Sheila Cullinan answers the phone friendly and cheerful, willing to contribute her experiences of a skills initiative. The Employer Ownership of Skills pilot has given Twenty Twenty, the charity where she works, the ability to take on two new Apprentices. This has not only given meaningful employment and training opportunities to two young people, but has allowed the organisation to reallocate resources in order to focus on its core aims.
Twenty Twenty helps young people in the UK who face barriers to engagement with mainstream education. This might come in the form of family problems, getting in with the wrong crowd, a lack of hope or aspiration, or poor self-image. Twenty Twenty believe that by giving these young people personalised support, they can overcome such obstacles and build a better future.
However, in 2013 they found they were struggling to broaden their reach and work with more young people. Their small staff was bogged down in administration, meaning that the outreach functions they needed was falling by the way. Sheila tells us that 'in order to let the staff focus on the young people and the volunteers … running the scheme we really needed the support from an administrator.'
Twenty Twenty saw the value of training a young person to fill this role. However, given the principles of the organisation, they were determined that this opportunity be offered to young people who had faced challenging circumstances in the past: former students of the charity. As Sheila put it, 'it was something we were willing to do and quite passionate about doing.'
Twenty Twenty found UKCES’s Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot, which matched government funding for innovative skills solutions with employer contributions. Despite having little previous experience with government applications, they successfully applied for funds offered by bid leaders PWC for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to raise employment and skills in their organisations.
The Apprentices started in September 2013. Both Charlotte and Abbey faced difficulties in the past and both have young children. Each of them wants to show their children that with hard work you can reach your full potential. As Sheila put it, working towards their Apprenticeships 'has given both them and us the opportunity to learn and develop together. We wouldn’t have had that otherwise.'
There have been challenges along the way. Although the assessment process through PWC was 'fast and seamless' there was no funding available for equipment such as laptops for the new starters, which proved difficult for the charity to provide. It also took staff time to train Charlotte and Abbey initially.
Despite these, Sheila recommends the opportunity particularly for other small enterprises: 'It’s an incredible opportunity to see your enterprise or organisation grow and develop … The quality of work really improves and it just drives productivity upwards. I would definitely recommend it.' By performing administrative functions the Apprentices have taken 'a tremendous amount of pressure off us.'
For Charlotte and Abbey, the combination of college and on-the-job training brings them new expertise, for example organisational systems they can put into practice in the office. Sheila advises that by bringing young people into your organisation 'you’ll see yourselves changing very quickly which I think is very exciting. There is renewed excitement and enthusiasm across the organisation.'