Putting people at the heart of inclusive economies - RSA

Putting people at the heart of inclusive economies

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  • Picture of Gill Bainbridge
    Gill Bainbridge
    Chief Executive of Merseyside Youth Association
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Current economic policy is built on the premise that, if we grow the economy and create wealth and jobs, this wealth will cascade, lifting local areas out of poverty and impacting positively of the lived lives of people within those communities.

I recently spoke at an Inclusive Growth Commission seminar on skills and labour markets (read the write-up of the Inclusive Growth roundtable). In this blog I offer my reflections on the challenge of inclusive growth and how schemes such as Talent Match can contribute to meeting it.

Experience in recent decades suggests there is rather more to it than that. To build a truly inclusive economy, we must build on social capital by investing in people. But even that phrase is more complex than it seems. When we talk about investing in people, we tend to think automatically about investing in training, employment programmes and vocational skills. Then we have designed stand alone, one-size-fits-all programmes that are meant to fill the skills gaps and miraculously turn people’s lives around after twelve weeks.

It hardly needs saying that people are not like this. They are complex and have changing and interconnected needs. They have competing priorities and shifting motivation. Life, unfortunately, is not a linear pathway. Yet we expect people to succeed on linear programmes, taking progressive steps forward until they reach the final goal of a job.

But employment is not the end of the journey, but the beginning… and those complex needs don’t disappear once the weekly wage packet arrives.

That is why we have to look differently at how we invest in people to build a sustainable model for real change.

Our challenge is to motivate and inspire people to work together to become part of their own change. And we can only do this if we involve people from the very start – via the co-design of programmes and services delivered by and for them.

My organisation, Merseyside Youth Association (MYA) is a youth work charity which aims to create positive and lasting change in the lives of young people. We do this because it matters – because how young people view their world will shape ours in years to come.

We have been involved with the Talent Match programme since its inception.

Talent Match is a flagship £105 million Big Lottery programme targeting young people who are furthest from the jobs market, outside the system and facing severe barriers to get into work.  The investment was co-designed with young people, both centrally and in each of the 21 partnership areas, and continues to have young people at the heart of decision making throughout the programme.

Liverpool City Region Talent Match, led by MYA, involved young people in the design from the beginning  - researching  needs via consultations with other young people, employers and stakeholders. The results shaped the delivery. They told us the programme had to be targeted at the most vulnerable young people in our communities, individualised with intensive support, open-ended, flexible and accessible, consistent and seamless. In a nutshell, young people wanted holistic support which put them at the centre.

We developed a no wrongdoor approach to recruitment, enabling a variety of entry routes onto the programme.

With support from an Intensive Mentors young people develop a personalised pathway to motivate, inspire and guide them. This is not a linear pathway but a combination of tailored activities, delivered at the right time, in the right way, affecting change.

Our S.E.L.F (Skills, Employment, Life, Future) toolkit, developed with young people,supports the development of sustainable skills and coping strategies to nurture active citizenship.

Addressing immediate needs as a priority, mentors go on to identify key drivers and barriers. Young people move on to exploring and learning about themselves, building their resilience factors and improving their skills. This includes developing self-confidence and belief, developing life skills, employability skills and readiness for work.

We directly commission therapeutic counselling, speech and language support, basic and functional skills and childcare. We work with innovative local partners to ensure creative solutions which as immediately accessible to young people when they need it.

We also commission career coaching, work placement coordination and business start-up support from external partners, but staff are co-located and fully integrated into our teams to make sure the delivery is seamless.

Our support also includes post-employment support, with access to mentoring and therapeutic support up to six months post progression. We now have match funding to expand the programme to 15-29 year-olds. So, the programme continues to evolve.

So, as we embark on the next two years of Talent Match Plus, what have we learned about building inclusivity into programmes to affect real change? Our advice is:

  • Include your community from the start.
  • Make sure programmes are co-designed and evaluated by your participants.
  • Build your theory of change – a good programmes will evolve.
  • Allow programmes to take risks - we learn from failure as well as success.
  • Be holistic – remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We can’t expect job outcomes if basic needs are not met.
  • Give programmes time to work – forget twelve-week models. Sustainable change in attitudes , behaviours and skills take time.
  •  Invest to Save – investing in longer term, intensive support will prevent more costly interventions later.
  • Embed therapeutic support in from the start.
  • Work with local  partners who can innovate and be flexible.
  • Work collaboratively but don’t let that dilute the vision and co-ordination.

The decision to leave the EU will have an enormous impact on Liverpool City Region and on our organisation.But now, more than ever, we must influence decision makers to recognise the importance of social capital and challenge them to develop inclusive economic strategies which put people and communities at the centre.

If we embed values, aspiration and motivation in our communities, and address issues holistically, we will build truly inclusive growth – enabling our communities and economy to be more successful.

Find out more about the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission

Gill Bainbridge is chief executive of the Merseyside Youth Association


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  • Gill I liked the pragmatic tenor of your piece and the offering of practical, usable, signposting (complete with bullet pointing)..

    Charlotte Alldritt has elsewhere posted that, 'InclusiveGrowth is not an abstract issue'.In our preliminary ruminations in the RSA Scotland BIG (Building Inclusive Growth) network, we have already become aware of some very different scales and dimensions to the topic. One aspect, for example, is that it's a newly developing paradigm. Consequently, matters of definitions, grand planning and strategy making etc. can seem of great importance. Another aspect, however, is the need to attend to what Charlotte posted - and recurrently return our focus to the real world of business, broad society and communities. In that latter respect your posting, based on experience, is very helpful. I'm sure we will be utilising your imparted knowledge in our activities in our BIG network.

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