This week there has been a very emotional uprising against racism and discrimination against Black people and communities, sparked by the death of George Floyd, killed in police custody in Minneapolis. Last year, the whole ESL team had a positive experience of equality training with the Black South West Network when we discussed the importance of being allies to Black people, and how each one of us can make a difference by getting informed, speaking out, and contributing to direct action to make a change. So this week, I’m going to shine a light on some direct action that is being taken every day by ESL colleagues and teams.
To illustrate what can be achieved, I’m attaching a very powerful and moving interview with Adam Saleh, an Apprentice in the Employment Support Team. Adam’s story provides a wonderful insight into his personal journey, as a young Black person, a migrant and care leaver. I had the privilege to interview Adam as part of the work of the ESL marketing team who have been gathering inspirational stories. Adam is a remarkable young person – his positive outlook, his commitment to his own learning and development, and his passion to act as a role model for others. So what does Adam’s story tell us about the critical work we do, with partners too, that is making a real difference to the economic and social inclusion of Black people in Bristol?
- Experience of work – young people and adults who face challenges and risks of exclusion benefit hugely from meaningful experience of work. In Adam’s story, the work experience he undertook with Wiltshire Council made a huge difference and helped enhance his CV. The fantastic work that Hayley is doing through the Bristol WORKS programme now includes work placements in a range of Council roles for over 100 people a year, including many BAME people; it’s great this provides opportunities for young apprentices like Adam to act as positive role models to other young people to help inform their career choices and pathways.
- Apprenticeships – whilst BAME people and other equalities groups are under-represented in apprenticeships nationally, Bristol City Council has bucked this trend – by the end of 2019/20, 32% of apprenticeships were recruited from priority groups, including many BAME candidates. Darren, Tiffany and the On Site Team have driven this work through the Council’s Apprenticeship Diversity Hub which promotes apprenticeships with local employers and through community engagement projects. This great result has also been achieved through a ‘can do’, positive action attitude in relation to diverse recruitment – supported by the Council’s Learning and Development and HR Teams. In Adam’s case, for example, it proved critical that the interview panel were flexible about the interview time so that he could take part.
- Post 16 Participation – Like so many young people, Adam left school without a clear picture of what he wanted to do with his life. This is why it is critical that young people have access to a strong range of local training and advice services. Bristol’s Young Careers and Pathways Team, led by Delyse, coordinates the local Post 16 offer, and also organises a multi-agency ‘Into Learning’ meeting where front line workers can find the right course for young people at risk of disengagement. As part of this service, Kim Taylor provides responsive hands-on support to young people that have disengaged from learning and work, including BAME young people and others at risk.
- Adult Skills: As a key adult skills provider, the Council’s Community Learning Team managed by Elke and supported by a fantastic team also provides critical post 19 ‘return to learn’ opportunities, with over 33% of learners from BAME communities. This team has been working hard to organise remote learning opportunities, and Agi Kaziszyn (Development Worker) has recently launched zoom-based ESOL Conversation Clubs to enable people to practice their spoken English through safe and supported online sessions.
- Employment support – Adam is now part of the Employment Support Team which is providing a critical ‘One Front Door’ for employers, job seekers and employment support providers. Working with Paul, Chris and Lucy – this team are organising their first remote job fair, backed up through strong communication through the Ways2Work remote network meetings, website and social media postings. Kirstie and the Career Progression Coaches are also providing critical career coaching for people on low pay, who are at risk of redundancy, who have been made redundant, or have had a significant reduction in their paid hours – including many BAME workers.
- Collaboration across teams and agencies – In Adam’s story, I was struck by the importance of his teachers, his college tutors and advisers, his social worker and his carers, as well as a number of independent support agencies too. All these partners play a key role in supporting people to achieve their goals. No one organisation or individual worker can claim success on their own. It is because of the collective energies and support, which is why – to make a real difference to people’s lives – interagency joining up is so very important.
- The power of family and friends – and individual agency too! – It is very clear from Adam’s story that the most powerful influences on his choices and action were his friends and his family – and of course, his own personal courage and agency. For ESL, this is why it is so critical that we represent and work alongside the communities we serve – working bottom up, in close contact with communities and community groups, including BME led organisations.
To be part of the solution and tackling inequality, I can make the confident claim that this is the key motivation for everyone working in the ESL team. Whilst we are very proud of what’s in place now, we know there is so much more we want to do. I look forward to discussing this further in our team meetings and I’d like to hear all your great ideas to go further and achieve lasting change.