For our third Firestarters ‘Building Back Equal’ event, we focused on our region’s employment and skills inequalities to spark conversations around ensuring equality of opportunity. We gathered together leaders and change-makers within employment and skills to help answer some of the most urgent questions facing the Liverpool City Region (LCR) and what our next steps should be if we are to make real change.
What is Firestarters and ‘Building Back Equal’?
Firestarters is a community of values-driven organisations striving to be a force for good in the LCR. Through live events driven by action, insight, and social impact, Firestarters aims to achieve real change by building meaningful connections between purpose-driven people.
‘Building Back Equal’ is a four-part event series focused on reducing inequalities as we build back better from COVID-19. ‘Employment and Skills’ was the third event in the series and gathered together the LCR’s most influential and purpose-driven organisations in one (virtual) space.
Why ‘Employment and Skills’?
At our first Firestarters ‘Building Back Equal’ event, we discussed what the most pressing matters were affecting our city region, and gained key insights into the challenges the LCR is currently facing. The employment and skills sector was highlighted as an area of major concern. ‘Building Back Equal – Employment and Skills’ is a direct response to these findings, addressing the needs of this area in order to ensure equality of opportunity as we build back equally.
Why is ‘Employment and Skills’ so relevant now?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across different industries, sectors, and stakeholder groups over the last 18 months has been uneven. The pandemic and multiple lockdowns have exacerbated inequalities at a national, regional, and local level.
Widening regional inequalities have left the LCR disproportionately vulnerable to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences. The region’s strongest employment sectors (hospitality, non-food retail, leisure, aviation, transport, and tourism) have all been badly affected.
This helps to explain the over-representation of diverse groups in COVID-19-associated job losses: young people are experiencing the greatest loss of employment but low-paid workers, BAME groups, older workers, disabled workers, women, part-time workers, and the self-employed are also experiencing significant losses. It’s predicted that the worst is still yet to come, as the effects of the end of the UK’s Job Retention Scheme begin to trickle down.
What we discussed at ‘Employment and Skills’
The event brought together some of the region’s most influential and purpose-driven organisations to discuss: “How do we address inequalities in employment and skills so that we can build back equally?”
During the event, we heard from four guest speakers:
- Paul Amann of the LCR Combined Authority
- Tracy Fishwick OBE of Transform Lives Company
- Amanda Follit of EPAM UK
- Ben Osu of the Anthony Walker Foundation
Paul Amann began by discussing some of the major problems the region faces with regards to employment and skills and highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Both Tracy Fishwick and Amanda Follit then offered key insights into employment culture and the necessity of diversity within employment, before Ben Osu closed by talking about the importance of employee retention.
The Liverpool City Region has more economically-inactive people than almost any other part of the country.Paul Amann, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
Some of the key points raised in these opening speeches were the significance of employer culture and behaviour, and the need to change obstructive and hostile employer attitudes.
A Q&A with all four guest speakers followed, where the Firestarters community offered their own valuable experiences and insights around employment and skills, including the need for stronger, smoother support networks for applicants.
What we’ve learned from ‘Employment and Skills’
During our Q&A and post-Q&A discussions, our attendees were able to dive deeper into the issues and raised some fantastic points, particularly around what opportunities there are for creating change. Themes we identified across all three group discussions included:
- The main challenges around addressing inequality of opportunity include exclusion and accessibility and employer culture and engagement
- The main opportunities for creating change lie in employer education and employee support networks
- The approach to improving equality of opportunity must consider retention and progression if we are to have a real impact
Retention is key. Once we get Black people, women, LGBTQ+ people into organisations, how then do we make those organisations safe spaces that allow those people to thrive?Ben Osu, Anthony Walker Foundation
What are the next steps?
We’ll be publishing our latest SMART Commitments so that we can manage our progress and impact in addressing these challenges, all while holding ourselves accountable. We’ll also be holding our fourth and final ‘Building Back Equal’ event early in the new year.