Blog: It’s the relationships, stupid!

Blog: It’s the relationships, stupid!

In October, over 260 people, including 71 local authorities, attended a summit on improving employability for young care experienced people. Janet Grauberg, one of the facilitators, shares her takeaways from the event.

You might have heard the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”, which was coined during Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential Election campaign to emphasise the importance of economic issues to voters.

My main takeaway from the Improving Employability for Young People with Care Experience event which took place in early October, and was jointly hosted by the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Department for Education, was: “It’s the relationships, stupid”.


Relationships make the difference.

From the first speakers at the event – care experienced young people Danielle and Ashley – speakers and contributors talked about how building relationships had made the difference. Danielle and Ashley, who are part of the Care X Apprentice Network, talked about the peer group support that had helped them through difficult times, and the line managers, Personal Advisers, and others who had taken the time to understand them and what their lives were like. Those managers and PAs had then used that understanding to take practical steps to help them sustain their apprenticeships – like fighting for a laptop during Covid or securing funding for a bus pass so they didn’t have to pay to get to work. The key message from Danielle and Ashley was to take time to check in with the young people we are working with and find out if they are okay, and that a cuppa and a chat can really help.


Build relationships based on the young person’s values.

We then heard Meghan Joyce, from Bristol based charity 1625IP, one of the partners in the DfE’s trial of Social Impact Bonds to support employability talking about building relationships with young people based on the values that mattered to them. She said it wasn’t just about finding out what job they wanted, but really understanding what made them tick.

That resonated for me with the learning from the Employability Peer Learning Programme that we ran in 2021 – one of the key lessons was to start with where the young person was, and build an employability programme from there, rather than pushing square pegs into the convenient round holes that the council or partner organisation was prepared to offer.


Build relationships across the organisation and with external partners.

When I thought more about it, I realised that the Peer Learning Programme had also highlighted the value of partnership relationships across the Council. It demonstrated how supporting care leavers’ employability isn’t just the role of the Leaving Care Team, or even the Children’s Services Department – it’s about drawing on the expertise of the HR Department, the Economy & Enterprise Department (or whatever yours is called), and leveraging their relationships within the Council, and beyond – with colleges, Chambers of Commerce, Business Associations and all sorts of organisations that, without them, we could never reach.


Build relationships for the long-term.

And, not surprisingly, when I heard Kieran Breen from Leicestershire Cares talk about working with employers, he also talked about building long term relationships. Finding out what they wanted to achieve and thinking about “Win-Win”. Could they offer care leavers some interview practice – and give their newest line managers some experience too? Could they offer work experience, and highlight their sector to young people who hadn’t considered a job there before? In answer to a question about where to start, he suggested it wasn’t about “the Council” and “the employer”, but about building a relationship with an individual in a local business who had a passion to help young people succeed and would champion the cause within their organisation.

It’s easy to think about success in improving employability for young people with care experience in terms of hard numbers – rates in Education, Employment or Training, Apprenticeships or courses completed, qualifications attained. But the message from this event was that it’s the soft stuff that makes the difference, the building of that important relationship, whether with a young person, a colleague in another Council Department, or someone in a local company that could offer support, experience, training, or a job that would be the next step in a young person’s journey.

At the end of the event we were asked to say what action we’d take tomorrow to make a difference to care leavers’ employability. I’m changing that challenge – who will you start to build a relationship with tomorrow to make a difference to care leavers’ employability?


Want to read more about this event? Here are two additional blogs we think you would enjoy:

Blog: Reboot West – Value Based Employability Support

Blog: The Care X Apprentice Network talk about Employability

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