What we learned about making applications more accessible – for refugee women and for all

by Jan 30, 2024Charity partners, Funding, News, News & events, Refugee support

Access to training and learning opportunities is one of the barriers for refugee women with experience of seeking safety to start or progress their professional lives in the UK. This includes financial barriers, as well as other barriers related to accessing education. City & Guilds Foundation have therefore started a partnership with Routes, to support women in accessing opportunities through the City & Guilds bursary. A significant step in overcoming the financial barrier of the costs for college courses, training and additional learning costs!

In this article, we share some of our first lessons from building this new partnership.

Accessing education opportunities as a refugee woman

We know that for some people the cost of training can be a huge barrier to accessing the skills needed for jobs and career progression. Recent research indicates that without the support of funding, those hardest to reach will find it harder to progress in a labour market which favours those already in higher-paying work.

Over 20 years ago at City & Guilds we created our bursary programme to help people in genuine financial need to access training programmes and develop skills for meaningful employment. Our bursaries are designed to change people’s lives through skills. And it works, in fact employment nearly doubles for those individuals who receive funding from us.

Since the summer of 2022, City and Guilds have paired up with Routes, to support women from refugee backgrounds in accessing training opportunities. Routes is a London-based social enterprise, who work to support women to grow together, and refugee women to thrive in the UK. Routes’ runs their flagship Mentoring Programme twice a year, in which women from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds work on their goals in the field of education, employment and confidence-building. Participants and alumni of the Programme have been able to apply for City & Guilds funding, to access further education opportunities.

Women from refugee backgrounds come to education opportunities in the UK from different starting points. Some want to build on their previous professional experience but need certain courses or certifications to be able to continue working in the same career in the UK. Others want to retrain in the UK into a different career and need a college course or training opportunity to be able to do so. Lastly, there is a group of women who have not been to further education prior and want to start building their careers in the UK by studying in a field of interest. For all these different women, City & Guilds offer opportunities to apply for a bursary that allows them to do a college course or relevant training.

Making applications accessible

Routes has been supporting their community members, to apply for the City & Guilds bursary. Like other applicants, Routes’ community members have to fill out a written application form, and then attend an interview with a panel from City & Guilds to explain their interest in their chosen field as well as their need for support. Whilst piloting this partnership, we had several successes and are still witnessing the impact of the bursaries that were awarded. We also had several learnings and improvements we made along the process, our key takeaways being;

  • Sending interview questions beforehand as we just stated all applicants must attend a virtual interview during the application process. The purpose of this is to confirm each individuals’ circumstances and plans to use the qualification. We know that the word interview can sometimes be daunting, so in order to ‘catch people in’ instead of out, we now send interview questions beforehand to applicants. Allowing them to come prepared and confidently demonstrate their need for the bursary.
  • Giving applicants the option to invite someone else to their interview; we want to make the whole application as kind as possible, especially those who may have additional barriers such as language. Another Routes suggestion we have embraced is letting applicants know they can forward the interview invite on to a mentor, trusted friend or member of the Routes team.
  • Flexibility in interview style and times; typically, all interviews take place over teams during office hours of 9-5. However, we are increasingly finding that not all applicants have access to a stable internet connection and especially with our Routes applicants, childcare can often be an issue. We now offer out of hours interview slots after 5pm and give applicants the option of a phone interview rather than virtual.


Accessibility for all 

In the words of Leyla McLennan, Founding Director of Routes:

‘Working with the City & Guilds Foundation with the aim of making their bursary programme accessible for the refugee and asylum-seeking women we work with has been amazing. The partnership enables us to offer bursaries for women we’ve supported on our mentoring programme, and since access to training and education can otherwise be difficult, it’s been so valuable to have this opportunity. It’s great to hear from City and Guilds that some of the changes have become general ways of working for the bursary team now, such as. suggesting that candidates can bring someone with them to the interview. It really shows how inclusive design can benefit everyone!’

Access to training and learning opportunities is one of the barriers for women with experience of seeking safety to start or progress their professional lives in the UK

Advocacy Lead for the City & Guilds Foundation, Lauren Roberts said:

‘Working with Routes has not only allowed us to award funding to one of our key target groups but to also make the bursary process kinder and more inclusive for all. We have seen an improvement in confidence, quality of applications and overall engagement with the bursary process. We’re incredibly grateful for the support and guidance Routes have given us and are continuing to implement suggestions and recommendations. We are currently looking at ensuring all staff that interview bursary applications have received awareness training on supporting those from refugee backgrounds.’

Routes and City & Guilds look forward to building on this partnership and making their bursary application process more accessible for refugee women – and for all.

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