Midcounties Co-op is partnering with social enterprise Miss Macaroon on a three-year programme to help young people in the West Midlands into work.
The programme provides one-to-one support, training and work experience and in some cases access to further education to help participants achieve their longer-term career ambitions.
The Fairer Futures programme creates opportunities for young people facing barriers against long-term employment, such as social anxiety, the impact of disability or ill health, having spent time in prison, or issues around childcare.
The programme launched earlier this year at Midcounties town centre store in Walsall, where 22.4% of 16–64-year-olds are classed as “economically inactive”.
Parts of the Walsall store have been redeveloped to create a training room for Fairer Futures participants, and a quiet room for counselling, reflection, and mindfulness.
Trainees are given access to an on-site programme leader, a part-time counsellor and a previous graduate of the Miss Macaroon scheme for extra support. Successful graduates will also receive follow-up support for six months after the programme, including support CV and cover letter writing and interviews.
A pilot phase of the programme began in May this year with 12 young people. Ten graduates went on to gain employment, including within Your Co-op Food stores.
Catherine Smith, a Fairer Futures graduate, said: “The skills the programme has taught me have been invaluable. How to interact with customers, how to deal with food and all the technicalities.”
Smith, who gained a Health & Safety qualification on the programme, meaning she can now work in any setting where food is being prepared, added: “I, like everyone on the programme, have received help at a level that reflects both my experience and confidence.
“Having people in the cohort with similar experiences has been eye opening. You realise you’re not alone.”
Miss Macaroon is a Birmingham-based social enterprise that produces macaroons while providing career opportunities for young adults seeking a career.
Miss Macaroon CEO Rosie Ginday said: “It’s been great working collaboratively with such a supportive employer as Midcounties Co-operative. The Your Co-op Food team members have been so invested in the growth of the trainees on the Fairer Futures Programme and have been thrilled to see them move onto employment in the local area.”
Government data shows an increase in youth unemployment across the UK, with 526,000 young people aged 16 to 24 unemployed in May to July 2023, an increase of 154,000 on last year.
Midcounties CEO Phil Ponsonby said: “Through the Fairer Futures programme we want to empower struggling young people, removing the barriers to employment and deliver genuine social value for the community.”
Fairer Futures is now offering more spaces on its programme, and Midcounties and Miss Macaroon are calling for businesses across the country to join them in expanding the programme further.
“With youth unemployment rising and a recruitment crisis facing so many sectors across the UK, we implore businesses and employment groups to join us in helping to provide both opportunity for our graduates and solutions for employment throughout the Midlands and beyond,” added Ponsonby. “We know that by doing good together we can create a brighter tomorrow.”