COMMUNITIES First, the Welsh Government’s community focused anti-poverty programme, which operated in 52 Clusters across Wales and targeted resources at the most deprived communities with the aim of alleviating persistent poverty, has recently been replaced by a new two-year programme called Communities For Work Plus.

This will continue delivery of Communities For Work and enable employability support to be provided to people either in or at risk of poverty who are not eligible for Communities For Work, PaCE or other regional Europeean Social Fund Programmes, including those who live outside the current Communities First area postcodes.

“It’s an employment-focussed programme now,” explains Sharon Jones, Flintshire’s Communities For Work Plus delivery manager.

“We haven’t forgotten the health and learning themes we worked on, but we have passed on a lot of this now to other key partners, including schools and hospitals.

“The new programme aims to tackle unemployment and economic inactivity by eliminating the gaps in unemployment and economic inactivity rates between Wales and the UK within 10 years.

“There will be much more focus on one-to-one mentoring, where we can support individuals on their journey to employment and beyond when they go into work.

“One idea is that we can deal directly with employers to see if there are any skill gaps they need filling and then we can support clients through that pathway.

“No matter what age they are or wherever they live, they can come in to see us and we will always try and support them, supply them with a mentor and hopefully put them on a pathway towards employment.”

When it comes to employee training and development, for Sharon one of the most important concerns is how to properly identify skills gaps, and coming up with interventions to address those.

“A lot of issues come up when assessing employability with transport and skills topping the list,” she says. “We have a huge industrial park here in Deeside and we want to make sure we work with employers to find out

if there are any skills gaps.

“We will work with a range of employers, not just engineering and manufacturing, so, for example, employers at Broughton Shopping Park can talk to us about retail and we will also look at hospitality and catering.

“There will be a whole raft of employers and we will look at what they need and then work with our training providers to put a pathway together, so those employers get what they need from an employee.”

One word which keeps coming up in conversation with Sharon is ‘bespoke’ both in terms of the employee and the employer and she agrees that key to the scheme’s success is creating specific pre-employment/recruitment programmes that suit a company’s needs.

“We realise this can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” she continues. “Any individual can come to us and we will support their individual needs or we will bring in somebody who can.

“It’s an exciting challenge and one that we’ve done before with our Communities For Work programme, so we already have a team of mentors who can work with people and support them


“We also have a team of employability leads who specifically work with employers’ needs so, in many ways, it’s a hand in glove programme.”

One huge positive for Sharon and her team is that their funding streams are confirmed and the money is available from April 1 until at least 2020 and, with the scope of people they can help widened, it is not just about helping young people into work.

“We can have people over 50 who have worked in a factory all their life and then that factory closes,” she says. “We will look at the skills gap and what happened with B&Q is a good example of what can be done. When they left Deeside and were replaced by

The Range, we worked with them to ask what skills they needed

and luckily many of those skills were there with the people who had left B&Q.

“We work closely with the Job Centre, the Department of Work and Pensions and Careers Wales and we have a job skills steering group, so any new employer coming to the area or if anyone is expanding, they can come straight to us and we will support them.”

With younger people, Sharon is again keen to point to the individual needs of each person and refusing to put them together in the same box.

“We run job clubs throughout Flintshire and every day there is one taking place,” she says. “We can give all types of advice and guidance.”

One earlier example of the programme’s success has been their work with Flintshire Council’s Streetscene service, where the public can report issues including, abandoned cars, dead animals on the road, dog fouling, fly-tipping, graffiti, discarded needles and syringes and litter bins.

Sharon explains: “The council usually worked with agencies but we tried to change that to direct employment.

“We ran a pathway into Streetscene and had nine people complete the course where they learnt skills, including manual handling, health and safety and customer service. It was a two-week programme and once they had completed the training they carried out five weeks of work experience so they got a handle

on the job.

“They’re now going through the recruitment process with Flintshire, so hopefully there

will be some really positive outcomes from that.”

Sharon remains positive about the situation and adds that Flintshire Council is hugely supportive when it comes to

the initiatives.

“The support and the network within the local authority has been superb,” she adds. “Because we have been around for so long we have built up a good network of contacts and support from schools to community leaders.

“We know where to go and if someone wants us to help we can - we know from the case studies and what the team come back and say that they are supporting people and changing lives.

“It makes us a positive team, carries us through the ups and downs and this comes across to the businesses we work with.”

To find out more about Community For Work Plus, call into one of their job clubs:

Monday - Holywell Library 1pm-3pm/Tuesday, Flint Library 1pm-3pm/Wednesday, Connah’s Quay Library 1pm-3pm/Thursday, Buckley Library 10am-noon.

For further information, please call on 01244 846090.