What works in youth employment partnerships: learning from evidence and improving practice

Blog posts

17 Jun 2021

Cristiana OrlandoCristiana Orlando, Health Foundation Research Fellow

Young people’s journeys towards good quality work start with the support pathways that lead them to employment, which require coherent and coordinated partnership approaches to achieve successful outcomes. As we emerge from the pandemic, new and strengthened interventions are being delivered to support youth employment, which rely strongly on cross-sector and inter-agency work – from Kickstart, to Restart and Youth Hubs, partnership work is a key component for success.

However, developing effective youth employment partnerships is easier said than done. Partnership journeys are complex in general, requiring time, resources, and capacity to build and strengthen relationships, streamline communication and processes, integrate different ways of working and organisational cultures, build shared knowledge and understanding, bring partners on board and keep them engaged, among other factors. There are then some distinctive aspects to youth employment partnerships tied to their unique role of supporting young people. 

Young people experience multiple transitions during the years generally between 14 and 25, and disruptions and negative experiences at these points can cause long-lasting scarring effects, with factors increasing the risk of becoming long-term NEET often overlapping with those resulting from being NEET. To tackle these complex issues, youth employment partnerships are required to use multidimensional and highly dynamic approaches, often involving tightly linked nets of support that extend beyond employment. These partnerships also work across more fronts compared to others, engaging young people to build their skills and resilience, employers to change attitudes towards youth employment, educators to bridge gaps between school and work, and a wide range of support services to maximise outreach and source the right provision to minimise risks of young people falling through the gaps. 

These factors highlight the added complexities which organisations addressing youth employment need to navigate, and the key role that partnership plays in supporting the development of effective and good quality provision. Besides their vital role in addressing complex issues which no one organisation can tackle on their own, youth employment partnerships also bring a range of added benefits. They help partner organisations increase their capacity, make room for innovation, improve the quality of support on offer to young people, increase the financial sustainability of interventions, and decrease service fragmentation by fostering productive environments for dialogue, joint work, and the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and resources.

As part of the Health Foundation-funded project on improving access to good quality work, and in an effort to support stakeholders delivering the new and improved employment support measures, IES has developed a set of ‘what works’ resources, including a partnership guide and case study collection. The resources aim to support services looking to design and develop or improve delivery of youth employment interventions through effective partnership, and highlight both principles and practical steps in the process, as well as the empirical evidence from previous youth employment programmes that supports these. The evidence from these resources can be distilled into four key components to successful youth employment partnerships:  

  • Developing the partnership, which includes building a ‘true partnership’ ethos, joining forces as a result of a shared vision and commitment to young people and their interests rather than a perceived obligation; establishing no wrong doors through more systematic linking of services and less ‘vertical journeys’ through one gateway service at a time; joining up resources through service integration, and skills and knowledge sharing; involving young people in the design and development of the intervention; and considering the local context, including local labour markets and geography, and the opportunities and challenges it poses to youth employment. 
  • Managing the partnership, which includes developing effective referral practices by investing in relationship-building early on; ensuring good data governance, building trust between partners to support good data sharing practices; building in monitoring and evaluation processes from the start to assess the progress and impact of the partnership and intervention; and promoting positive relationships at every stage, maintaining open and regular communication across all levels and stages of the partnership.
  • Engaging young people, which includes building coherent pathways, focused on providing young people with a smooth journey and a key point of reference at all times; focusing on holistic approaches offering a package of services and wrap-around support, including both core (e.g. employment) and add-on (e.g. specialist) support; collaborating with a wide range of support and specialist services, to reach out to young people which do not usually engage with mainstream services; and embedding in-work support, through practical and emotional support to help young people sustain positive destinations.
  • Engaging employers, which includes developing varied and long-term approaches, giving employers choice and flexibility in their engagement,and coordinating and building engagement over time; investing in employer engagement through dedicated resources and staff; enhancing education and business links, providing shared platforms for education providers and employers to mutually influence employment and training provision; and focusing on quality at every stage of engagement with employers, discussing the provision of good quality opportunities ( fair hours and pay, stability, development, etc.) when brokering opportunities.

The resources provide practical, versatile, and flexible tools, which have been developed with a view to being adapted and accommodate different types of partnerships and interventions. The aim is to build and improve understanding of good practice using evidence-based learning and support as stakeholders embark on new service design and improvement journeys, promoting a stronger focus on good quality pathways for young people that lead to good quality opportunities in employment, education, and training.

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