Learners tackling barriers to employment created by Covid are being encouraged to step away from the digital world and towards ‘real life’ experiences

Leon Patnett and ACT learners at Ynys Hywel Outdoor Centre in Cwmfelinfach

First time job hunters have been benefiting from enrichment activities designed to help them step away from the digital world and overcome additional barriers to employment brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the Jobs Growth Wales Plus scheme.

School leavers are being encouraged to engage in recreational activities alongside work experience and vocational study opportunities, to help them focus on their emotional wellbeing and re-engage with their local communities following long periods at home during lockdown.

The new measures have been introduced by ACT Training, the only training provider in Wales offering enrichment activities as part of the Welsh Government’s JGW+ initiative, which provides 16-to-18-year-olds not in education or full-time employment with access to training and other work-based opportunities.

As such, learners are encouraged to focus on their emotional wellbeing through access to specialist learning coaches and in-house counsellors, and also get the chance to go sailing with Challenge Wales, gain residential farming experience at Jamie’s Farm in Monmouth, go quad biking, rock climbing, and take part in multiple other enrichment activities too.

ACT Enrichment Manager, Katie Schaffer, said following the pandemic, many school leavers have become more dependent on their digital devices and increasingly withdrawn from everyday interactions than they were before.

“The JGW+ scheme helps learners to develop new skills and interests, improve community engagement levels, and inspire them to pursue their own personal development, all whilst having fun and learning,” Katie said.

“ACT Training has always delivered high quality learning experiences and it was important to us that we support wider curriculum aims through the introduction of enrichment activities too, therefore. It’s all about experience, building confidence and giving some of our learners opportunities to do things they would never usually get to do.”

Jobs Growth Wales Plus is a fully funded training and development programme providing skills, qualifications and work-based experiences to help students pursue an Apprenticeship, set up a business or simply find the job that is right for them.

Enrichment activities like those provided for by ACT Training are, in addition, known to support the development of post-school age students into contributing members of society*, and to help address inequalities by providing access to activities taken for granted by more advantaged peers. They also support the development of work-related skills, such as team-working and communication.

The weekly outings that ACT students have access to on ‘enrichment Wednesdays’ have therefore been introduced to complement more conventional elements of the JGW+ scheme as learners look towards life beyond school for the first time.

Connor Day-Passmore, from Aberdare, is among those learners currently benefiting from the new enrichment activities available, having joined in outdoor activities at Ynys Hywel outdoor centre in Caerphilly recently, whilst also receiving a weekly training allowance too.

Connor said: “The enrichment activities have really helped me get out and do things I wouldn’t have done before. I’ve been able to try new things outside of the classroom and this hands-on approach has helped me find out what I like and what I’m good at. It is definitely helping me grow and find out more about myself, and what direction I want to go in in the future.”

Leon Patnett, Head of Youth Programme at ACT Training, said entering the world of work successfully was about so much more than gaining qualifications, filling in the right forms and wearing the right suit and tie to interview, particularly following the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.

“So, what we are working towards now is promoting and nurturing positive health and wellbeing in response to that, by providing a wider range of real-life experiences in readiness for life within the workplace,” Leon said.

“We wanted to build on the JGW+ scheme further to support young people at a time when so many who are looking to launch their careers have, in many ways, never felt more detached from the ‘real world’, and not least an office or any other kind of working environment.”

“It’s all about supporting young learners to feel emotionally, physically and professionally resilient enough to go after their hopes and dreams, at what is a crucial time in their lives,” he added.

JGW+ is open to anyone living in Wales aged 16-18 years old and not in full-time education, employment or training as a flexible programme designed around the individual learner’s needs. It can provide students with a weekly training allowance of up to £55 a week, support in finding work, a route-specific qualification and more.

For more information on the JGW+ scheme visit www.acttraining.org.uk