Connect to Your Future, commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and led by Career Connect, has won a major national award for its work with young people and its wider community impact.


The 21-month programme won the Social Value: Working for Everyone category at the annual ERSA (Employment Related Services Association) Awards, which took place in London this week.

The category recognises initiatives that have delivered over and above requirements and that have provided exceptional value for money, both in terms of the public purse and value in communities.

Image of the Connect To Your Future team with their national ERSA Award.

The aim of Connect to Your Future was to deliver improved economic, environmental, and social wellbeing for young people aged 15-19 who were not in education, employment or training (NEET).

It formed part of GMCA’s broader £10m NEET and Youth Employment Programme in 2022, which was funded through the European Social Fund. It was developed after many young people aged between 15-24 in the city-region were negatively impacted as a result of Covid-19 and aimed to re-engage them with education opportunities through bespoke advice, guidance and individualised support.

Providing Engagement and Mentoring Support for Young People

Over 21 months, Connect To Your Future provided engagement and mentoring support for 3,166 young people. Of these, around 60% successfully moved into or returned to education, training or employment destinations. In total, the NEET & Youth Engagement Programme engaged and supported 5,400 individuals.

This image shows two careers advisers at a Connect To Your Future (CTYF) careers event.

Participant feedback highlighted increased levels of motivation, higher personal and career aspirations, increased confidence, increased work readiness, improved engagement with learning and better mental health and wellbeing.

Working in Partnership

Career Connect worked with six partners to deliver Connect To Your Future: Wigan Council, Stockport Council, Positive Steps, Connexions Bolton, Bury Council and Trafford Council. Career Connect also delivered directly.

Connect To Your Future used an innovative model, combining intense, individualised 1-2-1 mentoring, with access to funding that helped remove barriers for young people. There was a focus on wellbeing, skills and confidence building, to support long-term positive outcomes.  Community-wide mental health sessions such as ‘Sip and Chat’ and wellbeing weeks also took place to engage young people.

Young people’s voices were central in the rollout of the programme, and the service was shaped in response to regular feedback from young people.

Delivered at a hyper-local level, the programme connected young people with support and opportunities in their immediate communities across all 10 Greater Manchester local authorities. Teams operated in youth hubs, DWP locations, community centres/groups, schools, Sixth Forms and colleges. Teams were also co-located with other key services to increase access.

The discretionary fund helped with the often-hidden barriers to moving on to further education, employment or training – such as obtaining an ID, travel costs, equipment, interview clothes, short courses and tutoring support for exam resits.

Courses funded included dog grooming, which helped one young person set up their own business. The programme also funded counselling sessions for young people struggling with their mental health.

Commitment to Creating New Jobs

To further tackle economic inequality and make a positive economic contribution, delivery partners committed to creating 16 new jobs for young people in their own supply chains.

Image of young person mending a bike.

Partners also developed a supported apprenticeship model, working collaboratively with local employers such as KFC and Amazon to increase representation of young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability, Care Leavers and Looked After Children in the workforce. Partners also created volunteering opportunities for young people from these youth employment priority groups. Local small and medium businesses were also used to purchase items for participants.

Councillor Eamonn O’Brien, Greater Manchester’s Lead for Technical Education, said: “Congratulations to Career Connect on this remarkable, national achievement. Our NEET and Youth Employment Programme aimed to give a helping hand to those who were not sure what their next step should be, so it was important that we partnered with reliable and experienced providers who could help us to re-inspire some of our most disengaged young people.

“The Connect to Your Future arm of the programme has been a great success and this recognition is testament to Career Connect’s dedication to guiding and supporting young individuals to reach their goals and ensuring they receive exceptional support on their journeys.”

Sheila Clark, CEO of Career Connect, said: We are proud to have worked alongside GMCA and all partners to make Connect To Your Future such a success – and in doing so, changing thousands of young people’s lives across Greater Manchester.  

“The outcomes we have achieved together show what is possible with strong partnerships, a highly-localised approach, and a commissioner who understands the power of bespoke careers support for young people.

“We also wanted this programme to have a lasting impact on the wider community, and we are delighted that the ERSA Social Value award recognises this.”

Traci Rabaca, Connect To Your Future Programme Lead at Career Connect said: Connect To Your Future has embraced social value. For us, it was less a strategy and more part of the programme’s culture. We set out to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to social value, and to deliver social benefit as a core business activity.

“Achieving this award recognises the social awareness of our supply chain. Together, we have helped shape positive change through investment and promoting better understanding of the needs of local communities across Greater Manchester.” 

A graphic featuring the words: "ERSA Employability Awards 2023. We're a Winner", plus the category title: Social Value Award.

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