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Employment

What is the Kickstart scheme and how can you land a placement?

One trainee said the scheme has been a “springboard” for his career.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak last summer announced a £2 billion “kickstart scheme” to boost the post-pandemic recovery, amid fears young people could be locked out of stable employment.

The scheme funds six-month work placements for people on universal credit (UC) who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

Under 25s have had the highest furlough scheme take-up rate since July 2020, according to government data, leading to fears of lingering skills gaps for young people after the pandemic. (But the under 25 take-up rate did fall drastically from May 2021 as Covid restrictions eased.)

The programme is one of the government’s initiatives attempting to “level up” the country after the pandemic.

Sunak said earlier this year: “Young people are among the hardest hit in times like these, which is why we’re doing everything we can to ensure they’re not left without hope and opportunity.”

The scheme is set to end in December 2021, although many organisations — despite saying the scheme has several faults — are demanding that the government extend it.

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Sunak admitted on June 22 this year the plan had only created 31,000 placements so far, with 250,000 targeted by December, leading critics to call for the programme to run on into 2022.

But how can you land a place, and how does it all work? The Big Issue spoke to insiders on the kickstarter scheme.

How does the kickstart scheme work?

If you are aged 16-24 and on UC, your Jobcentre Plus Work Coach will help match you to available roles.

Kickstart roles are often administered by “kickstarter gateways,” organisations which are signed off by the Department for Work and Pensions and help connect young people to companies or nonprofits while providing additional training.

Initially, employers could only apply directly to the scheme if they were offering 30 placements or higher. But after bureaucratic teething problems saw a slow start to the scheme — with only 16,500 jobs created in nine months — the DWP changed the criteria allowing all firms to apply.

“The range of opportunities truly is almost infinite,” Hugh Chatfield, head of growth at Generation UK and Ireland, a kickstarter gateway that expects as many as 300 placements this year, told The Big Issue.

“We’ve got software developers, fashion designers, trainee electric bike mechanics, data support analysts, cafe assistants, seamstresses, social media managers, technical support assistants, HR assistants, trainee speech and language therapists, assembly operators — so we’ve got everything,” he added.

The goal is to open up career paths that may traditionally be shut to young people that don’t have the skills or qualifications to enter certain professions.

How much do you get paid on the kickstart scheme?

The government pays 100 percent of the national minimum wage — £6.56 an hour for those aged 18-20, £8.36 for 21-22 and £8.91 for over 23s — plus National Insurance and pension contributions. The organisation can then choose to top that up with their own funds.

It guarantees 25 working hours a week. Kickstarters are also eligible for £1,500 towards support and training from the government, with the mission of furnishing young people with the skills to help them find stable work at the end of the placement.

“It gives them a taste of things they wouldn’t necessarily experience,” said Michael Dyer, co-founder and director of The Inspirational Learning Group, which has been approved as a gateway organisation to help place 900 kickstarter roles.

Dyer has seen this with young people landing placements in law from a different path to university.

He added: “It’s an opportunity for a career, not just a job.”

How can I land a kickstarter role?

Once you’re set up with your work coach in the system you’re ready to start the hunt.

Next, it’s worth getting to know your Jobcentre work coach to make sure they know what sectors you’re genuinely interested in.

“The tip is to build a relationship with your job coach,” said Deana Wildgoose, director of TH!NK FC in North West Leicestershire, which has been approved for 90 positions in total. “Because at the moment it’s all funnelled through a job coach and they decide what you like, which doesn’t necessarily match what you might want yourself.”

Then, consider what long term career goals you have. What sector can you see yourself working in, what skills would you love to develop?

Finally, when it comes to applying, Chatfield said, don’t stress about your CV.

“Once you have been referred to an employer or an opportunity and you have an opportunity to interview or apply, do think clearly about why you would want to work at that employer and why you’d want to do that role,” Chatfield said.

He added: “Generally, there’s not a requirement for a really thorough application or a really thorough CV.”

How shall I prepare for a kickstarter interview?

“Two very simple things,” said Dr Nick Owen MBE, chief executive of charity The Mighty Creatives, a kickstarter gateway. “Be interested, and be interesting.”

“If you’ve got an interview, check out the website of the employer you’re going to, find out a bit about the organisation, find out what they do, why they do it, and what your role would be before an interview,” he said. That way they can see you’re genuinely interested in the role.

Interviewers aren’t trying to trip you up. “By and large they want you to do well, they’re going, ‘We really want you to get this job,’” Owen said. So show them your motivations, passions, and what drives you and they’re likely to give you a shot, he said.

“We want you to bring an approach, a new outlook on the whole world, your experience on the world, that tells us you will add something to our team,” Owen, who has helped 700 people find kickstarter roles, said.

What are the benefits of kickstart?

It’s worth noting that the scheme only guarantees the national minimum wage, not the real living wage demanded by many organisations, and is only six months long, so has come under fire for being too short and leading to a cliff edge of unemployment down the line. So it’s no silver bullet.

Most of the organisations we spoke to said they wanted to see the scheme extended — with the furlough scheme ending and the UC £20-a-week cut arriving this autumn — so it has time to deliver positive change.

But many companies still welcome the government cash and say it can help people get a foot in the door, and sometimes even turn lives around.

“We can give examples of people whose worlds have been changed” by being on the scheme, Wildgoose said.

Many of Think FC’s kickstarters are “young people that have struggled at school, felt school wasn’t for them, and hadn’t experienced opportunity for education or work,” she added.

One trainee, 21-year-old Harry Jerome, left a history degree at De Montfort University in 2020 after feeling it was taking him down the wrong path. He could see few opportunities ahead. Then he worried about getting stuck in bar or supermarket work.

After joining TH!NK FC for six months, he utilised the MapHub tool to create Coalville Mega Walk, and has now been offered an 18-month apprenticeship with a salary and training that will see him achieve a qualification equivalent to two A Levels.

He began the apprenticeship this September. “It’s really exciting,” Jerome told The Big Issue. Now, his career path has opened up again, and he feels the future looks much brighter. “It’s given me a springboard to launch off of,” he said.

Laura Kravac, head of programmes at Action for Conservation, a youth environmental action charity, said the scheme also offers an opportunity to address a lack of racial diversity in many sectors, for instance conservation, which is dominated by white, university-educated employees.

Unemployment among young black people surged to 41.6 percent in the last quarter of 2020, from 24.5 percent a year earlier. In the same period, unemployment among young white people ticked up to 12.4 percent from 10.1 percent.

“If we’re thinking about creating a movement that’s welcoming to everyone, we obviously need loads of different kinds of voices working together on it,” Kravac said, referring to jobs in the environmental sector. “And there’s the wider picture of equity and justice, and issues with climate change impacting people from ethnic minority backgrounds and in the global south disproportionately.”

Kravac said Action for Conservation, which is hiring three kickstarters itself and has been involved with facilitating 140 jobs in total, is focusing on how to retain staff to avoid the six month “cliff edge.”

How can I make the most of my kickstarter scheme?

If you’re offered a kickstarter role, there are a number of things you can do to either stay on with your host organisation — or land a full-time role, apprenticeship or further education after your placement.

It’s worth identifying your post-placement goals early on. Then you can have discussions with colleagues about how to achieve them.

Get to know your team and talk about their own career paths and make them part of your network.

“Do everything you can in those six months to network, look at the people in the organisations who are doing the role that you want, convince that person to take you for coffee, job shadow them,” Kravac said. “Utilise all of the resources that these organisations have to offer while you’re there.”

Kravac called on the government to extend the scheme beyond its December end date.

Get career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:

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