Growing your own staff: lessons from the Kickstart scheme
4 August 2022

Growing your own staff: lessons from the Kickstart scheme 

During the pandemic, 15 English UK members joined a government scheme to create new short-term jobs for unemployed young people, supported by corporate member Professionals UK. Around a quarter of the 16-25-year-olds taken on by member centres as part of the Kickstart scheme were hired by them at the end of their six-month placement.  

Does the Kickstart experience provide any lessons to support the ELT industry through the current capacity challenge, for instance by using the government's apprenticeship programme?  

Huan Japes, our membership director, says: "Kickstart came when our members were at their lowest ebb during Covid, and many of the young people involved were completely inexperienced or hard to place. With that in mind, the proportion who were offered work with their employer after the scheme finished is a positive one, as is the way in which the interns gained in confidence. Given the recruitment challenges all our members are facing, we would encourage members who feel they have the capacity to support an apprentice to seriously consider whether this might be a good route to fill a vacancy and build for the future." 

About Kickstart 

This government scheme matched unemployed 16-24 year-olds on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment with six-month new jobs paid at the minimum wage, with elements of training and employability support. Employer costs were covered for up to 25 hours a week, and smaller organisations could join the scheme through a gateway provider. 

About the English UK scheme 

We asked corporate member Professionals UK to act as gateway provider for an English UK Kickstart scheme for language centre members too small to run the initiative for themselves. The scheme attracted 36 applications from members, 15 of which eventually took part. Many original applicants were unable to proceed because the school had been so badly affected by Covid. Additionally, one member school chain operated as its own gateway provider but asked Professionals UK to provide the coaching element.  

Professionals UK's managing director Karen Bowring says most participants took one or two Kickstart staff but one had 11. The organisation ended up supporting 70 young participants, 60 of whom were with English UK members.  

Karen said: "It was an extremely steep learning curve for everybody as the government was making it up as it went along and didn't have the full information for us to impart to members. It was one of the most stressful processes in my career because of how fast it developed and because such enormous bottlenecks developed." Professionals UK's then co-director Bella Cranmore focused on creating the programme while Karen focused on liaising with members and updating them with the latest government updates. "As long as the interns had a manager to look after them and ensure they were getting training in some proper skills the Department for Work & Pensions was happy." 

Each participating organisation got 25 hours of salary and pension for each employee as well as £1,500 to spend on training, from which the Professionals UK coaching fee was taken. Participants were often "hard to place" for reasons including inexperience or mental health issues. 

How the interns were supported 

"Some of the interns didn't have CVs or they were super basic," said Karen. "We gave them a template to get all their information in there and then did online sessions showing them how to represent themselves. It was delightful. A lot of people participating were in the hard to place category.  Some were straight out of university but others didn't know how to represent themselves and perhaps had left school with a couple of GCSEs. Once they'd used a strong CV template they started to think about themselves in a different way: we'd say, can you see yourself in that CV? 

"We helped them to start the CV with bullet points which were very specific things you'd want a future manager to ask you about at interview, making sure they had a story for each so they could speak confidently about their life and could start to view different things they'd done in in a professional way. It was nice to see the evolution, from people sitting on their beds, eyes down and dressed scruffily to seeing those same people in a uniform looking proud and really confident. It was really satisfying for all parties and it gave them a skillset to keep their CV going for life." 

Karen's team also covered creating a cover letter, presenting themselves on LinkedIn and interview practice.  

What roles did the Kickstart employees fill for English UK members? How many were taken on permanently? 

  • 35% did social media, 22% admin, 10% reception and around 5% each for events, coaching and sales. The remainder were in "a mishmash" of other roles including taxi driving and supporting school owners.  
  • Almost a quarter – 24% - were employed by the participating schools at least for a while at the end of the six months 
  • 15% got jobs with other organisations during their placement. Two went direct to London marketing companies, and others went to work for organisations including Legal and General, Essex county council, Oxford courts service, and Manchester university in varied roles.  
  • There were regional differences: London ran out of Kickstart candidates more quickly than places such as Leeds.  

Many of the Kickstart employees came from difficult backgrounds, had no previous workplace experience or had mental health issues arising from lockdown and isolation. "They just needed that extra push and that extra encouragement and a lot of the time the schools became secondary families to them and shored them up psychologically. Some didn't get through but most of them did," said Karen.   

"I know a lot of the schools were pleasantly surprised by who they got interviews with and were able to select as best they could. Of the ones who worked out, the schools got new energy and participation. It really did help some of the schools to cover some basic positions without having to go to the wall financially and the owners also helped to set the next generation on the forward track." 

The school's experience 

International House Manchester, which before Brexit regularly offered roles to volunteers, took on two Kickstart interns, one in marketing and the other as a football coach assistant. Principal John O'Leary said both have gone into other jobs, one during the placement and one after being offered and taking a permanent role at the school.  

"We are always careful to abide by employment law so we've never used volunteers or Kickstart candidates to take the place of existing paid employment so these were new roles and we were able to experiment with doing new different things, be it blog posts or providing more administration support to coaches, which we hoped would add to the quality of our provision. We always tried to make sure we didn't just give candidates menial tasks but rather ones they could get meaningful experience out of.   

"The employees were able to learn new, transferrable, skills and became more attuned to a working environment and we benefited from their energy and enthusiasm. Both went to subsequent roles and we subsequently incorporated some of their duties into paid roles, so I'd say it was win-win.  

"Getting young enthusiastic people into the workplace to gain skills and contribute can only be a good thing I think!" 

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