As a devolved nation, Wales has centres of power across multiple cities. This can pose a challenge when it comes to creating national initiatives, according to the panellists, leading to “a devolution of responsibility”. Commentators called for a more unified approach to building an inclusive economy. “I believe that we need to recognise and work with the considerable assets that we have in Cardiff, and across the country,” said Ruth Marks, CEO of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. “Those assets are our people, our communities, our environment, and also, our different legislation. We must build on the social partnership principles, which are writ large through the range of many partnerships that we have at local, regional and national levels.”
Digital exclusion remains an issue in Wales, especially in deprived areas where 17% of households do not have internet access2. The roundtable panellists highlighted the need for the government to make it easier for those with fewer digital skills to find information about pensions, benefits and other vital services online. Access to hardware is also a concern among the panellists, especially in light of this year’s lockdown restrictions. “We have a lot of kids in Wales who do not have access to laptops,” said Graham Craven, Member Pioneer Co-ordinator for Co-Op in Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan and Valleys. “We need to make sure that their education continues throughout the pandemic.
Wales is home to a diverse and substantial voluntary sector. Official data shows that there are 32,000 third sector organisations and 8,100 charities – of which more than half are micro charities3. This fragmentation can make it hard for these organisations to fundraise, mobilise and tender for projects. Jean Church from the Institute of Directors Wales called for a more open and transparent procurement system to allow the Welsh government to work more intensively with community organisations and social enterprises. “Local authorities and governments must embrace disruptive technology to create an open and transparent procurement system, irrespective to the size of business,” she said. She recommended creating a business “passport” that would offer easy access to the public sector supply chain. “This would address this supply chain and efficiency issue.” Marks praised the effectiveness of grassroots organisations in the wake of COVID-19: “A lot of people have been prepared to give things ago,” she said. “To seek forgiveness if they need to afterwards, but not necessarily ask for permission. I think that has been incredibly healthy and has broken down some of the barriers to change.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nationwide mental health crisis: this was consensus at the Cardiff roundtable. Grant Santos, Managing Director of online training business Educ8, warned that the end of furlough would pile on yet more pressure. “That will lead to an increase in the number of people needing to use food banks,” he said. “That will increase people’s anxieties, especially in the run up to Christmas.” Young people are especially vulnerable to mental health issues because of the interruptions to their education and disruption to their ability to socialise, according to Astra Sable Fox, an AI and robotics student at Aberystwyth University. The panellists want to ensure that those with mental health issues are not left behind during the future economic recovery. They would like to see the government offer support to employers who create opportunities for those with mental health issues.
The COVID-19 crisis has left many people across Wales jobless or fearful about their future careers. “I work with a lot of adults who are now bereft of career opportunities,” said Carolyn Parry, Founder of Careers Alchemy, a coaching organisation based in Tregaron. “Young people in particular have had their plans blown out of the water, and they may not have the same strength or resilience as older people.” Earlier this year, the Welsh Government issued a whitepaper, which noted: “Young people in particular may carry the burden of dealing with coronavirus with them through their working lives, unless we act.4” The panellists noted that young people are likely to work in non-food retail and hospitality, two sectors that have been devastated by the pandemic. Several young people who took part in the Cardiff roundtable recommended more peer-to-peer support, whereby young people are partnered up with experienced executives who can offer career advice. Sable Fox added that young people are under enormous pressure to use social media, and create a personal brand online. She would like to see increased provision of social media education for young people. “Millions of kids are more focused on the number of likes they get on like TikTok and Facebook than their future,” she said.
IEP BOOST Social Innovator
Career Alchemy provides research-based career coaching, helping people of all ages to find purposeful careers and thrive in the fast-changing world of work.
Career Alchemy wanted to adapt its INSPiRED coaching framework for a teenage audience, helping young people and their parents to identify a purposeful employment path and avoid harmful career decisions. Through the IEP, Career Alchemy established a partnership with Unilever. This enabled Career Alchemy to test its INSPiRED Teenager programme with teens and their parents/carers at Unilever’s Advanced Manufacturing Centre in an economic coldspot near Liverpool, increasing its audience and offering valuable insights it is using to scale up the programme.
Closing the financial capability gap
The Open Banking for Good campaign, created by Nationwide, Nesta, Doteveryone, Money Advice Trust and Accenture, has built a suite of apps and services to increase financial confidence and help those struggling to manage their money better. The initiative aims to support the one in four UK households who are financially squeezed – equivalent to 12.7 million people.
Access to digital tools and skills
Digital exclusion remains a challenge in Wales, where 13% of households have no internet access. In 2019, the Wales Co-operative Centre launched Digital Communities Wales6, a scheme to help close the digital gap. It is working with the Good Things Foundation and Swansea University to provide a team of advisers and trainers to help people across the country increase their confidence using digital technology. The previous programme, which was launched in 2017, helped 62,500 people go online in two years.
Creating opportunities for the youth
In September 2020, the UK government launched its Kickstart scheme7, pledging £2bn towards creating thousands of new jobs for young people across Wales and the rest of the UK. Under the scheme, employers can now hire youngsters aged 16-24 who are claiming Universal Credit a six-month work placement, risk-free. The government will cover the young person’s wage, National Insurance and pension contributions. Employers receive £1,500 to set up support and training for people on a Kickstart placement, as well as helping pay for uniforms and other set up costs. The scheme was highlighted by participants at the roundtable, who felt the scheme was going to open up more opportunities for young people in the region.
Create joint initiatives that lead to more traineeships and entry-level jobs for young people, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do not go on to higher education.
Tackle digital exclusion through education, funding and the provision of hardware in deprived areas; rural areas offer particular challenges but also huge opportunities for progress.
Government, business and civil society should all seek to work more closely with the SME sector, which drives the majority of the Welsh economy, and support small businesses to drive positive change. For example, large corporates should partner with community organisations to drive action, or the government should seek to implement a more open and transparent procurement system which would allow them to work with social enterprises.