A note from Nick Sturge, the Director at Engine Shed: Supporting Systemic Change in Inclusive Employment

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Back in September last year – nearly a year ago now – I was invited to join a conversation about a City Fund. A Fund that would procure cash from different sources (grant funders, investor, philanthropists and blends of those) to invest in targeted activities that align with Bristol’s One City Plan (as it was called then – it’s now the One City Approach). Worth a free breakfast, I thought.

It was a great conversation and brought many different people together, and at the very least became quite a leveller: a situation in which you’re talking about issues (eg. child poverty, exclusion from employment etc.) with people that you are aware of in the city, but never had a proper conversation on a common purpose before. What made this different from most such conversations – and there have been too many! – was the palpable sense of ‘we can actually do something about these challenges’.

As an aside, it was this breakfast that led to Engine Shed’s exciting partnership with ACH, WECA, and Barton Hill Settlement which you can read about here.

Following that series of breakfast conversations, there is a now a formal agreement between Bristol City Council, Bristol & Bath Regional Capital and Quartet Community Foundation, and three themes have been identified which will tackle some significant issues – and secure funds to do more doing than talking. These can be found here. The area I have been most involved in, to help create a more inclusively prosperous economy, is for more people from diverse and under-represented backgrounds to access, or create for themselves, quality, fulfilling, and sustainable jobs. What is generally termed ‘inclusive employment’.

There is a supply-side issue here as well as a demand-side issue, in that we need to enable, signpost, and inspire people to go for jobs that exist (or they can create for themselves) while at the same time enable, signpost, and inspire employers to recruit people from more diverse backgrounds into their organisations. Obviously there’s stuff in the middle, like skills provision, but we’ll leave that for now: there needs to be both supply and demand for skills, otherwise training becomes pointless (and poorly funded).

What has been quite fascinating, having looked at this critical area, is the proliferation of initiatives on top of existing programmes which are, in different ways, tacking this. These are within organisations like Catch-22, the City Council, BSWN, Engine Shed (raising young people’s aspirations about work), SETsquared Bristol (with its diversity project) and so on. As ever, we need to make sure these are coordinated, and we’re doing our bit to try to capture and share the intelligence in this space. We are working more and more closely with the Economic Development officers of our four local authorities to enable this.

I mentioned the supply-side issue. This is an area that I think needs more work – to help employers develop recruitment and employment practices to both attract, retain and develop more diverse workforces – and then reap the long term benefits of that. Do let us know if you’re aware of activities in that space.

I know the above appears very focused on Bristol – and these issues are, of course, not exclusive to the city. A role that we will, and must, play is to help scale the activities which are developing on a focused, local level, to work at the city-region scale. Then we can share these on a national level, so that other places in the UK can benefit from the exciting and pioneering work going on in the West of England.