Greater Manchester Talent Match (GMTM) was a Big Lottery-funded, five-year programme bringing together the private, public and voluntary sectors to support young people aged 18-24 who had not been in employment, education or training for twelve months or more and who needed extra support to help them along their pathway to work. The partnership was led by Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation and included Greater Manchester Youth Network, who hosted the GM Talent Match Youth Panel; young volunteers aged 18-24 who had experienced barriers to employment. The programme ended in December 2018.
One of the key strategic aims of the programme was to, “enable young people across Greater Manchester to access the opportunities and services that increase their employability”, whilst a principle of the programme was to “enable young people’s involvement in the design and delivery of services that affect them.”
In 2017 GMTM commissioned Youth Employment UK to support the Youth Panel to identify a current issue within the youth employment space and develop an initiative or project which would aim to influence policy and decision-makers. The timeline for the entire project was August 2017 to November 2018.
Difficult experiences of claiming out-of-work benefits had been identified as a barrier by young people during the 2013 consultation phase of GM Talent Match and this was reflected in the personal experiences of many members of the Youth Panel.
In response, the Youth Panel chose a project focusing on Jobcentres, with the following aims:
Aim 1: Support Jobcentres to improve their services by understanding young peoples’ needs
Aim 2: Support disengaged young people to find out more information about Jobcentres and their services
Earlier that year, GMTM had published the first of two research reports examining the needs and circumstances of hidden young people; those not in education, employment or training and not claiming the welfare benefits to which they are entitled. This research identified difficulty in claiming and maintaining welfare benefits (either actual or perceived) and associated stigma as barriers for young people to engaging with the employment support provided by Jobcentre Work Coaches. As a response, representatives of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) expressed an interest in working with the Youth Panel to address young people’s negative perceptions of Jobcentre services. In working towards making services more youth-friendly, it was felt that the Youth Panel’s project would support the interests of both GM Talent Match and DWP.
The Youth Panel decided to conduct research with Work Coaches and young people in order to pinpoint what specific issues might be at play, with the aim of then focusing on one aspect of the findings to develop a pilot project in one Jobcentre. They worked with representatives of DWP to create online surveys for young people and Work Coaches. Additionally, Youth Panel members interviewed six Work Coaches and eight young people to get more in-depth data.
After reviewing all the data, recommendations were put forward to DWP by the Youth Panel under four themes (their detailed recommendations can be found here):
Information about services: The main issue expressed by young people was that it was really hard to for them know what the Jobcentre provided or how they can be of help. Echoing the views from the research, the Youth Panel were unclear on what was available to them at their local Jobcentre and what they could expect. It was felt that information about the Jobcentre is difficult to access without having to visit a branch.
Enabling young people to feedback on services: The Youth Panel made a number of suggestions around how young people’s experiences of the support offered could be fed into Jobcentres to facilitate change.
Specialist training for Jobcentre Plus staff: Being able to share their experiences, challenges, hopes and aspirations is an important part of young people ‘buying in’ to the process and achieving their desired outcome. Young people are facing many challenges and the world is changing rapidly for them. Therefore, creating a better understanding of what they face and training staff in dealing with this is an important consideration.
The Jobcentre environment: The Jobcentre can be an intimidating place for young people and the Youth Panel suggested some positive steps that could be taken to make the process more comfortable for both sides.