Lifting the lid on the Youth Employment Toolkit: using the right tools for a challenging task

Blog posts

5 Jul 2023

Becci Newton

Becci Newton, Director, Public Policy Research

Follow @beccinewton13

As the Youth Futures Foundation launches its new Youth Employment Toolkit today, it is good to reflect on the starting points and where this new tool could lead. Myself, Alexandra Nancarrow and Dan Muir at IES and Ellie Ott and a team at the Centre for Evidence and Implementation and Monash University have been pleased to support the development of the toolkit; not least as the end goal is to improve the evidence available about interventions that support better employment outcomes for marginalised young people. Achieving this would bring a range of individual and societal economic and social benefits and avoid substantial costs, so it has to be a focus for policy and practice.

Social researchers have led truly excellent analysis over many years into the causes and consequences of non-participation in education and work. This shows for example, intergenerational effects between young people’s employment outcomes and those of their parents - young people who have lived in workless households are more likely to be out-of-work themselves. There is also a 13 percentage point employment gap between less and more advantaged young people which demonstrates the difficulties of overcoming a challenging start to life in our labour market. We have long known the scarring effects of being inactive at a young age, and without rectification, these scars pass down.

We also know that young people see poorer outcomes in the labour market, relative to older workers. Even in the current tight labour market, young people are struggling to secure jobs. And while longer term trends show some improvement in employment rates overall, this is not necessarily to good quality work - even well qualified young people have to job hop through low quality work to reach their career goal. But getting in is the important first step and with a million young people either workless or inactive in June this year – that is 15% of all young people, the release of the toolkit could not be more timely.

Improving young people’s preparedness for the labour market has been a long-standing goal of UK policy, and the results from some of the toolkit analysis support this. The current reviews have synthesised the existing, international evidence base thematically and using innovative forms of meta-analysis to provide insights into impactful practices covering subsidies to employers; apprenticeships; on-the-job training, including traineeships and structured internships; off-the-job training, predominately classroom-based technical and vocational training; basic skills focused on literacy, numeracy, and digital skills; life skills and softer skills; and mentoring and coaching. Recognising that employment support is often a package of elements, a component network meta-analysis was used to understand the effect of the different forms of training. Impactful elements are identified in subsidies (please see my colleague’s companion blog on wage subsidies and youth employment), off the job training and mentoring and coaching.

Improving educational attainment is on a causal pathway to improving skills for work, and employment. However, despite policies such as raising the participation age, and the 50% target for HE, around 5% of 16-17 year olds still do not participate at the age of 16, and the proportion of 17-18-year-olds entering the ‘not in employment, education and training’ status has proved intractable, despite 180,000 now entering higher education studies. Additionally, more time in education does not straightforwardly mean more attainment and skills. Many young people leave post-16 studies not having achieved a Level 3 qualification and around 17% do not achieve Level 2 by the age of 18.

Many of those outside of education just want a job, and there has been less progress on what best achieves and supports their transitions into work, particularly where they have low skill levels to offer to employers. This may, in part, reflect the complexity of the youth employment system, with fragmented responsibilities and practices depending on the agencies young people are in touch with, as well as policy changes, such as those to apprenticeship levels and funding, which have unanticipated consequences.

The toolkit moves us on from the description of those most at risk, and the nature of the risks they face, to how we can take action to support them to see better outcomes. It increases the intelligence we have on the specific elements of youth employment support that are effective, especially, for the most marginalised amongst them. Through using the information in the Youth Employment Toolkit, there is potential to improve policy design as well as employment support and education practices; as such, IES is pleased to be part of such an influential approach.

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