The virtual event was the latest in the University of Essex’s series of Challenge Labs, which create an environment where business, public and third sector organisations are invited to identify their business problems and work with Essex researchers to develop solutions.
Projects have each been funded from the University’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). IAAs are block awards made to research organisations by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) with the aim of speeding up the impact of research.
Academics working across the University’s many disciplines are now working with ECC to address problems ranging from community resilience at a local level to the impacts of COVID-19 on the county’s workforce needs.
Deputy Dean of Research for the Faculty of Social Sciences Professor John Preston, who is also the academic leading IAA at Essex, said: “This collaboration with Essex County Council shows how our research has real-world impact in addressing problems that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as tackling long standing issues of skills, community cohesion, and resilience.”
Dr Alejandro Quiroz Flores, Chief Scientific Adviser for Essex, added: “This Challenge Lab is a great example of our strategic collaboration with Essex County Council. Together we tackle challenges with scientific rigor, improve public services, and promote evidence-based policy for the public good in our region.”
One of the funded projects will involve academics working with ECC and employers across the region to understand current and future skills requirements in the county.
COVID-19 has had massive impact on the labour force status of millions of UK residents and unemployment, especially amongst young people, is rising and will be a long-term challenge, affecting future career prospects, mental health and wellbeing.
Understanding employers’ current and future skills requirements is key for schools and colleges who may need to develop new curricula and training to help young people increase their employment opportunities by developing the skills employers need for their workforce.
The project will review existing ECC skills checklists and survey and interview companies and young people in Essex, to produce an employability toolkit that can be used by both educators and young people to show how best to support young people into employment in the region.
Another project will work with ECC to understand the long-term scale and impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing and resilience of the county’s adult care workforce. The aim is to co-produce a roadmap of the shape of adult social care workforce in Essex, focusing on their experiences of the pandemic, and use existing workforce data to provide recommendations to support workers at an individual and system level.
One of ECC’s missions is to make Essex a place where people support one another to live their lives to the fullest, as connected communities can nurture physical and mental wellbeing.
The third project will aim to build a better understanding about what helps people to help others in the community. The project will investigate why some local areas are more effective at providing support networks within their communities than others, to gain a better insight into where and how support can be best given to help communities to become more resilient as they navigate the “new normal” on a post-pandemic world.
Councillor Dick Madden, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for partnerships, said: “This is a great example of how partners across Essex are pulling out all the stops to address our key challenges. Working with the University of Essex Challenge Lab, we have come up with some proposals that will deliver tangible outcomes and we look forward to progressing these ideas together.”
The Essex academics taking part in the projects are: Dr Cara Booker, Dr Chaminda Wijethilake, Dr Kakia Chatsiou, Clare Hammerton, Sally Burrows, Dr Yanchun Bao, Dr Andrew Harrison and Dr Yassir Rabhi.