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Churches work together to tackle youth unemployment

The Covid pandemic has had a huge impact on youth unemployment levels in the UK. According to the House of Commons Library, “the number of young people in employment remains well below pre-pandemic levels.”

In order to tackle the growing unemployment statistics in this age group, central government has invested £2 billion in an initiative called “Kickstart” and churches across the Diocese of Lichfield are taking full advantage of it.

Government investment

Kickstart is a covid response from the government to tackle youth unemployment rates. The programme enables employers to offer a 25 hour per week, 6-month placement for 16–24 year-olds who are claiming universal credit. The government will pay their salary and employer contributions and also provide £1500 to cover any capital costs generated by the placement (e.g. any special training or equipment required).

“When we heard about the programme, we just knew it could be used by churches to support young people at risk of long-term unemployment,” explains Ben Butterfield, Kickstart Coordinator for Lichfield Diocese. “It seemed like too good a chance to pass up. It effectively offers the chance for churches and charities to employ a young person completely free of charge and creates the chance for a young person to gain paid work for 6 months. It really is win win.”

After initial meetings with representatives from churches across the diocese to pray and explore whether God wanted them to engage with the scheme, Ben was released to head up the project on behalf of Lichfield Cathedral. There are currently10 churches and 2 organisations involved in providing placements for 14 young people aged 16-24 and the aim is to create 43 placements for young people as the scheme expands.

Placements

The placements currently on offer vary from church building and grounds maintenance (a massive need particularly within Anglican churches), social media management and the live-streaming of services (another huge need with the burnout of so many volunteers after a year of providing online services during lock down), youth and kids work, parish assistants, work in foodbanks, café assistants and admin support.

“As churches we want to offer opportunities to unemployed young people who have no future or route in life. There’s also a huge gap of this age group in many churches so the Kickstart project provides the ideal opportunity for churches to connect with young people of this age whilst providing them with employment and training opportunities.”

As the flagship church of Lichfield Diocese, Lichfield Cathedral has taken on the role of the legal employer of all of the young people currently involved, seconding them to churches and charities across the region. This enables the administration of the project to be handled centrally, releasing partner organisations to focus simply on providing the placements and any training required for the young people they take on.

Alongside the job placement itself, each young person taking part in the Kickstart scheme also receives weekly employability training from Ben, alongside the opportunity to take part in CV enhancing courses such as safeguarding, food hygiene and first aid etc.

Role of local churches

Ben, who also works as Next Gen Champion for Love Walsall and as the youth leader at St Matthew’s Church in Walsall, is excited about the potential of the project.

“Throughout my professional life, I’ve worked to elevate the prospects of young people. I’ve either been a youth worker, a teacher or a mentor to young people. Throughout this time I’ve found that there’s not a lot that makes more of a difference to an individual than gaining meaningful employment and the prospect of future employment.”

And the role that local churches can play? Well, Ben is convinced of the benefit for both the young people involved and the churches themselves.

“Most churches want to make a difference in society but are not in the financial position to offer employment to those that need it. Yet the opportunities for work within these churches are huge. Kickstart eliminates all of the cost implications for churches and enables them to offer work placements to young people that need them, thus helping to turn their lives around and engage with a demographic they wouldn’t normally connect with.”

Get involved

There are many opportunities for new partner churches and organisations from all over the Black Country to get involved. If you are interested in offering a placement for a young person within your church/organisation, please contact Ben Butterfield by emailing Ben.butterfield@lichfield-cathedral.org.




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