Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Advertorial: in association with Youth Futures Foundation

How to solve youth unemployment

Tailored help to work should be a key part of regional policy offers.

By Sarah Yong

In this general election year, there will be much debate on which long-standing public policy challenges should get prime focus with limited public funds. High on this list should be youth employment and, in particular, a renewed focus on reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (Neet).

The case is clear: the number of Neet young people has remained stubbornly high for 20 years. At present, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Neets sits at 851,000, a rise of 2.5 per cent over the past year. Our evidence suggests that if the UK matched the lowest Neet rate in the OECD, that of the Netherlands, then by unleashing the full potential of more young people we could add £69bn to our GDP over the long term.

We are part of the government’s What Works Network, a cluster of nine independent organisations aimed at sharing best practice in public   services. Youth Futures Foundation, defined as the What Works Centre for youth employment, plays a key role in helping national and local government and employers understand how to unlock the employment potential of marginalised young people.

We know thatwhere a young person lives matters – from the schools and colleges they have access to, to the opportunities in the local labour market, what employment support is available, their access to transport and so much more. All of this shapes how the Neet and unemployment challenge plays out locally for marginalised young people.

Unsurprisingly then, our evidence tells us that locally tailored and contextualised responses are important. If designed well, the political consensus on devolving greater powers brings exciting opportunities to develop and deliver these kinds of solutions.

We would highlight three takeaways from our evidence, insights and learning.

Partnerships and support

Joined up, sustainable partnerships that address critical local issues and barriers are vital to enabling integrated employment support for marginalised young people. In our flagship, place-based programme, Connected Futures, we work with partnerships across ten locations in England. Each partnership is delivering a place-based approach to tackling youth employment challenges.

This means bringing health, care and criminal justice agencies, employers, housing providers and others to the table – alongside young people – so we can draw on the full range of unique strengths and opportunities in each place to develop specific solutions to those challenges.

From Blackpool to Brent, all of our partnerships are focused on different geographic footprints in different places, including individual neighbourhoods and estates, local authorities and larger regional footprints. In Blackpool, the partnership is focusing on reorienting the curriculum towards employment, after a lack of awareness about local opportunities was identified through consultations with young people, parents and teachers. This has led to new collaborations between schools, colleges and employers.

The Blackpool partnership is also developing a data-driven approach to understanding which young people are most at risk of long-term unemployment in the future. This enables schools and other agencies to identify young people early and help them with individually tailored preventative interventions.

Local contextualised data

Regional differences mean that national data, such as unemployment rates, can mask real needs in specific communities. Real-time local data on factors such as employment, industry trends and skills gaps, as well as young people’s characteristics and skills, is essential for regional and local governments to make evidence-based decisions and provide support for marginalised young people that’s tailored to local opportunities and challenges.

While much local data is already available, contextualising and understanding it isn’t always easy. That’s why, in collaboration with Open Innovations, we launched our Data Dashboard – a free online resource giving quick and practical access to the most up-to-date statistics, labour market data and our own research. This allows for at-a-glance views by local authority area, supporting better-informed choices. In our Connected Futures programme, we are also helping the partnerships with specialist technical support to interpret and analyse data, identify trends and opportunities, and develop local solutions in response.

Youth participation

Young people who are most affected by barriers have invaluable perspectives and experiences, all of which can help shape effective solutions; yet often they are absent from conversations.

Our Connected Futures partnerships have intentionally recognised local marginalised young people as valid experts in identifying problems and potential solutions. Young people can hear the experiences of their peers, share findings and ideas with professionals, and jointly make decisions about solutions.

Leon from Hastings told us that “the project has not only had an impact on me and my family but the community too. Young people are feeling listened to and you can see stakeholders really starting to be engaged, and listening to us as young people.”

As well as the positive feedback from young people involved, employers, service providers and local political and community leaders tell us that young people have brought fresh ideas and ways of thinking that they would never otherwise have come up with.

This article first appeared in a Spotlight print report on Economic Growth, published on 3 May 2024. Read it in full here.

Topics in this article :