Case study: a sustainable approach to securing the next generation of leaders at OnSide

by Oct 27, 2022Case studies

OnSide logo

The youth work sector has faced significant challenges in recent years, with a billion-pound reduction in investment and a depleting pool of talent in senior leadership.

Year awarded 2022
Region Bolton
Size <50 employees
Sector Charities

members across the network

visits made to Youth Zones each year

Embracing challenges

Youth-focused charity OnSide embraced these challenges, through a programme focused on addressing the senior leadership problem, whilst simultaneously promoting employee sustainability and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

OnSide’s mission is to empower young people to lead positive, fulfilling lives by providing access to incredible spaces and exceptional youth work, delivered by outstanding people, where they are needed the most. The charity fund, build, launch and support a national network of state-of-the-art, multimillion-pound Youth Zones in the UK’s most economically disadvantaged areas. There are currently 14 Youth Zones in the Network with more in development, there are over 50,000 members across the Network and 650,000 visits are made to Youth Zones each year.

A sustainable approach

OnSide established the Aspiring Leaders programme to invest in their own people, grow their own talent from within, and to retain strong senior leaders. As Zahra Naqvi, Talent Academy Manager, explained: “It is important to have credible and visible role models so we need a high-performing sustainable workforce, that is in the best interests of the thousands of young people that we serve.”

OnSide demonstrates a compelling enthusiasm for promoting the personal and professional skills of its employees and rewarding their dedication to providing the best for young people. Naqvi commented “as an organisation we’re always trying to raise the bar in youth work. We know that we can harness that passion and experience of the amazing youth workers we have, supporting their career development for the benefit of the wider sector”.

Investment in OnSide employees’ career development has resulted in the organisation exceeding all targets, with promotion and placement figures at 82%, and retention rates at an impressive 89%.

Rewarding and supporting employees dedicated to young people

The programme learners are keen to commend the ongoing support they receive throughout and feel supported and encouraged from their line managers. They have the opportunity to put their learning into practice and are allocated additional responsibilities which facilitate their growth into more senior roles.

The expansion of digitalisation and social learning is a current priority for the organisation, providing further learner support, with learner collaboration encouraged through social media. The development of a digital road map for the future also provides learners with access to resources at the point in which they need them.

An inclusive learning culture for all

Alongside its commitment to employee sustainability, the programme demonstrates a clear dedication to diversity and inclusion. OnSide’s EDI Policy is embedded in their approach to learning, with delivery tailored to the needs of individuals with different learning styles, physical and neurodiversity or challenging personal circumstances.

OnSide’s EDI strategy doesn’t end with supporting people with disabilities. Its inclusive approach addresses gender, ethnicity, menopause, and candidates from underrepresented communities or with criminal records. There is a clear commitment to supporting all individuals, to creating an environment where everyone feels valued and respected and where difference is celebrated.

We want OnSide to be an organisation that makes the most of individuals’ unique backgrounds and experiences and we operate very clearly under our principles of fairness, respect, equality, diversity, inclusion, and empathy for colleagues and all of our stakeholders.
Zahra Naqvi, Talent Academy Manager

These principles are integral to the assessment criteria for the Aspiring Leaders programme for future CEOs and managers and Aspiring Leaders are asked to sign up to these principles, ensuring employee commitment to the values of the organisation.

Mental health benefits filtering down

Additional positive mental health benefits have been reported by the Aspiring Leaders, with Ria Meredith, Talent Academy Officer, stating that: “Over the duration of the programme, their confidence has increased massively and there has been a positive effect on their work and home life.”

With happier and more positive role models casting a positive shadow on their teams, OnSide has witnessed a filtering down of mental health benefits to the learners’ teams, subsequently enhancing retention in a sector commonly associated with high levels of employee turnover and demonstrating the broader impact of its Aspiring Leaders programme.

AL grad 2022


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