Improving outcomes for young people: what lessons can we learn from Europe?

Blog posts

6 Oct 2022

Cristiana OrlandoCristiana Orlando, Health Foundation Research Fellow

The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt especially hard by young people. A year on from the onset of the pandemic, young people accounted for around two thirds of the total fall in employment since the start of the crisis, and youth unemployment was almost four times higher than the rest of the working-age population.

Since then the labour market has recovered, and the latest figures showed that youth unemployment is at record lows. However, the challenges we are now facing are quite different. The UK faces a recruitment crisis, with high vacancy levels across the labour market, long-term youth unemployment has started creeping up again with over a third of all unemployed young people being long-term unemployed; and we’re facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis, the impacts of which will be felt severely by young people and particularly the most disadvantaged.

In the latest output from the Better Quality Youth Employment research programme, which we are leading as part of the Health Foundation’s Young People Future Health Inquiry, we consider what the UK could learn from other countries to face the current challenges surrounding young people’s prospects and outcomes. We focus on what it means to build strong youth transition systems and look at what other countries have been doing to support young people to make successful journeys from education to employment. This work comes at a key time when there is increased need for knowledge sharing and awareness-raising, especially with the UK no longer part of most of the formal arrangements for sharing knowledge between European nations, and with the end of our participation in European Union (EU) funding.

Focusing on evidence from seven EU nations, with strong records on raising participation for young people and on evidence-led reforms, the research draws together a range of examples and case studies on how other countries are working to improve outcomes for young people and support transitions into employment and learning. The evidence collected in the research provides practical pointers and examples for those who are making policy, commissioning or delivering services for young people here in the UK.

Despite the diversity of approaches across the seven countries we reviewed, there are similarities and shared elements. Some similarities in types of transition support offered to young people are also present in the UK, which is not surprising as we often face similar challenges and opportunities. In particular, all countries emphasise the importance of tailored and personalised support, effective one-to-one coaching and mentoring, strong local partnerships and collaboration, targeted provision for specific groups of at-risk young people, labour market and employer insight, and going beyond just the delivery of jobs and training support.

However, there are also a number of distinctive differences in other countries’ approaches. In particular, the research highlights that in many cases, our European neighbours have strong institutional partnerships that can bring together key agencies, services and partners to define local priorities, develop operational policy and co-ordinate local delivery. This ‘devolution’ however is also invariably within clear and stable national institutional frameworks. These frameworks serve to translate national policy to local priorities and needs, and develop arrangements that support practice sharing, learning and innovation. In the UK we have a very centralised employment and skills systems. However, despite this level of investment, this centralised approach often fails to meet local needs, often due to funding siloes, fragmented institutional processes, and mechanisms that lead to duplication of services and efforts.

A further common thread across case study countries is the emphasis on approaches that are both targeted and inclusive: targeted often on supporting groups who are at greatest risk of exclusion; but inclusive in then identifying and engaging young people regardless of what benefit they claim or educational and institutional setting that they are in – whether that is through one stop shops, or through integrated employment, careers and skills support. Recent experience from the Kickstart programme in the UK shows that many young people have potentially missed out on support, both because Kickstart was not designed to tackle the disadvantages faced by particular groups of young people on Universal Credit, and because only those claiming benefits were eligible for the programme, excluding a large chunk of young people who would have greatly benefitted from the scheme.  

The case studies and lessons in this report are intended to provide examples of the range of approaches being taken to address what are often common challenges across countries, and to give pointers on what may be working and what could be learnt from the four UK nations. The aim of this work is to contribute to the wider debate on how we might more fundamentally reform our approach to how we support young people in future – to support greater collaboration, clearer accountabilities, stronger local partnerships, and more inclusive, accessible and effective services, particularly for marginalised young people.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.