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Islington Career Start: how Islington’s employment scheme has improved the transitions to adulthood for looked after young people and care leavers



There is a great deal of evidence to show that there is still a wide gap between the educational and employment outcomes that looked after children and young people achieve, and those achieved by other children. Due often to lower educational attainment, low self belief and a range of other factors, many young people leaving care find it harder to make their first step onto the career ladder.

Young people growing up in a stable family context often benefit from access to work experience, Saturday work, holiday employment and career opportunities through family, extended family and family friends. Young people growing up in care haven't often had the benefit of this support.


Islington Council, acting as a responsible and caring 'corporate' parent, launched an employment scheme in October 2005 in an attempt to support its looked after young people and care leavers in a similar way to the way in which responsible parents in the community support their children.

The Council, its partners and contractors provide access to, and support in sustaining, employment and work experience opportunities that are ring fenced solely for this client group.


The scheme has two distinct elements - Employment and Work experience.

Employment. Permanent and temporary jobs (that either already exist within the structure of the company or are created specifically for Career Start) identified as suitable for the scheme are advertised to the entire leaving care cohort (16-24 year olds). Potential candidates apply for the post (application/CV, interview and testing where applicable). The scheme, where appropriate, has implemented an additional stage to the recruitment process - a one month unpaid work trial, so that young people who perhaps lack confidence in selling themselves have the opportunity to prove themselves on the job.

The scheme provides access to opportunities, it does not hand jobs to people. So when a young person is recruited to a post, it is because they were assessed as being suitable for the role.

Work experience. Young people can refer themselves or be referred for work experience opportunities ranging from half a day to 3 months (occasionally longer) in duration. Young people are matched with a suitable placement, taking into account their interests, support needs and level of skills. There is a clear structure to these placements, involving an initial interview and reviews throughout the placement.

Engagement of employers. Employers are engaged in a number of ways:

  • Presentations to management team meetings
  • Meetings with senior managers
  • Close relationship with HR Managers within the council and beyond so they can promote the scheme throughout the organisation and consider the scheme when identifying new posts
  • Career Start is written into the recruitment procedures within the council
  • An annual celebration event to congratulate young people but to also recognise the support employers have shown for Career Start
  • Invitation of new employers to the scheme's annual celebration event to show them in what ways young people and managers have benefited from the scheme, to inspire them to support the scheme
  • Publicity in internal council press and external press
  • Promoting the benefits to employers by use of case studies from managers already involved in the scheme

Benefits to employers

  • Free and quick recruitment with support at various stages of this process
  • Job satisfaction - knowledge that care leavers will benefit from the opportunities being provided
  • Opportunity to train fresh employees
  • Opportunity to recruit young people who have up to date skills to offer the work environment
  • Opportunity for staff development - opportunity for employees to gain supervisory experience. This will potentially help with retention of staff by increasing morale - bringing new dimension to someone's job and opportunity for them to develop new skills
  • Ongoing and flexible support, information and guidance to the manager and organisation
  • Annual celebration event and presentation of certificate to acknowledge employers' support
  • Access to free professional coaching (refer to 5.2.4)

"She has proven herself to be enthusiastic and adaptable. She has developed a broad remit with a wide range of skills, each of which she has taken to with commitment and sincerity. She is already working at a more senior level than when she began and is building a full specialist skills set for the future."

(Quote from manager)

Key elements of support:

  • Financial - Young people receive a work experience daily allowance; funding for interview/work clothing, necessary equipment and childcare; a 'completion' bonus (if work experience placement is completed successfully) or 'in work' bonus (when an employee passes the 6 month probationary period).
  • Access to training/qualifications - The Career Start Manager assists the manager to find appropriate training courses (such as apprenticeships) for the employee to enrol on, to enhance their skills and to build on their qualifications and self belief.
  • Tutoring - Individuals are offered one to one literacy and numeracy tuition as and when it is deemed appropriate and useful.
  • CV/Application/interview support - All young people are offered support from Connexions Personal Advisers and other professionals so that they understand how best to sell their skills in application and at interview.
  • Ongoing one to one and 3 way support - Support is offered for both the employee/ work experience candidate and the manager as frequently and for as long as is needed. Young people are also offered support regarding progression from one opportunity to another as and when appropriate.
  • Professional coaching - A coaching programme has recently been piloted, which offered 20 young people and 6 managers (who manage young people recruited Career Start) a series of one to one coaching sessions.

Key findings

Facts about the scheme:

  • 137 opportunities (opportunity = permanent jobs of one year or longer, temporary jobs of under one year, work experience and work shadowing) have been created since the scheme started in October 2005.
  • To date 115 of these have been filled. A total of 74 young people have accessed these opportunities. Some young people (41 out of the 74) have accessed more than one opportunity (e.g. progressed from work experience to paid employment).
  • 24 young people have been offered full-time permanent posts (i.e. a contract of one year or longer).
  • 7 young people have completed qualifications and another 13 young people are currently working towards qualifications.

Issues young people present with:

  • Every young person recruited through Career Start has proven their ability to do the tasks related to the role. Where there have been support needs, these have centred around the 'ways of working', for example, responding to constructive criticism, taking instructions from managers, interacting with colleagues, understanding work policies and procedures. Each young person has been offered support to address any areas for development, in addition to the support they receive from their line manager.
  • Young people accessing the scheme have presented with a huge array of support needs and issues, such as financial concerns, domestic violence, learning difficulties and disabilities, peer pressure, drug use, offending behaviour, mental health concerns, low literacy and numeracy skills, English as an additional language and issues relating to parenthood. For some young people these issues have not disappeared through accessing a Career Start opportunity but for the majority, these issues have been supported by a range of professionals working together in the interests of the young person. As a result, young people have become more equipped for the world of work and have been able to better manage their young adult lives, aspire to greater things and look to the future with a positive and more confident outlook, as is described by one young person who has accessed employment through the scheme.

"I can not say where I may have been without this extra hand. It was the hand that encouraged me to look for a better future. Opening doors to opportunities I thought I could never achieve. The hand that gave me motivation, encouragement and the confidence that has made me stronger, Islington Career Start gave me what I am today, a care leaver with a brighter future."

Recommendations for policy and practice

  • Employability skills do not suddenly exist once a young person reaches statutory school leaving age. Councils to provide young people with opportunities at an early age that will encourage them to develop confidence in their own abilities and will help them identify and develop useful employability skills.
  • Extend the scheme to a range of external employers to provide as wide a range of opportunities as possible.
  • More local authorities in the UK and beyond to develop similar schemes.

Contact details

Nikki Smith, Career Start Manager

Email: nikki.smith@islington.gov.uk

Tel: 020 7527 1820

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