Hampshire County Council: Employment and Skills Hub

The Employment and Skills Hub team connect with employers to source both short term and long-term work experience placements and engagement at careers, information advice and guidance events. The Hub also links with construction employers to create Employment and Skills Plans. The ESH has been vital in ensuring coherent employer engagement around incentives for Apprenticeships, Levy transfers, Traineeship bonuses, and the Kickstart Scheme in order to secure physical and virtual work experience-based pathways into businesses for young people in Hampshire.

The challenge

The Employment and Skills Hub (ESH) team engage with employers to source work experience and careers fairs, contacting construction employers for Employment and Skills Plans (ESPs), and finding extended work experience placements and training programmes. There has been a significant reduction in opportunities because of COVID-19 due to social distancing in work and reduced demand in industries such as retail and hospitality. The ESH has been vital in ensuring coherent employer engagement around incentives for Apprenticeships, Apprenticeship Levy transfers, Traineeship bonuses, and the Kickstart scheme in order to secure physical and virtual work experience based pathways into businesses for young people in Hampshire.

The ESH would typically carry out in an academic year upwards of 1300 H&S assessments for school work experience placements, source employers for over 20 School Careers Events with some attracting 1000 students at a time, and source industry placements for hundreds of students on long term study placements. The team would also ESP’s for construction developments across Hampshire which create hundreds of opportunities for young people around jobs, work experience, and careers advice interactions.

The economic and logistical challenges faced by businesses just trying to stay open after the initial lockdown and having to create COVID-19 secure working practices meant that traditional requests for work experience and careers engagement were falling behind many other priorities. Many businesses were not confident hosting new entrants to their business for work experience and wanted to decline based on the perceived difficulty of creating COVID-19 Risk Assessments.

79 people not in education, employment, or training (NEET) across study programmes were struggling to find meaningful industry placements and strict COVID-19 practices in schools meant that providing school aged children with careers engagement from industry experts was exceptionally challenging.

The solution

In order to respond to our contracts with Schools during the COVID-19 lockdowns The ESH team approached employers and Hampshire County Council departments to produce quality digital content that could be shared through the Careers Team and partnered with a virtual delivery platform Speakers 4 Schools. A ‘menu’ of digital and live virtual careers engagements was created and shared with partners. The virtual/digital work still remains an important part of our offer and has brought many benefits and solutions to education, young people and businesses.

A Plan for Jobs and specifically the Kickstart Scheme enabled the ESH team to engage with new and existing employers. Upon building these relationships we were able to update on government initiatives and financial incentives available.  The plan was to help identify business needs around employment and skills and link them to our wider colleagues in our ESF funded Apprenticeship and Skills Hub Team, whose aim is to support employers wishing to find out how apprenticeships can benefit their organisation with free support offered throughout the process. We also link across to our NEET study programmes. This approach was based on the founding reasons for creating the ESH; to support economic development and growth, whilst also providing social value opportunities for our residents.

Hampshire County Council participated in the Kickstart Scheme as a Gateway employer and worked with 26 different employers.  We focussed on our key priority sectors. These sectors included:

  • Education
  • Health & Social Care
  • Public sector, including Police and Fire and Rescue Service
  • Voluntary and Communities Sector

Where a business was not ‘in scope’ we signposted them to the Kickstart provider list to ensure no opportunities were missed.

The impact

The ESH team supported 26 young people into Kickstart placements within the County Council giving them the opportunity to work with a variety of services including our Countryside Services Team, Childrens Services, Climate Change Team, IT Services and both secondary and primary schools.

The table below confirms the final number of placements starts within Hampshire County Council and with our gateway employers

Kickstart placements Starts
HCC 26
Gateway 64
Total 90


90 young people found a Kickstart placement with an employer and 57 per cent of those young people went into permanent employment following their placement ending. 4 Kickstart employees went onto higher education.

From our cohort of 90 Kickstart employees 33 per cent self-declared as being part of our most vulnerable groups including Care Leavers, BAME and having a SEND.

The Employment and Skills Hub has enabled us to create strong relationships with key partners including construction partners through Employment and Skills Plans. The focus on the announcements in ‘A Plan for Jobs’ has led to professional and consistent engagement around future pathways in employment and training opportunities being created for the young people involved in all our programmes and across Hampshire throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, the ESH has been able to place 106 young people in long term work experience placements and have assisted over 175 businesses with COVID-19 Risk Assessments. We have now incorporated CV19 protocols into our standard H&S Assessment.

Exploring virtual and digital engagement for schools in Hampshire has resulted in 241 careers fair videos, 11 guess my job videos, and 12 career talk videos that we can share with our partners ensuring school children and young adults continue to get high quality Careers Information and Guidance.

We have created 94 Employment and Skills plans for construction builds across Hampshire since the hub started in 2017, creating 718 Work Experience and 728 job opportunities, and 447 Construction Careers Information Advice and Guidance engagements for individuals and young people across Hampshire.

This has led to an increased interest in Construction across many of our schools and culminated in a Careers Conference on Construction for Careers Advisors to learn more about the industry. Construction has been a key sector in maintaining opportunities for young people throughout lockdown due to the outdoor nature and their quick response to enacting COVID-19 secure work practices.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The ESH team has six full time team members who are dedicated to employer engagement to support the study programmes and schools’ contracts. Initiatives such as the Kickstart Scheme was supported and led by the same team and where external funded contracts such as ESF and The Technical Construction Skills (TCS) need support the team do so aligning with wider priorities. We continue to work with local FE Colleges in relation to their T level offer. T Levels form part of our continued conversations with employers in order to meet their skills gaps and talent pipeline.

Partnership working across Hampshire with key stakeholders and District and Borough Councils along with regular training and development ensure that team members are knowledgeable and persuasive and able to talk with businesses about the latest initiatives and incentives.

Lessons learned

The lockdowns affected the ESH significantly as the majority of businesses closed down, as did the study programmes and educational settings that the ESH services. However, as businesses began resuming normal operations it quickly became apparent that those industries suffering skills shortages prior to the pandemic were still needing new entrants to fill the gaps. The ESH team fully consider business needs especially in the current climate when identifying potential opportunities for young people prior to contact, many businesses in Hampshire have shown huge innovation to remain trading and continue to want to host and engage with young people.

In the last 8 months with society opening up more fully we have seen employers increasingly using the ESH and ask for help fulfilling labour shortages and skills gaps, particularly in Construction, Care, and Hospitality & Catering.  Although entry level students and those with SEND are not always seen as a solution to the skills gap, through our conversations with employers and the strength-based approach we take when speaking to businesses we have seen many employers rethinking this talent pipeline as a potential recruitment option.

The Cost-of-Living Crisis for businesses may again change the way we need to work with employers, whether that be due to reduced operating hours to lower costs, or lower customer numbers reducing the need for additional resource. It is an ever-changing landscape, however the ESH prides itself on its strong employer relations and its ability to respond and evolve to the political landscape and employer priorities and requirements.