ERSA 2021 Employability Awards 2021
Award Winners Announced in ‘The Covid Employability Challenge’

Supported by lead sponsors Cognisoft and Clarion Futures, the awards highlight the unsung employability heroes of the past year. 

ERSA, the Employment Related Services Association, announces the 2021 winners of the Employability Awards. Now in their ninth year, the awards celebrate best practice across the employment support sector. From stand-out frontline staff, job seeking achievements and exemplary employers; to teams and communities pulling together in these unprecedented times, this year the awards epitomise the very best of rising to ‘The Covid Employability Challenge’. 

This year more than 200 entries were received from private, voluntary, social enterprise and public sector organisations across the UK. The winners were announced during a digital event with live stream and viewing parties around the UK. 

Elizabeth Taylor, ERSA CEO says: “This year more than any other has shown the dedication and expertise of people working in the employability sector. The year’s theme recognised ‘The Covid Employability Challenge’ and our winners have delivered exceptional service and support to disadvantaged groups during the pandemic. I am immensely proud to join the team at ERSA in congratulating them all for their inspiring work.” 

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith said: “Congratulations to all of the finalists of the ERSA 2021 Employability Awards. I’ve seen in my own constituency and across the country what a difference members of ERSA can make and I know how much local leadership really matters in effecting meaningful change. 

As the new Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work I am passionate about championing those with disabilities and long-term health conditions and helping to improve their daily lives. As a Government though, we can’t do this alone and it is only by working together that we can help build a more inclusive society that works for everyone.” 

The 11 award categories highlighted the range of work being undertaken to help people gain employment, from advisers demonstrating extraordinary commitment, to teams supporting individuals and communities hardest hit by the pandemic, as well as exceptional jobseekers and learners. 

Also open to non-ERSA members, the employability awards recognised any organisation involved in the sector. This year’s entries were judged by Associate Professor Jo Ingold, Department of Management, Deakin University; Sam Windett, Deputy Director, Learning and Work Institute; Jagdeep Soor, Programme Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better; and Gill Holmes, Director, Contract Management and Partner Delivery, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).  

The full list of winners
Frontline Adviser of the Year - sponsored by the IEP

Recognising an individual in a frontline role demonstrating exceptional commitment in a frontline role. 

Sandeep Koltharkar, Business 2 Business

Sandeep Koltharkar is an exceptional adviser and his kindness, tenacity and vitality builds the confidence of participants, plus he goes to great lengths to help people and seek solutions. During lockdowns when many services were closed, his knowledge and links with community organisations enabled people to continue to access housing, well-being and foodbank support.  


Frontline Manager of the Year - sponsored by Alderwood

Recognising a Frontline manager demonstrating exceptional commitment to leading their frontline team to excellent performance and customer achievements. 

Julie Howells, Derventio Housing Trust

Julie leads by example, embraces a customer-centred ethos and truly values her team. She has exceptional management and organisational skills, compassion and commitment and has set up and delivered four employability contracts from scratch. But it’s Julie’s highly supportive attitude towards her team that really makes her stand ou

Employer of the Year - sponsored by Arriva

Recognising an employer showing exceptional commitment by partnering with providers in their area, supporting disadvantaged and long-term unemployed jobseekers. 

Arcus FM

Nominated by Catch22 
Arcus FM has been a model employer over the last year and has changed the lives of vulnerable young people seeking work, training and apprenticeship opportunities. 
It has employed care leavers and those in the care system at significantly higher risk of long-term unemployment, social isolation, and negative life, through the Bright Light programme. 

Highly commended:
Marks & Spencer

Nominated by The Prince’s Trust 
Despite a challenging year, Marks & Spencer has shown incredible dedication and support for disadvantaged young people, helping 695 jobseekers through its work with The Prince’s Trust. The company has supported the charity for over 15 years, investing up to £1m a year to help around 1,200 young people through employability programmes. 

Significant Achiever of the Year - sponsored by The Digital College 
Recognising an exceptional jobseeker or learner supported by an employment support programme. 

Jolene Thompson-Carney

Nominated by Offploy CIC 
Jolene Thompson-Carney has faced many challenges – she became a drug user at the age of 11 and was later jailed for eight and a half years for a dealing offence. But with the support of Offploy, she has turned her life around, has a job as a line operative/labourer and is also encouraging others towards positive change. 

Highly commended:

Theo Thomas-Afonso, nominated by Fedcap Employment 

Gabriel, nominated by Recro Consulting 

Bethany Carroll, nominated by Talent Finder 

Joshua Wareham, nominated by Unity Works 

Samantha Cuffy, nominated by Women’s Work Lab 

Team of the Year – Disability and health - sponsored by Triangle Consulting 
creators of the outcomes star 
Recognising an exceptional frontline team providing disability and wellbeing services.  

St. Joseph's Approved Premises Bike Project, nominated by Career Connect

The Bike Project offers weekly one-to-one tuition to participants by mechanics in repairing and recycling bicycles. Seventeen men – offenders with mental health difficulties – took part during the last year, cultivating practical, vocational, team-building and problem-solving skills and helping to prepare for independent living. 

Highly commended:
Forwards Employment Service, Gloucestershire County Council  

Gloucestershire County Council’s Forwards Employment Service provides support to find work for young people who are in education with additional support needs, those transitioning from education, and adults engaging with Social Care or Health Services. During the pandemic, job brokers worked hard to keep in touch with those furloughed and find new jobs for those who lost them. 

Team of the Year – Hardest hit - sponsored by NCFE 
Recognising an outstanding frontline team supporting individuals and communities hardest hit by the pandemic.  

'All About Me' Team, Aspire Sussex

The ‘All About Me’ project team has supported those hardest hit by the pandemic who have are long term unemployed. From July 2020 to June 2021, the four highly skilled and committed team members have worked with 86 participants to help them find hope, purpose and achievement using innovative strategies and by educating businesses and partners to encourage a more diverse workforce. 


Highly commended:
The Autism Project, CareTrade Charitable Trust

The Autism Project (TAP) is a specialist two-year supported internship programme for adults aged 18 to 25 on the autistic spectrum. Learning is usually in real work-placements and students can also gain qualifications in employability and functional skills. The team responded to Covid by adapting the project to be delivered remotely including increased wellbeing and mental health support. 

YES Project Team, YES Project

The YES Project is a Youth Employability Support project working with NEET young adults, aged 15 – 24. It’s a partnership of seven youth organisations and charities and works with people who face barriers to finding work, like issues with their mental health, substance misuse, homelessness, previous offences, or who may have cultural and language barriers. 

Team of the Year – Innovation - sponsored by Simpact CIC 
Recognising an innovative team helping us remotely connect 

Joint winners
The GRoW App Team, Belina Consulting

The GRoW App has revolutionised employment support for Belina Consulting’s participants and moves them into work faster. The App is there 24 hours a day – it is immediate and interactive and means specialist work can be accessed by a much wider group than through  

Team Pie, Unity Works

Team Pie has founded Unity Pies, the newest venture from Unity Works which supports people with a learning disability to gain skills and jobs. The project is the extension of a lunchtime cook-along session run in lockdown and sees participants create and sell pies to customers as well as learning about different aspects of the business. 

Team of the Year – Crisis management - sponsored by Transform Lives Company 
Recognising a frontline team providing essential or emergency pandemic support 

Newground Together

When the Newground Together employment and skills team heard that a foodbank had no co-ordinator and most volunteers were self-isolating, it turned its skills to keeping it open in a time of need. They made the foodbank Covid-safe, set up an electronic database of people and implemented a delivery service to those most vulnerable. 


Team of the Year – Hidden heroes – sponsored by Care Plus Group 
Recognising teams working behind the scenes to enable services 

Hertfordshire JETS, Catch22 and Jobs22 
Hertfordshire’s JETS employability service supports individuals who have been affected by job losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Delivered in partnership with the Shaw Trust, the contract was mobilised in three weeks and offers an entirely remote service. 
The team of 23 staff are achieving record numbers of workshop delivery, designing 60 different workshop sessions and delivering 3,500 remote sessions. 

Community Partnership of the Year - sponsored by entitledto 
Organisations working together to form partnerships that support local communities already furthest from the labour market.  

MOU initiative: Trust for London, City Bridge Trust and the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) 
Nominated by Action West London 

Unemployment rates for Young Black Men (YBM) have historically been over double that of young white men. In a bid to tackle this, Trust for London, City Bridge Trust and Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) created the ‘Moving on Up’ (MOU)  initiative; a programme to improve employment outcomes for YBM in London. 


Highly commended: 

Kickstart Housing Partnership  
Nominated by Clarion Futures 

Led by Clarion Housing Group (CHG), the Kickstart Housing Partnership is the largest ever housing sector led and supported community partnership. The partnership’s 61 housing providers work together to engage and strengthen whole communities and improve life chances. And the partnership ‘gateway’ offers over 900 vacancies to 16-24 year olds, at risk of long-term unemployment. 

Judged separately from the other categories, a truly inspiring individual who has made an Outstanding Contribution to the Sector  

Veejay Patel, Business 2 Business

On entering the sector in 1986, Veejay’s beneficial impact was immediate and it has been continuous ever since. His advocacy for the first ever Job Club for people with English language needs and his delivery of impressive performance through it, led to a visit from the DWP Permanent Secretary, an Employment Service video showcasing Business 2 Business’ Job Club approach and the roll out of telephone-based English language support within Job Clubs across England and Wales. Since then, by choosing to work in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK and by developing inspired and innovative solutions to address multiple needs including during the Covid outbreak, Veejay has made a dramatic difference to the life chances and prosperity of tens of thousands of people, their families and communities.  

As well as actively building the capacity of many individual community-based providers and leading innovation through winning an Innovate UK grant, through his enthusiasm for collaboration, Veejay has sought to strengthen the whole sector. As an ERSA member and IEP Fellow, he has optimised continuous professional development within Business 2 Business and actively encourages other providers to become members. Through his membership of ERSA, the Business Services Association and other strategic bodies, Veejay passionately advocates for more and better support to meet the needs of different groups; his early advocacy work leading to the DWP’s development of the Ethnic Minority Outreach (EMO) Programme, which went on to exceed all expectations; Business 2 Business’ own EMO delivery achieving the highest performance of all.  

Whether as the leader of Business 2 Business, as a Chair of numerous economic development boards or as a pioneer of recruitment support for small business, through his lifelong devotion to unemployed people, Veejay has demonstrated selfless commitment and has made an outstanding contribution to the employability sector. 


Veejay Patel, Business 2 Business

Joint winners
The GRoW App Team, Belina Consulting

A social media campaign highlighting this year’s winners  

ERSA’s 2020 winners can be found via a press release here 

Awards website  

Hashtags: #ERSAAwards21 #EmpDay21 #Employability