We're building a bridge over the employability skills gap

Oh yes, oh yes! We’re about to launch our second business, “Fresh Meet”, which is a bridge over the employability skills gap.

So, as you may know, Bravand is an independent, female led digital agency that has spent the last 11 years working with organisations of all shapes and sizes, designing and building things that people interact with on screens.

Team Bravand also spends a lot of time talking to people about “Careers in Digital”, campaigning for the fact that it takes people from diverse backgrounds to make businesses successful (and that the digital industry is not just software and coding!).

We were in at Sheffield College for the first of three day-long sessions working with 60 of their students, on Monday 25 March. We've done work with UTC Sheffield and Barnsley College and I'm getting some really good engagement from schools for students with Special Educational Needs, including Holgate Meadows, Talbot and Sheaf Training.

I’m a See it Be it ambassador and I’m in the process of becoming a governor at UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, too.

We’re also talking to organisations that can help us get in front of people not currently in education, employment or training. This is a key missing piece of the puzzle.

This is something we've always done - so loads more experience in / around London when we were based there - and we all get a lot out of these sessions, so want to do more of them.

For some time now, Jilly and I have thought that we would actually like to do more of the “Careers in Digital” stuff than the day-to-day Bravand stuff. The challenge is that Bravand’s “Careers in Digital” stuff doesn’t generate any income. In fact there’s quite a bit of out cost and opportunity cost attached to it.

So, we've been experimenting over the last 12 months and are now in the process of setting up and launching a Social Enterprise - "Fresh Meet" (working name, which may have to change) that will offer people paid work experience delivering digital projects.

It's essentially a carbon copy of Bravand and will do much the same as Bravand does, from a client perspective. However, the projects we deliver through "Fresh Meet" will carry the added social value of:

  • Giving people sector-specific / role-specific paid work experience that enables them to:
    - go on and have better conversations with potential employers
    - work for themselves, e.g. freelance, or start their own business (this is not talked about enough, in my opinion)
    - complete an education course or access an education course
    - try a job they think they want to do, realise it’s not for them and change direction. This is more important than some of us realise! See Alexa's journey into User Experience Design, for more on that.
  • Giving people general paid work experience that enables them to:
    - get economically active, to better support themselves and those that depend on them
    - try a job they had no idea existed, realise they enjoy it / are good at it and stick with it. See Ashanee's journey into Project Management, for more on that.

Paying people is really key if we're to deliver on our promise of diversifying the talent pipeline. It is unreasonable of us to expect anyone to give us their time and effort for nothing. If we weren't to offer payment for people's time, that immediately excludes some people. We will fail to encourage people from diverse backgrounds into the industry, if we expect people to work for free.

Our thinking has been really simplified over the last couple of months and, having kicked this sort of thing around for the best part of ten years, we've suddenly advanced a long way in a relatively short space of time.

Registering "Fresh Meet" on the Social Enterprise Growth Accelerator programme and writing the business plan has really helped with that.

We're in the process of setting up a Community Interest Company limited by guarantee, which means the profits we generate through "Fresh Meet" will be re-invested in funding more of the free "Careers in Digital" work we're already doing.

We're at advanced stages of landing our first "Fresh Meet" project, from which everything else will then flow, so we're anticipating this becoming "proper" quite early in the new Tax Year.

The three things we will always need are:

  • Paid projects for people to work on
  • Streams of talent to work on delivering those projects - there’s no shortage of these. Who’d have thunk it?
  • People that want a mentor (and someone to fund it…)

And we might actually need some physical space, at some point, too.

For clarity - Bravand will continue to do what it does, the way it currently does it.

Keen to share this with people to get their view. How does this sound?

The image shows the main characters from "Press Gang", which was a British children's television comedy drama based on the activities of a children's newspaper, the Junior Gazette, produced by pupils from the local comprehensive school.

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