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‘It is wonderful watching people flourish’: the digital services firm tackling youth unemployment

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: skaman306/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: skaman306/Getty Images

When Jess Christian left her job, she worried about ever finding work again. Days were spent scrolling on her computer, looking for jobs while living off her savings, until, like thousands of other young people, she ended up on universal credit. But now, the future is bright for the 22-year-old from Gospel Oak, north-west London, after a recent work placement with Capita opened doors to a career in recruitment.

It’s a new beginning for Jess, whose career prospects have been transformed by the digital services business, which has thrown its weight behind supporting employment for young people through the government’s Kickstart project. The £2bn plan aims to get under 25s on universal credit, who have lost jobs and opportunities because of coronavirus, back into work.

By the end of this year, around 100 young people will have been taken on by Capita under the scheme, which provides six-month job placements and funding for 25 hours a week.

It forms part of a wide package of measures that reflect the company’s commitment to tackling youth unemployment, and determination to reward and recognise talent. Equipping young people with skills to help them thrive in the workplace lies at the heart of its responsible business strategy – the Kickstart project runs alongside company apprenticeship schemes and plans to create new internships and graduate programmes. A new 10-strong Youth Council aims to give them a real say in the business and is recognition that young people are the future leaders of the organisation.

But the company has not stopped there. Reaching out to people from disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds has led to a revolution in recruitment methods for the Kickstart scheme and for apprenticeships. Instead of relying on CVs, a series of gamified behaviour assessments give candidates a chance to show creativity and resilienc, and test their cognitive skills, says Marisol Milsom, Capita’s head of socially responsible resourcing. Candidates were also asked to create a two-minute video on a particular topic or someone they admired.

“We created a completely level playing field and took all the disadvantages out,” Marisol says. The result? Recruiters based their assessment on potential, leading to young people coming in from a wide range of backgrounds and education levels. Of the 63 young people who have enrolled on Capita’s Kickstart scheme so far, 50% describe themselves as coming from a Black, Asian or mixed ethnic background and 44% left school at 16 or 18.

Jess, who left school with five GCSEs, describes the 45-minute game-based assessment as exciting and accessible. “It is difficult when you don’t have qualifications to show your skills. This felt really fresh.”

She was taken on as a resource coordinator in February before being offered a full-time job as a resource specialist for Capita, interviewing candidates for jobs at contact centres. Her years of experience interacting with the public while working as a barista meant she had transferable skills needed in the customer-facing role.

“It was really nice to be part of a team. The support has been amazing. If I have been unsure of anything I have been able to ask. It is such a nice feeling to have progressed so far in such a short space of time,” she says.

Multi ethnic group sharing ideas in office
Rather than using CVs, candidates show their creativity and cognitive skills through a series of gamified behaviour assessments. Photograph: 10’000 Hours/Getty Images

Matching participants with jobs that suit their skills is key. “We are not just getting people into an employment programme, we are getting people into a career,” says Alison Jenkinson, Kickstart lead at Capita, who offers pastoral support during the placement. “It is wonderful watching people flourish.”

So far, 78% of early Kickstarters have been offered permanent roles at Capita, 11% have entered a rehire talent pool and 8% have gone on to full-time education – significantly, none of Capita’s Kickstarter cohort has gone back on to universal credit. However, some, such as Bahar Dawrish, have seized the opportunity for training at Capita. Before taking part in the Kickstart programme, Bahar, 23, applied for about 30 jobs as a data analyst, but was turned down because of a lack of experience – despite having a master’s degree in computer science. But after completing some business management courses and impressing her manager in Capita, she has been appointed as a full-time business analyst.

“What stood out for me was that Capita said they would teach me project management skills. I’ve always wanted to do that,” Bahar says. “I completed five online modules and my manager got me to do some project management services,” she adds. “I am staying on as a business analyst. It has been brilliant.”

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