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East Midlands Chamber News

Kickstart scheme case studies: Meet the East Midlands businesses giving young people a chance in employment

East Midlands Chamber has helped more than 400 young people in the region find jobs via the Kickstart scheme, with another 1,200 vacancies live across Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Dan Robinson speaks to three companies and their Kickstart employees about their experiences of the initiative.

Birch Print's Kickstart students (left to right): Nathan Dudley, Zac Shaw, Ollie Wheway, Romana Mihalovicova and Tamzin Jones

Birch Print, Ilkeston

Taking on five Kickstarters was a “no-brainer” for Birch Print, a specialist print management company in Ilkeston.

The family-run business, founded 35 years ago, had reached the point when it needed to expand its team of nine but felt restrained by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

By using the Kickstart scheme, it has hired an admin assistant, marketing assistant, sales support officer, warehouse assistant and studio technician in recent months.

Joint owner and sales director Andrea Priestley said: “The uncertainty of the past year has brought a sense of cautiousness that avoids going out on a limb by adding new people to the team.

Amanda Priestley

“But the Kickstart scheme gave us the opportunity to expand with minimal risk to the business, as well as opportunities to give young people the experience that allows them to shine in valid roles that potentially could become full-time positions.

“We were able to interview the candidates ourselves and then give them six months to immerse themselves in the roles to ensure we were a good fit on both sides, and we’ve been really impressed with the calibre so far.

“They’ve been able to bring enthusiasm, as well as a fresh approach and ideas, to the table. In some instances, qualities have come to light that we were unaware of at the interview stage and will be really useful as they grow into the role.”

Ollie Wheway, 23, from Derbyshire, joined in the sales support role after a previous apprenticeship ignited a passion in business development.

Ollie Wheway

He said: “The current climate has hit many people hard, especially for young professionals starting their careers. After I was made redundant, I found it difficult for other prospects to ‘give you a chance’ and the reasoning was always the same – ‘little experience’.

“I could not understand what I was doing a wrong. The demand for work was high and after applying for over 100 positions and almost losing hope, Birch Print offered me a position within its team. The Kickstart scheme is vital for the younger generation in such challenging times.”

Ollie’s role involves exploring new business opportunities alongside day-to-day support for account managers.

He added: “This placement will have a huge impact on my future prospects. In today’s world, experience is equal, if not more important, than qualifications and being young naturally doesn’t offer you as much experience in a specific role.

“Having this opportunity allows me to gain more experience and develop my skills in another industry, which is then transferable to future roles.”

Romana Mihalovicova, from Derby, also found job opportunities scarce after graduating from university last year but is now embracing the marketing assistant placement.

Romana Mihalovicova

The 22-year-old said: “I believe this placement will have a big impact on my future job prospects.

“Experience is vital in this day and age, and as a graduate going into a field that is different from what I studied, I got a taste of what working in marketing would be like before going into further debt with a master’s degree.

“Now I know this is what I want to do and I’ll have gained substantial experience for the future.”

Secret Whispers, Market Harborough

Secret Whispers owner Julie Čolan (centre) with placement students Chloe Godding (left) and Millie Stokes (right)

Chloe Godding had been looking for a job ever since graduating from university last summer, only managing to secure a couple of temporary roles for a few weeks at a time.

So landing a digital marketing apprenticeship at women’s healthcare company Secret Whispers, based in Market Harborough, earlier this year was a turning point in her fledgling career.

Her role has provided a cross-section of experience, ranging from running social media channels to seeking out wholesalers to carry its Kegel Kit products, which help women to improve the strength of their pelvic floor muscles.

The 22-year-old, who also lives in the town, said: “I have really enjoyed the experience so far and feel that my contributions are noticed. The knowledge and skills I have gained by being involved with a small business that’s selling worldwide couldn’t be learned in a ‘normal’ job.

Chloe Godding

“Many job adverts require you to have experience but if someone doesn’t give you a job, how are you meant to get the experience? A lot of the entry-level jobs are also being filled by people who are overqualified because they have lost their job higher up the career ladder.

“This is a great step and will give me the experience I need to secure a similar job in the future, or even better stay here in a full-time role.”

Kickstart scheme: Unpacking the data behind East Midlands applications and vacancies

Her colleague Millie Stokes, from Loughborough, also joined via the Kickstart scheme as an e-commerce apprentice.

The 23-year-old, who has learned how to use programmes such as Google Ads and HubSpot to drive and manage sales, said: “This will give me a much better insight, knowledge and confidence to build and run my own business.

“I have learned about so many areas and aspects of running a business that I could not have gained elsewhere.

Millie Stokes

“The Kickstart Scheme is fantastic as it is giving young people opportunities they may not have been able to have before. It is providing them with some consistency, purpose and routine in such a tough time.”

Secret Whispers owner Julie Čolan, who previously ran the award-winning business on her own, said the Kickstart recruits had made a “massive difference” to her company.

 “They provide a new insight that is invaluable in a business when you are the sole employee,” she added. “They have continuous training and attend many training workshops, which means they can better improve their knowledge and their roles within the business.

“It is so important for not only their mental wellbeing to be in gainful employment, but to add skills and knowledge that they would not get in education or certain roles in the workplace.”

Express Recruitment, Nottingham

Matt Rawding

Matt Rawding, from Nottingham, had struggled to find permanent employment since completing a business and marketing degree at Nottingham Trent University last summer, with limited work experience.

He recalled watching a news interview on his graduation day in which a local business owner said it was the “worst time ever” for graduates looking for jobs.

“This was really scary for me, particularly as a business graduate wanting to work in an office environment, when so many businesses were making redundancies or closing.”

But the 22-year-old now has a career path laid out in front of him after joining Express Recruitment, a family-run SME based in Nottingham city centre, in February as a sales consultant via the Kickstart scheme.

His duties include contacting companies to generate new business and creating relationships with clients, and he has been offered the opportunity for a permanent job after the initial six-month placement.

He said: “I have definitely developed a lot of skills, developed a solid daily routine that’s given me structure and discipline in the workplace, as well as improved my general confidence both on the phones and in myself.

“I’ve met lots of new people, which has enabled me to learn from like-minded colleagues every day, and it’s protected my mental health during the pandemic.

“The Kickstart Scheme is so important to me and my generation because it has given us all the opportunity to get into a work environment. We can now see a future that we perhaps couldn’t see this time last year.”

Operations manager Theo Kirk said the company, which employs 14 full-time and four part-time staff, believes the Kickstart scheme provides mutual benefits for both the employee and employer.

Theo Kirk

She said young people are more equipped to deal with constant changes in the workplace, while the subsidised wages has enabled the business to grow sustainably by pursuing new sales opportunities.

“Taking part in the Kickstart Scheme has also cemented our idea that young employees can bring a new or different way of thinking to the business, and most young professionals have a fresh perspective to bring to the table,” she added.

“We’ve found Matt to be incredibly committed and eager to learn, building his experience and applying skills in the workplace now and for the future. This enthusiasm is great for team working, daily productivity and workplace morale.”