Trainee Journalist

November 4, 2021 (Updated )

Finding a way into the journalism industry has never been easy. However, for journalists aged 18-24 on Universal Credit, the government offers a new option: Kickstart Schemes. These are six-month roles, funded by the government, to help those at risk of long term unemployment, and many media businesses are creating roles especially for it.

The idea is that Kickstart jobs don’t require lots of previous experience, and provide relevant training. Launched in September 2020, the scheme has now been running for more than a year, and was recently extended until the end of March 22. But has it successfully carved a new route into a competitive industry?

Who Can Access Journalism Kickstart Schemes?

To be eligible for the scheme you need to be 18-24, already receiving Universal Credit, and formally referred for each job you’d like to apply for through the DWP’s internal system. Often, however, there are a limited number of referral spots per job – sometimes as low as 25 – which can be frustrating if you don’t find a job in time.

It’s also only in the last few months that the jobs have become publicly listed –previously work coaches had to rely on a system where they could only search by generic sectors such as ‘media’ rather than specific phrases. For remote roles, or those in a different area, you need the postcode of the company you’re applying to for your coach to find it.

While applicants are now able to view jobs themselves, employers aren’t typically encouraged to advertise them, instead being assured they’ll receive enough referrals. This typically isn’t the case. Recently released data shows that of 15,400 jobs made available in the “Creative & Media Industry” only 7,710 were filled.

Applicants can also run into trouble if they don’t have a good relationship with their work coach, or they’ve accessed other  support schemes in the past. Finn Oldfield, a journalist previously on Universal Credit, tells us: “There’s not enough support in terms of finding a career path that works best for you. So it’s not really a tailored approach. It’s more just they’ll push you into anything that gets your case done.”

Finn says he was encouraged to apply for Kickstart roles by employment support charity Transform Lives Company. However, he was informed his ongoing enrolment on another UC support scheme made him ineligible.  “But one was just career advice, and one was a job,” he says. His previous scheme, JETS, is billed as a “light touch” and offers personalised advice – but not employment. “I weighed my options up with their support and decided to switch to the Kickstart scheme, and end my JETS assistance.”

Journo Resources
“Don't settle for the first thing that they send your way. There are amazing opportunities out there. You just might have to be a bit more proactive, rather than waiting to be handed those opportunities.”
Finn Oldfield

“Don’t settle for the first thing that they send your way,” he says. “There are amazing opportunities out there. You just might have to be a bit more proactive, rather than waiting to be handed those opportunities.” We contacted the DWP about job seekers’ eligibility for Kickstart if they have been on the JETS scheme, but they refused to comment.

It’s also important to note that to be eligible for a Kickstart role, it must be your primary form of income, which also applies during the application process. There isn’t any official information online about this though, which can cause confusion. Charly Forrester, who is currently on a Kickstart scheme, tells us it could have put her in a “really difficult” position if she’d been offered casual work.

“If there had been any overlap, I would have been ineligible to apply and I would have not got the opportunity. I know that other people who have applied for Kickstart schemes have not been so lucky. They’ve come to find that when they’ve been offered the job, they had a secondary income and they’ve had to turn [it] away, which is soul-crushing after all those months of applying for a placement in the media industry.”

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Journo Resources

Finn Oldfield (L) Charly Forrester (R, Image Credit: Jacob Evje).

What Are The Hours And Pay Like On A Kickstart Scheme?

For Kickstart roles, the government will fund 100 percent of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours per week for a total of six months. This is different depending on your age, spanning £6.56 to £8.91 an hour. While employers are free to top up this payment out of their own pocket, of the 17 journalism Kickstart jobs we’ve listed in our newsletter since September 2021, only 41 percent paid more. Most also only offer the 25 hours a week the Government funds.

Lix Fox is just one jobseeker who has found them financially unsustainable. She tells us: “A lot of them don’t pay a very liveable amount of money. I’ve had to turn down a couple because I actually felt like I would be worse off doing that role than being on Universal Credit. They definitely need to improve the pay.” After a year of applying for entry-level roles, Liz now plans to study a journalism masters instead, despite the additional debt. “Although I’m very excited to start, I do wish there were more entry level opportunities in the media that actually pay,” she says.

What Is The Current National Minimum Wage?

• 18-20: £6.56ph

• 21-22: £8.36ph

• 23 and over: £8.91ph

However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t full-time Kickstart roles out there. When Emma Hill first applied for Universal Credit, she’d heard of Kickstart schemes through friends who’d started them already. “When I had my first Universal Credit meeting, I straight up went – I want to go on a Kickstart scheme.” However, she didn’t know if the hours and pay were going to be enough for her. “One problem is they were on average 25 hours a week, and I was ideally looking for something a little bit more.”

When she was offered a position as a junior journalist with GGRecon, a gaming journalism site, she was delighted: “It’s 40 hours a week, it’s right in the city centre, it was perfect.” Emma’s employers pay for her extra hours of work themselves.

What Experience Do You Need To Have?

Kickstart roles are intended for young people “at risk of long-term unemployment”, for those who don’t have prior qualifications or experience. However, it’s useful to also look at them as a boost – in the media industry jobs are scarce, and can still be about who you know.

Several people that we spoke to, however, recalled finding or applying for Kickstart roles that required substantial previous experience. Emma adds: “The way that Kickstart schemes had been explained to me was that they need someone with very little experience, maybe just a passion in that particular topic, or someone who wants to gain some skills. It was surprising how many I came across which [asked for more] experience – at least a degree. It was quite frustrating.”

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"We were in the middle of a lockdown last year, there were quite a few qualified people that normally wouldn't be in the group that the Kickstart programme was aimed toward.”
Renée Philippi

Renée Philippi from AAI EmployAbility (a gateway that helps employers hire through Kickstart) tells us: “There have definitely been university graduates who have ended up getting roles or jobs through this. We were in the middle of a lockdown last year, there were quite a few qualified people that normally wouldn’t be in the group that the Kickstart programme was aimed toward.”

However, she adds: “We have [had the] DWP come back and say, ‘We think you should withdraw these roles because we are not going to be able to refer qualified candidates according to what the employer is asking for.’ If [employers] need somebody to come and work for them, why would they try to set the bar too high? I think they’re just just trying out the waters and seeing what sticks.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the scheme as part of his COVID recovery package. (Image Credit: HM Treasury)

In ideal cases, employers will just be looking for someone with a genuine interest that they can train up. Mel Ramsay, editor in chief of GGRecon, has hired two Kickstart employees (Emma Hill being one) so far. She told us: “As someone who was on benefits myself over 10 years ago, I just know that if I’d been in that position, I would have jumped at the opportunity.”

“It’s so difficult for people from working class backgrounds like myself to be able to get into the media, especially gaming media. The scheme itself stood out to all of us, being able to give someone that boost into the media where traditionally you’ve needed to have contacts with people in different companies.”

Speaking about what she was looking for when hiring, Mel says she was mainly looking for someone with “passion and drive” who would hopefully become “an incredible part of the gaming journalism community”. Emma adds: “I didn’t know a huge deal about games, I’m still very relatively new to it. But I’m loving what I’m doing right now and I’m hoping that I’m able to carry on after the six month period. Video games in particular might be something I might want to pursue a future in.”

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Mel Ramsey (L) hired Emma Hill (R) through the Kickstart Scheme

What Training Should You Get On The Kickstart Scheme?

Alongside the wages that the DWP funds, they also pay a one-off cost of £1,500 to the employer to cover ‘setup costs and supporting the young person to develop their employability skills’. However, there is no formal guidance as to what this should look like.

Haran Naresh currently works remotely as a Kickstart reporter for Tottenham Community Press. He already had a lot of experience on his CV when he applied, so as a result his training on the scheme has been hands-off. “I’ve been given guidelines and things on how to structure certain things, and by writing things like that, but I haven’t received specific training,” he tells us.

One of Haran’s employers, James Cracknell, told us that Haran “doesn’t really need a lot of training – already he was writing to a very high standard. I gave him a bit of feedback after his first report, and since then I haven’t really needed to do much else.” In Haran’s case, they may also need the funds for other purposes. As Haran notes, “Because my job is a bit unorthodox, I actually go away on weekends to cover football games. My travel is covered by the company.”

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“While I appreciate that the Kickstart scheme has done amazing things for me and other people [...] we need to make sure that publishers and companies really build on this culture and create more schemes that benefit a larger pool of struggling young people.”
Charly Forrester

However, as there are no formal guidelines, training can vary greatly depending on the scheme and someone’s level of experience. Mel says she hosted an “intensive weekly training session” with various members of the business, covering everything from how to write a review to how to avoid defamation. “At the end, we’ll be looking at things like LinkedIn and CVs, making sure that she’s at the right position to go into gaming journalism. It’s really personal knowledge of what I’ve learned over the last 10 years in journalism,” Mel says.

The Government webpage states that the DWP may ask employers for their records to prove this money is really being used for these purposes, but that isn’t definite. As a result, people’s experience of the training element varies widely. Alternatively, companies can opt to have their training taken care of by a gateway company.

These organisations act as an intermediary between employers and the DWP, applying for placements instead of businesses themselves. AAI EmployAbility is one such organisation. Renée, their Chief Operating Officer, tells me that when the scheme was first launched it was a “grand vision” but there “was no infrastructure in place for the plan”.

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“One of the key elements of the plan was to not only provide work experience for this particular group of job seekers, but to provide them with skills and training they can take on into the future. But how does one actually go about measuring and implementing that? To date, there have been no published guidelines, no specific questions, questionnaires, audit procedures, or anything rolled out to confirm that training has been done.”

AAI EmployAbility offers ‘wrap-around Candidate Training’ to employers, using part of their £1,500 grant per employee. This ensures that there is quantifiable skill development. Renée tells me: “I know that there is a certain assumption on the Government’s part that if an employer applies through a gateway, that there is more accountability [but] we can’t force them to use our training programme.”

Some employers who do not use gateways will likely be confused about how to ‘train’ their employees, or even may attempt to take advantage of this lack of clarity. Mel Ramsay notes: “From an employer perspective, I do worry that there’s not enough guidelines on what kind of training people should be receiving. I’ve been very conscious of making sure it’s a mutually beneficial thing. I just want to make sure people have been responsible about it, and they’re not abusing the system to just try and get cheaper [labour].”

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“While I appreciate that the Kickstart scheme has done amazing things for me and other people, I don't think it should be put on a pedestal of a golden example of how to train junior talent in the major industry."
Charly Forrester

Charly Forrester (a Tyla Kickstart employee) tells us: “I think I was sceptical at the beginning – is this just a company who will take me on for six months and then drop me, or they won’t really have an ‘investment’ into training me up? It brings a lot of anxiety about the possibility that you’ll be unemployed again after the placement.” However, she adds: “I was comforted by the fact that on the induction day, from the off, they said ‘We are doing this to invest in junior talent with the hopes that we would keep you on.’ I thought, thank goodness they’re not here for some quick labour from young people who are in a desperate situation.”

“While I appreciate that the Kickstart scheme has done amazing things for me and other people, I don’t think it should be put on a pedestal of a golden example of how to train junior talent in the major industry,” concludes Charly. “It’s a good starting off point, but we need to make sure that publishers and companies really build on this culture and create more schemes that benefit a larger pool of struggling young people.”

While Kickstart definitely isn’t a perfect system, largely depending on employers to ensure that young people build skills and gain employability, for some it can be a genuine stepping stone into a career in media. As with any journalism role, it’s a question of doing your research into companies offering Kickstarts and asking questions about your development at interview. These roles are available to apply for through your jobcentre until March 2022.

The DWP largely refused to provide statements on information presented in this article, on the grounds of these experiences being ‘purely speculation’. Journo Resources currently employs two Kickstart employees on the London Living Wage.

Fern McErlane
Fern McErlane

Fern joined the Journo Resources team in mid-2021 as a trainee, and will focus on writing original features and content during her time at Journo Resources. Fern also takes the lead on our Instagram account, as well as keeping our resources and jobs board up to date.

Based in Leeds, where she completed her degree and was part of the editing team for her student paper The Gryphon, Fern is also a freelance journalist and is available for commissions on a range of lifestyle subjects.