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Long Game Is The Answer

Posted: Tue, 23 Jun 2020 12:19

Long Game Is The Answer

It comes as no surprise that our sector, dominated with organisations and clubs that prioritise community and people over big bucks and key assets, has been utterly decimated by Covid-19. We have seen, up close, the devastation it has caused small charities, clubs and businesses in the sport and physical activity sector, some of which have been successfully (and impactfully) operating for many years. I'm proud to see how the sector, and its major bodies, have rallied round through emergency funding, additional opportunities, and a will to support each other. Virtual coffees and beers with friends in other sectors suggest we really are lucky in that sense!

However, we also know that Covid-19 potentially poses a huge risk for a lost generation across UK society. To put this into context at time of writing, UK total unemployment percentage sits at 3.9%. Prior to the crisis, 11% of 16-24's were unemployed. The disparity for this age group is stark and we can only imagine what that statistic will be once the true economic impact of Covid-19 has been calculated. Back in 2011, the peak reached 1.25 million 16-24's (16.9% of the age group) not in education, employment, or training (NEET). This was a direct impact of the 2008 financial crash affecting sectors like retail, hospitality and yes, leisure, the employment areas in which this age group tends to find work[1]. With economists predicting anything as high as 10% unemployment for the UK over the coming months, the likely impact on our 16-24 year olds will be frighteningly high.

In our small corner of the world, we have seen all our 100+ active Coach Core apprentices affected by the Corona virus. All were unable to coach or work with their community groups in the usual way, most experienced indefinite periods of delay in their learning and some have been totally stuck in limbo unable to sit their final assessments. Furthermore, given contracts are now expiring and planned exit routes are now at risk, many are unsure about their futures. The effects on their mental health, given their age and the types of learner our programme engages with, are already very apparent and are deteriorating with each passing week.

Colleagues in the sector all share a huge concern for this generation, particularly as the future economy and employment picture was already in a state of uncertainty due to Brexit implications.

While wages have been covered by the much-welcomed furlough scheme with some 9 million workers across the UK accessing this support[2], many young people have genuine fears for their futures short and long term. All-important revenues linked to school contracts, holiday camps, subscription fee have all been significantly affected. Business are still struggling to understand how and when they can resume operations to begin the process of restoring 'business as usual' and depleted reserves. And this is assuming there isn't a second wave of the virus later this year.

While I have painted a scenario of the obvious 'doom and gloom' created by Covid-19, I also firmly believe that this situation does present potential opportunity for the sport and physical activity sector.

This current crisis should force us all to reflect on our working practices and in particularly how we will staff our operations in the future. It's fair to say that our sector has been slow to embrace apprenticeships. We know from speaking to literally thousands of employers that there are still many misconceptions and elements of misunderstanding linked to the finances, expectations and/or administrative elements it entails.

In a time of crisis not only do many employers retreat to the adage 'last one in, first one out' and what they know best; part time and volunteer solutions, accepting that continual transient workforce and retraining of staff. Both these approaches have a disproportionate impact on the younger generation. However, as employers look at ways of rebuilding that lost income, apprentices can help to provide powerful economic solution.

By its very nature an apprentice will be contracted to work for a minimum 12 month term and will learn and develop skills across your entire business if you select the course that is right for you and them. This means 2-3 different part timers doing different roles (e.g. for our sector perhaps, a coach, an admin assistant, and a basic social media officer) that can be combined into the role of one apprentice. If the past 8 years on Coach Core has taught us anything, it is that apprentices are hungry to develop and learn broader skills (and perhaps gain additional qualifications) that will give them every chance of finding exit routes right for you and them.

If you take a long-term view, set clear goals and targets that must be achieved by that apprentice linked to re-growing your overall business. For example, it maybe you currently have 3 weekend coaching camps and through shadowing, educating, and mentoring, the apprentice can then set up and govern a fourth operation.

Critically, we have seen time and time again that many employers are already working with young people through their day to day programmes, who will be their future workforce. A workforce that will bring diversity, new ideas and energy to your operations. By supporting organisations to widen their field of vision, they have uncovered many unpolished gems who already live and breathe your values, are hungry to succeed and will remain loyal if supported in the right way. We believe now, more than ever, this is something not to be underestimated and can create greater, positive long-term change in our sector.

If you haven't already, I would simply ask that you consider how a new workforce strategy could drive the business change you need. Reach out to a trusted apprenticeship provider (Cimspa can help you navigate this) and just have a conversation to see what is possible. We are also seeing a number of clubs or organisations that traditionally only use volunteers now start to explore how they can 'professionalise their assistant coach workforce' by bringing in an apprentice who has been part of their club or community schemes.

And so, with this last point in mind, let me finish by quickly myth busting a few things for you that perhaps have served as some of those barriers or 'put offs' I mentioned earlier!...

- No, you don't have to find 30 hours a week of one activity (it is a blend of education and skills)

- Yes, you can formally share an apprentice with another organisation to navigate lack of hours, contract holdings, etc (so long as there is one host contract and pre-agreed/transparent working hours and locations)

- Yes, the much-mentioned levy could support you but speak to a quality apprenticeship provider about this as ultimately it will mean that the education costs to employers are normally nil or very low and you may even get financial incentives to take on a young person!

- No, you do not legally have to give a job at the end… but if you've developed someone for that long, why wouldn't you? If you chose not to retain, ensure there is an alternate exit route that you discussed with the apprentice throughout the journey.

I challenge you and your organisations to consider an apprentice in these tough times, they may just help you ride the storm and flourish as we emerge from it.

Gary Laybourne - CEO of Coach Core; an apprenticeship programme that uses sport and physical activity to re-engage young people living and working in some of the UK's most challenging communities, putting them back onto the career ladder. "Since 2012, we have convened the very best sector employers to form powerful local partner networks that gain our expertise, education model and funding with the emphasis on the group working collaboratively to ensure successful, impactful working for each apprentice, organisation and local community. Now in 14 cities, we will expand to 17 in 2021 and have a 92% success rate for our learners."

[1]All figures taken from ONS Jan-Mar 2020 statistics.

[2] HMRC June 2020

Tags: Featured, Policy, Sport, Sport for development

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