Ensuring career success for young people and adults with experience of criminal justice and the care system

A vision from the VocTech Future of Skills Awards

The VocTech Future of Skills Award was designed to share and celebrate big, tech-enabled ideas of how changes to the UK skills system could transform the way adults get the skills they need for work.

In this article we learn more about one of the entries from finalist Hannah Kirkbride.

Explore the other winning entries.


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It is a “travesty” that people with experience of the care system and/or the criminal justice system are not supported to achieve their potential, say Hannah Kirkbride, one of two finalists of a national competition held to celebrate visions for the future of the UK skills system - Ufi’s VocTech Future of Skills Award.

Hannah, Founder and CEO of Career Matters, a social enterprise that provides career services and support to develop the UK’s future workforce, says we need a system which helps overcome barriers in accessing education and employment.

Hannah Kirkbride, finalist at the VocTech Future of Skills Award

Hannah (centre) with Ufi CEO, Rebecca Garrod-Waters, and Chair of Trustees, Dominic Gill at the Week of VocTech 2023.

In the UK, 10,000 young people leave care every year and their progression into training and employment is extremely low. Only 17% gain five GCSEs, compared to the national average of 60%. Just over a quarter - 27% - of those in the adult criminal justice system have been in care. Young people are not gaining the skills they need during their time being cared for by the state and face a 'cliff edge' of support as they become adults.

“This loss of talent and the long-term impact on the economy of not encouraging and supporting these people to be fully functioning members of society is a travesty.”

Many people also struggle to break away from the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system, she says. But “by connecting with these people early and offering them support to develop their skills, we can help them reach their goals”.

Hannah has experienced the care system firsthand and left school as a teenager without any qualifications.

“It wasn’t a true reflection of my capabilities,” she says. “I hadn't had the opportunities to fulfil my potential. Since then, I've been incredibly fortunate and have been given some great opportunities to develop in my career.”

Hannah says that she began to look back at her journey about eight years ago and was saddened to see that, while there have been some improvements, in general, young care leavers are still not achieving their potential.

Hannah has now created a digital career development platform, with human interaction built in, that gives people with experience criminal justice and/or the care system the support and tools to get into education, employment and training and to access learning anywhere and at any time. The platform, known as THRIVE, connects communities and employers to career opportunities and a network of support, such as career coaching and industry experience placements. Utilising a blended approach; digital platform plus human support, puts in place the 'support scaffolding' that increases chances of success for people who are furthest away from learning. Some 200 people have already used the platform.

“By creating a digital environment that anybody can access, as long as they've got data and a digital device, it suddenly means people like me are able to be inspired and see role models who've been in the same place and gained skills.”

Employers and Government are much more aware of the need to create supportive environments for young care leavers and people who have experienced the criminal justice system and to monitor their progress, Hannah says. But to bring about change, we need “an extra push”.

“Local authorities and central Government must throw their weight behind technologies like THRIVE so that every young person who has been in care or the criminal justice system can benefit.”

Hannah's winning entry in more detail

“My vision for the UK skills system builds on our experience of developing a digital platform, with human interaction built in, that gives people with lived experience of the care system or of the criminal justice system, help to progress into work.

The platform, known as THRIVE, connects these people with job opportunities and training, but also a network of personalised support in areas such as careers coaching, mentoring and digital learning.

My social enterprise Career Matters has carried out research that shows there is a disconnect between young people who have been in care or the criminal justice system and the jobs available to them. There are many reasons for this. Many are not in stable housing, have not had positive experiences of the education system and are experiencing financial insecurity. Many others also lack access to mental health support and suffer from low self-esteem and confidence.

We can help overcome these barriers, and platforms like THRIVE are a key part of the solution. We have developed the platform together with those who have had lived experience of the care and criminal justice systems so we know we can give them what they need and we know demand for this kind of platform is high.

Through digital platforms like THRIVE we can enable people to access learning and support anywhere, at any time, and to develop their skills and track their progress. It also helps employers understand how to recruit young people with these lived experiences, enabling them to post jobs on the platform and offer support, such as work experience and work shadowing.”

Hannah Kirkbride, Career Matters

Judges were impressed by the focus on lived experience, and felt there was potential to expand the thinking that underpinned the submission to create a wider systems change around the way we consider learning, skills, and support, particularly for people who have faced multiple barriers to progression in life and are furthest from traditional pathways into education, employment or training.

Part of the VocTech Challenge: Skills for an economy in transition

The VocTech Future of Skills Award formed part of our VocTech Challenge: Skills for an Economy in Transition, a multi-year programme of funding and work in partnership with Learning and Work Institute.

Entrants to the Future of Skills Award were asked to share their ideas for how technology could help overcome the current challenges to the UK skills system.