Friday, 26 September 2014

Raising aspirations, building experience and promoting education...

Raising Aspirations, Building Experience and Promoting Education... these terms seem like something taken from a policy document or political manifesto which sound good in principle, but realising the ambitions behind them may take years.

In Monmouthshire Housing (MHA), it was these very terms that set the thematic direction in 2011 of the MHA 'Work and Skills Wise Service'. So 3 years on, what is being offered on a daily or weekly basis in delivering this aspirational service?

I guess it's a range of tools, a belief in everyone we see, a needs-led approach, staff with bags of passion and an unwavering belief that we will get there, taking one step at a time!

Our tools include:

· Individual action plans used to define real goals and small steps to achieve them,
· Access to a range of formal and informal courses at reduced or no cost via our partners,
· Access to all areas in MHA to volunteer, the allocation of a mentor and volunteering skills log,
· Access to a bursary scheme to cover costs which reduce barriers to moving towards employment.
· Self employment support offered in partnership with Centre for Business,
· A tailored six week programme for interview skills, searching the job market, CV writing and
· A partnership approach to the work, working with JCP, colleges and private sector organisations.

Although the service is an employment and skills service, it is delivered holistically and caters for Financial Inclusion issues. We offer better off work calculations and tips to manage money better once in work. I feel that this is imperative when we consider what a huge transition it is for people who have not held down employment previously.

Digital Inclusion is also a cross-cutting theme embedded in our service where we offer free laptops to service users on a loan basis and training on how to use social media effectively. Demand for digital inclusion support is high amongst the elderly but our experience shows that working age tenants present challenges to engagement that requires a carrot approach. This incentive/carrot provides, in my view, access to a previously closed door.

While all of this is core funded, I'm always on the look out for external funding. The recent youth unemployment focus concentrated our energies on this agenda. Working in partnership with the Youth Service, we were successful with gaining external funding to target young NEETs. This gave us one of our biggest successes this year when the project went on to win the Youth Excellence Award in Employment and Training. Our employment and skills service in now being delivered via a former participant of this project.

It is important to gather research and intelligence from service users about what we deliver and how it impacts on tenants' lives. This aspect is the 'value added' element that we have captured in our work. From this intelligence we have devised the Basic Skills Continuum which can basically demonstrate how, as the basic skills of individuals grow, so does their confidence. See the continuum below for a better understanding... it works for us!

In my view, I think it is important for the housing sector to develop action research projects that measure impact and learning. Are we not best placed to pioneer some potentially exciting Employment and Anti Poverty action research?

During Employment and Skills Week our team has been out delivering our services in clients' homes using the tools mentioned. Service users are almost always anxious to see the end goal. In many cases, it is employment opportunities or skill courses. To this end, each year MHA hosts the Monmouthshire Employment and Skills Fayre in partnership with the Monmouthshire BEST partnership, which has over 30 exhibitors in attendance from employers to training providers. Our last fayre drew in 440 local residents and offered real time opportunities. The importance of providing one to one support must also be met with access to opportunities. This shows service users that the end goal is now in sight and can be reached!

Our aspirational journey over the last 3 years has been frightfully busy and we've developed the service and tweaked it as we go along, learning lessons. 

Having supported 302 tenants with employment and training over the last 3 years, our outcomes include:

· 24 tenants into employment
· 22 young NEETs into employment
· 90 volunteering placements
· 92 tenants completed courses
· 36 currently enrolled on courses

I think we are beginning to feel that Building Experience, Promoting Education and Raising Aspirations were/are the right thematic principles for us to adopt.

The tailored joined-up approach, linking Financial and Digital Inclusion along with having the right people, with the right support, empowerment, encouraging ethos and delivering services from a needs perspective, are the ingredients in my view for a recipe for developing success...

Farida Aslam
Inclusion Coordinator, MHA




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