunity worth £8.6m.
Of course, we could have played safe and saved the money for another time. With darker economic storm clouds ahead of local government that was certainly something we thought about. However, the rising numbers of jobless young people and the % of Neets in Norfolk over the last three years (from 5.6% in December 2009, to an above the national average 7.0% in December 2011) was more than enough to convince us to use the funds to invest more in their futures now.
So we have agreed a package of measures costing almost £4.5m which will give jobs hope to more than 500 people in the next two years and support our wider Economic Growth Strategy for Norfolk .
We want to drive up the numbers of apprenticeships across the county by supporting local businesses to engage with apprenticeships as a valuable method of recruitment. We have a Norfolk Apprenticeship Strategy Group that brings together key partners who will deliver the wider apprenticeship strategy for all age groups and be advisors. Their objective is to increase the number of apprenticeships in Norfolk year on year and our new initiative will strongly support this.
Through our extra investment, we plan to fund the creation of 400 apprenticeships in key sectors through the partnership of apprenticeship providers and local employers. We want our young people to be able to compete for jobs in sectors which are currently important in Norfolk as well as growth sectors for the county - such as energy. Our authority will create another 81 apprenticeships in the Norfolk branches of our Norse Group, which has interests in building and grounds maintenance, the care sector and professional surveying, engineering and accounting.
But this isn’t just about increasing the numbers and types of apprenticeships available, we need our young people to gain apprenticeships appropriate to the levels of skills they currently have that also give them opportunities to develop and move forward. We aim to support the creation of Level 2 apprenticeships for our priority groups aligned with the creation of higher level apprenticeships supported by national funding.
In addition, for these young people, some of whom will be leaving our care, we are putting in place a robust package of pre-apprenticeship support. That way, those who need a bit of extra help can be properly guided towards a longer term goal of an apprenticeship if that is what works best for them.
This extra support will focus on key literacy and numeracy skills and help tackle some of the more entrenched barriers to work. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ package. We will tailor each support package to the individual concerned taking into account their personal situation and creating a structured pathway to an apprenticeship as the end goal. Of course, matching interested young people with the right employer will need to be an essential ingredient in every case.
We are also working to engage local SMEs who don’t currently recruit apprentices so that, among other things we can help dispel or tackle concerns or myths about the red tape and difficulties surrounding apprenticeship recruitment. We will use some of our funding to create wage incentives that can incentivise employers who may consider the expense of an apprentice to be prohibitive. There are many smaller businesses in Norfolk who could provide valuable apprenticeships but who might feel the associated financial costs and time commitments relating to an apprenticeship are too high. Apprenticeship becomes a far more viable option, if we support them to meet some of these costs.
Engaging and working alongside local businesses in such a practical way and investing to make some £3m available for SMEs means those prepared to invest in Norfolk’s young people can be helped to do so now, and in the longer term.
We are matching this work with a comprehensive marketing and educational campaign about the value of apprenticeships and their importance to future of our country’s economy.
With funding confirmed we are moving forward fast and hope to have the first apprenticeships in place by late summer.
Working across council departments is essential to bring together experience around important economic sectors and unemployment with knowledge of children’s services and the young people in care agenda to make sure we have designed a programme which will fit the needs of young people, and our vital local businesses.
Cllr Ann Steward (Con), Norfolk CC
For more information about the Norfolk apprenticeship initiative, contact email@example.com
Share your scheme
Does your council have an example of best practice you can share with your counterparts in other local authorities?
Get in contact now and tell me about them
From The Little Things
LGC’s blog series from local councils on the schemes that make a real difference to their community. Best practice examples from councils for councils.