Construction projects have helped 1700 people prepare for the jobs market and will underpin post-COVID employment programmes in Reading

Large scale developments in Reading have been funding programmes to help Reading residents find good quality, permanent employment locally and will be adapted for the future in response to COVID-19.

Job Fair April2019Over the last 18 months, 1700 local people have been helped forward in the jobs market or into self-employment, reports Reading UK in its Employment and Skills Plans (ESP) Annual Progress Report, which will be presented to Reading Borough Council’s Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee on 18 November 2020. The report also outlines how, over the coming two years, these programmes will be developed to help those whose employment prospects have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.

Reading typically enjoys high employment levels and one of the highest levels of productivity in the UK. However, it also has areas of deprivation and residents who struggle to break into the job market.  This employment picture is further complicated this year due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The focus of the ESP programmes is to find routes into employment by matching local people to local job and enterprise opportunities created by new commercial developments in the town. Reading Borough Council’s planning policy¹ obliges developers to work with Reading UK to produce an ESP to support local employment.  This can either be in the form of direct work opportunities as part of the development or a financial contribution towards the delivery of training and employment programmes

Adam Jacobs, Chair of Reading UK said: “The employment and skills programme helps Reading UK deliver against its mission to create a more inclusive economy in the town and is a project of which we are very proud. Thanks to all the partner organisations who have helped in the programme so far and we look forward to developing it further over the next two years.”

The ESP programmes specifically target people who have been identified as facing barriers to access the job market – those with supported employment needs, the longer term unemployed, over 50s and single parents. In the future it will also include those impacted by COVID.

In the last 18 months, working with the contractors and developers, the ESPs have delivered 40 work experience opportunities, 11 apprenticeships, 226 local job opportunities and 60 school visits. In addition, developer financial contributions totalling over £200,000 have funded employment events such as Reading Job Fest (over 650 attendees), Workplace Wellness event (230 attendees), Construction Skills Certificate training at Reading College (90 attendees), ex-offenders work programmes (11 supported into work) and help into self-employment (30).

Since March 2020, much of the programme has had to be delivered online and has included continued one-to-one support for start-up business, on-going work with schools to maintain student support into work, support for Creative Locale and other online sales programmes, business recovery network meetings and the establishment of the Inclusive Recovery Group established with private and public sector partners to shape immediate recovery needs.

Before COVID brought a premature end to many of the programmes in March, the ESPs had supported 1700 people locally to gain work experience and opportunities. This level of support has been achieved by excellent partnership working with the planning authority - Reading Borough Council, the private sector and community partners such as DWP JobCentre, New Directions, Activate Learning and local schools such as JMA and Reading Girls, among others.

Reading UK Executive Director Nigel Horton-Baker said: “Going forward, as part of the new Powered by People Reading Economic Recovery Strategy, the programmes will need to respond to the economic impacts of COVID to ensure every part of our community benefits from support and that our economy is capable of adapting to changing demands both during and beyond the pandemic.”

A sectoral-based approach will enable more people to find good quality work, develop the skills demanded by employers and continue to support those with multiple barriers to employment. The programme will respond to areas of redundancy, for example those displaced from retail and hospitality jobs by the recession. The training will match those affected to local job and enterprise opportunities - particularly those in healthcare, IT and digital skills, construction, and distribution where jobs are being created.

Working with Reading College, part of Activate Learning, we are also exploring the opportunity to develop courses providing the skills to access the new green technology sectors and as part of the build back better green infrastructure projects being championed by Government.  Specific groups targeted will include over 50s, women and young people, and will continue to include people with supported employment needs and the longer term unemployed. This will involve working closely with New Directions around adult employment support, sector skills training and government led programmes such as Kickstart. 

Jason Brock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said: “Reading has a thriving economy and remains a major player both regionally and nationally, but there is little doubt the ripples from COVID will be felt for many months to come at least. Some parts of society will be more affected than others and it is essential that, through initiatives like this, we do all we can to create pathways into long-term employment for those who face barriers through no fault of their own.”

To date (November 2020) 32 developers have chosen to pay financial contributions (ranging from £1,600 to £178,000) and a total of 54 plans (both construction and end use) have either been delivered or are in the process of being delivered.  Developers and construction company ESP partners have including Balfour Beatty, Broad Street Mall, Jacksons Corner, University of Reading and Thames Quarter (Watkin Jones). 

¹Reading Borough Council adopted the requirement for Employment and Skills Plans (ESP) under a 2013 supplementary planning document that seeks to implement adopted (2008) core strategy policies cs9: infrastructure, services, resources and amenities, and cs13: impact of employment development.  The drafting of the SPD relied on detailed discussion between Reading UK and the borough council planning service, with Reading UK being identified as the main agent for implementing the policy. The aims of the ESP requirement as part of a planning permission have been clearly defined in working with employers to improve the work and training opportunities of local people.



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