Targeted work to support vulnerable young people: The Ambitions project in Cornwall

Written for Career guidance for social justice by Tristram Hooley

Oliver Jenkin and Barnaby Ridge discuss the Ambitions project in Cornwall and ask if it offers a way forward for the provision of career support for vulnerable people. 

A recent FE Week article reiterated long-standing concerns that the career guidance and vocational support system in England remains ‘confusing, fragmented and unclear’. Despite several initiatives to address perceived gaps in the current system (the Careers and Enterprise Company, Gatsby Benchmarks, the Careers Strategy, etc.), many still feel that the system does not work as well as it should. Provision for young people not currently in education, employment or training (NEET) has come in for particular criticism (for example in a recent piece by Deirdre Hughes.

Fortunately, this picture is not negative everywhere. CSW Group is a South West-based social enterprise with a long-standing record of successfully delivering targeted projects to support some of the most vulnerable young people to access education, training and employment. In this article we discuss the ESIF-funded Ambitions project, which ran in Cornwall from July 2018 to August 2020 and highlight the additionality offered by the project in terms of complementing Local Authority-funded transition support for vulnerable young people in Cornwall, while also supporting the Government’s current drive to level the playing field between academic and technical progression routes.


Ambitions was a project funded by the European Social Investment Fund (ESIF) which was aligned with Cornwall Council’s Careers Offer and the provision of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The aim of the project was to support inactive and unemployed 15-24-year-olds to explore their skills and career aspirations through a variety of activities, thus enabling them to progress into education, employment, or training.

In line with the Cornwall Careers Offer, Ambitions delivered:

  • Increased provision of high quality CEIAG for young people, including access to specialist community-based provision.
  • Access to a wide range of employability activities with local employers.
  • Access to increased CPD opportunities for partners and wider CEIAG professionals.

The project achieved this by bringing partners together to ensure improved coordination of resources, reduced duplication and improved partnership working to meet young people’s needs in line with the Cornwall Careers Offer. Each participant on Ambitions benefitted from an individualised journey tailored to their specific needs, which enabled them to access support from the diverse range of partners. This provision was either delivered by the gateway organisation, another partner within the project or by an external provider if the required activity was not available through the partnership.

From a CSW Group perspective, Ambitions was able to broaden the capacity of CSW’s mainstream services to young people in all Cornwall and Isles of Scilly schools and within the community.

Through this enhanced work, CSW Group were able to broaden our reach to support more young people – those who fall outside of the designated vulnerable group categories we are commissioned to work with by our Local Authorities. The Ambitions Advisers worked very closely with key staff within each school to identify those young people who were not able to receive support through CSW Group’s core offer, but who the school identified as being at risk of NEET and requiring further intervention. The schools knew their pupils and knew which ones needed the most support. As a result, we were able to work with approximately 450 additional young people in school during the project’s lifetime.

The Ambitions project’s in-school/college support recognised the Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ ambition that every young person is presented with two post-16 choices: academic and technical. Their ambition also stated that the technical option should prepare individuals for skilled employment such as apprenticeships or training and the Ambitions project fully incorporated this. The Ambitions Advisers recognised that not all young people, particularly those at risk of NEET, will want to continue their academic journey but may be better suited to the technical route. We were able to work with young people to ensure that they progressed to a route that was best suited to their individual needs.

The Ambitions project closed in July 2020 but was able to deliver a range of activities such as career guidance, employability skills, work experience and taster sessions to nearly 1600 young people aged 15-24. It helped young people overcome their individual barriers and successfully supported their progression into employment, education, or training.