The BRIDGE project focused on Rotterdam South, the most deprived area in the Netherlands. This is a diverse locality of 200,000 people, with lower-than-average education levels and significantly higher unemployment rates. As Europe’s biggest port, with an economy heavily based on carbon and energy intensive sectors like logistics and shipping, the Next Economy has major implications for Rotterdam. Amongst these is the threat of widening inequalities, as the most deprived people lack the information and guidance required to make future career choices in line with the changing economy and its growth sectors.
BRIDGE is about breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty. It set out to address this by encouraging children in Rotterdam South to select vocational educational pathways likely to lead to employment in these growth sectors. Specifically, it promoted opportunities in the technical, port and health sectors, through a series of interventions available to all primary schools in the area.
This was a varied menu that included light touch activities such as day visits to the port combined with more ambitious mechanisms like the innovative Career Start Guarantee (CSG). Through this, employers guarantee a career start to Rotterdam South pupils who have achieved an agreed level of vocational qualification in their industry sector. The number of CSGs rose from 360 at the start of BRIDGE to 702 on its completion in late 2019. There was also an increase in pupil registrations for courses linked to CSGs from 272 in 2017/18 to 727 in 2020/21.
BRIDGE involved all of the key stakeholders. Employers were actively on board, often driven by a growing awareness of the competition for talent in fast changing industry sectors, and the need to improve their relationships with the education sector. Schools and teachers were also central components, and the project illuminated the need to raise awareness levels around the changing word of work and the educational implications. Although notoriously difficult to connect with, parents were also brought on board through outreach activity and the support of resources to help improve their children’s career choices. Finally, children and young people were active agents, as local mentors and participants.
BRIDGE was responsible for a major shift in career choices amongst the target population. In 2011/12 32.6% of children in Rotterdam South opted for careers in the Port, Technical and Health sectors. By 2019/29 this had risen to 46%, overtaking the average rate for the Dutch 4 cities. Its success has been scaled in two significant ways. First, it has been extended to all schools in Rotterdam and secondly it has influenced the design of the city’s innovative new Work Learning Agreements, supporting adult employment pathways.