As the Fair Education Alliance Annual Summit approaches, we at Power2 are remembering writing an application to the Fair Education Innovation Awards in 2020. ‘That is so very much what we need, just when we need it’, we thought. Opportunities to release a member of staff to innovate are rare, and can lead to game-changers for charities – as this one did for Power2.   

Power2’s frontline team delivers intensive support to young people facing immediate challenges, such as poor mental wellbeing, disengaged from school and learning, at risk of youth violence, or in the care system. 98% are living in poverty, and all are vulnerable. Our support is immediate because the need is immediate. That also means our fundraising, in the main, is focussed on raising money to reach as many young people as we can who are on schools’ (long lists) of those that need our help.

However, our first Young People’s Survey, in April 2020, told us that missed work experience during pandemic-related lockdowns was contributing to significant anxiety about the future. We also know that young people who are already disengaged from education, not making expected academic progress and extremely withdrawn or displaying distressed behaviours, are much less likely to access work-based experiences, and are often not able to draw a dividend when they do.

The young people that Power2 work with lack family or other contacts to negotiate on their behalf and in some cases, difficulty with work experience leads to further disengagement with school and loss of confidence. And, as far as we could see, careers guidance to schools and employers lacks specific support on how to help the ‘hardest to place’.

But to introduce an active focus on young people being willing and able to secure and benefit from work experience into our programmes needed time, support to innovate, and conversations with the right people (including employment experts and young people) - and some financial support to release a member of staff to do all that.

We also wanted to take a deep dive into the system, to see if Power2 can contribute to more widespread high quality work experience provision and support for the very young people who need it most – the ones we support every day.

So we were delighted to be one of five Fair Education ‘Intrapreneur’ Innovation Award Winners in 2020.

FEA’s support was a game-changer. Not only could we release our Programme Development Manager to focus on incubating this aspect of our work, they also received top quality support from Bloomberg LP (co-funders of the 2020 Award), Boston Consulting Group and PA Consulting and his Innovation Award peers, to gather and analyse external insights and data and use them to support the incubation and evidencing of our approach. Our theory of change, indicative impact framework and programme structure were rigorously put to the test – in theory and practice. And we developed an understanding of the active and transferable ingredients of what works in other sectors – from the point of view of young people and employers -  and were able to embed a fully informed approach to accessing and supporting work-based experience across Power2 programmes.

Power2’s frontline team members are experts in 1:1 and group work. Their support helps young people improve their mental wellbeing, self-confidence, interpersonal skills, ability to deal with setbacks and challenges and re-engage at school and more widely – as outlined in our recent Impact Report. The introduction into our programmes of additional employability support and meaningful work experiences is a big leap forward, meaning that we can also, practically, help them change their trajectories. 

It’s also led to significant further funding – we are now commissioned by Trafford Council and funded by the Mercers’ Charitable Foundation to provide intensive help to care-experienced children and young people in London and the North West of England, supporting their wellbeing, preparing them for independence and equipping them with the skills, knowledge and experience to move into employment. This is an incredibly exciting step and one that we simply couldn’t have taken if we hadn’t benefitted so greatly from the Fair Education Innovation Award.