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Developing Hackney Opportunities by engaging residents in a crisis


by Scott Shirbin

With many residents furloughed, facing instability and the economic impact of Covid-19 on young people expected to be severe, there’s an urgent focus on making employment and learning opportunities more accessible in our communities.

Over the last six months, we’ve supported Hackney Council to build on their existing employment services to create a digital platform showing all opportunities in the borough. A central place for residents to see what options are available and how to access them.

Hackney is committed to working with its local partners and employers to create pathways and learning opportunities for residents to gain experience and build confidence and momentum.

Building a truly online service

Until recently, Hackney’s employment services were delivered in person around the borough, and advertised through the library, classes and workshops. Due to the shift to remote services, the entire offer was paused leaving unemployed residents with limited access to job resources, training workshops or ways to upskill. The council needed a way for residents to access support, free training courses, get help with applications and view vacancies, in a virtual and accessible way.

Building on our learnings from developing Hackney Works, leaning on additional learnings from recent work with Camden Council and external research, we worked in a multidisciplinary team to help Hackney return to delivering these essential services safely, while also expanding the service to provide more to residents.

Residents can now access new information and guidance and take free courses online. Hackney Opportunities gives residents the tools to upskill, find roles in the borough and talk to a personal employment advisor.

Opportunities In Hackney 1

Ideas shaped by Hackney residents

Running a four week live pilot allowed us to learn how residents would interact with courses online if they could apply and if they could understand how to prepare for an online course.

Speaking with residents who previously interacted with the Adult Learning Trust in Hackney, we worked together using online tools like Google Meet and Figma to learn what residents needed from an adult learning service and the best way to offer it online. Using online tools, we could easily test ideas and ask questions to build the right thing for residents right now, and in the future.

We’ve now moved the courses online, continuing to offer opportunities to residents remotely. Demand for online development courses has remained high and Hackney is delighted to continue to support its communities virtually through these adult learning opportunities.

Supporting young people

We also know the economic impact of COVID-19 on young people is expected to be severe, presenting an urgent need to offer support to young people remotely and at scale. To do this, Hackney wanted to revisit and improve the broader learning, skills and opportunities support they offer specifically to young people aged 16–24.

To make sure this support meets the needs of this generation, we needed to understand the unique challenges they face in more detail. By talking to young residents about employment, skills and learning, the support they already receive and where there are gaps for improvement, we could help design a service that works for them.

We carried out this research through WhatsApp conversations so younger residents could send us pictures, and voice notes and tell us in detail their day-to-day experiences. They helped us to understand that young people find it difficult to separate employment from other challenges, with many unsure of their short- and long-term options. Access to opportunities is often determined by luck and social capital, with many young people seeing low confidence as the biggest barrier to their success.

Remote working continued as we used follow-up video calls with residents to test and develop different ideas and concepts such as paid work experience, personal career coaches, career journeys, youth advisory panels and support/advice to help with mental health and confidence. The council are now committed to developing these ideas and collaborating with the younger generation in Hackney to make sure it’s right for them.

Opportunities In Hackney 2

Working with community partners

As local areas are seeing everywhere, unemployment is on the rise, exacerbated by the ongoing crisis. To deliver an effective online service that provides employment options in the local place, Hackney wants to work effectively with local partners, building on these strong relationships to help connect residents to inclusive, high-quality learning and employment opportunities.

To work together to create opportunities for residents and make services accessible for all, we’ll continue to look at ways partners can post their own opportunities, advice and guidance on Hackney’s employment platform.

And as we look to the future of employment, skills and learning, there’s a need to continue inviting residents to be a part of the conversation and creation of new services. By not only testing concepts and ideas with residents but also empowering and moving towards creating opportunities within a place, we can build a truly community-based approach to employment, helping members of the community find and access ways to improve their own skills and prospects.

Scott Shirbin's avatar

Scott Shirbin

Organisational Design & Change Consultant

Contact Scott

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