Focus on Outcomes of youth employability initiatives


Governments, training and education providers, and community-based organisations are keen to help young people, especially youth 'not in employment, education or training' (NEET), develop skills and knowledge to enable them to gain employment, reach their full potential and make positive contributions to their communities. Across the world, skills training, career guidance and other targeted initiatives aim to help young people gain the skills and knowledge they need to attain employment. While these initiatives are created with the best of intentions, it is imperative that they are evaluated to determine if they deliver the intended outcomes.

This Focus on… presents a sample of research that evaluates the outcomes of various initiatives conducted over the last 10 years.

Training and skill development

Training and skill development programs to aid in the employability of young people may be government initiated, larger-scale programs, or they may be smaller programs developed and provided by non-government, community-based organisations.

Youth Service: Not in Employment, Education or Training (YS:NEET) is a New Zealand Government initiative designed to assist disadvantaged 16-17 year olds to stay in education or training. In this program, community-based social service providers are contracted to support young people to enter or remain in education, training, or work-based learning, achieving a certain level of qualification and developing skills that will reduce the potential of them transitioning to working-age benefit. As part of their evaluation of this program, Dixon and Crichton examine the impact the program has on the participants' outcomes using longitudinal data. From their study, the authors conclude that while there is modest positive impact on sustained studying, the program did not raise participants' employment rates and the receipt of benefits was slightly raised.

In 2012, Australian community-based organisation Brotherhood of St Laurence ran a two part pilot program consisting of a Certificate 1 in Developing Independence (DI) for young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, to help them engage in education, training and employment. The first part was conducted online, while the second was delivered by a trainer in-person. The Certificate aimed to build on existing skills and capabilities and encouraged students to develop a personal vision and plan for the future. In his evaluation of the pilot, Myconos observes that completion rates for Pilot 1 were less than Pilot 2, mainly due to its remote delivery compared to the 'wrap-around support' of Pilot 2. Myconos argues that formal outcomes provide a limited view of the program, with participants valuing intangible outcomes including developing life goals and plans, more independence and confidence.

New York City's Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO)'s Young Adult Literacy (YAL) program aims to improve the work-ready skills of young people who are not in employment, education or training and who have very low literacy skills. In 2013 the program was delivered across 17 sites and consisted of 15 hours of literacy and numeracy instruction over a year. Support services, life skills and work-readiness training were also provided. Hossain and Terwelp's evaluation presents findings that reveal that the YAL program fills a gap for disadvantaged young people needing to improve academic and employment skills.

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Career guidance

Career guidance: the missing link in school to work transitions argues that 'effective career guidance in high schools can improve the transition from education to employment for young people, especially for those experiencing disadvantage. Benefits include increased engagement with education, improved employment prospects and an increase in social capital and wellbeing'. Similar motivations and objectives for providing career guidance services are found throughout the world. Evaluations of career guidance programs and services have been undertaken to determine what they accomplish.

A conversation that never stops: an indicative study of the Parents As Career Transitions Support program in Australia highlights the significant role parents play in supporting their children to make informed decisions in their career pathway planning. The Parents as Career Transition Support (PACTS) program provided parents with up-to-date information related to their children's transitions to post-compulsory education, training and work. The evaluation of the PACTS program found that it built parents confidence to support their children's transition decisions and helped parents to navigate complex post-school systems.

An impact assessment of career guidance services for technical school students in Egypt found that 94 per cent of the surveyed beneficiaries were satisfied with the career guidance services they received and rated them as beneficial or very beneficial, whereas only 6 per cent rated them as not beneficial. The majority of beneficiaries (89 per cent) stated that career guidance helped them achieve some of their personal goals by boosting their self-confidence, and taught them how to behave in a job interview. Beneficiaries also stated that career guidance taught them how to make career decisions (88 per cent), helped them identify their strengths (87 per cent), and enhanced their ability to become more informed about available job opportunities in the labour market (79 per cent).

The National Careers Service (NCS) in England provides anyone aged 13 and over with access to up to date, impartial information and professional guidance on careers, skills and the labour market through an online service and telephone helpline. An economic evaluation of the National Careers Service could not identify a positive impact of the NCS on employment or benefit dependency outcomes but could identify a relatively strong positive effect in relation to education and training that persisted across the entire post-support period for NCS beneficiaries.

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NEET and 'special needs'

Young people with special needs face additional barriers to successful participation in education, training and employment and in making their transition into sustainable livelihoods. Special needs may arise from various circumstances, such as a disability, social and/or educational disadvantage, or displacement caused by conflict or migration. As a result, these young people may also be not in education, employment or training (NEET). Programs to help these young people can provide holistic services that address education and training needs along with social support and life skills.

The Australian Ticket to Work initiative originated in 2011 with the goal of harnessing community support to facilitate successful pathways to employment for young people with intellectual disability. The Ticket to Work model prepares young people with disability for the workplace and provides employment pathways like those of other young people. Disability-specific and mainstream partners from a range of sectors collaborate to provide workplace experience for young people while still in school. A pilot outcomes study was published in 2016 and, although the sample size for the quasi-experimental outcomes analysis was too small to be conclusive, results were promising. Participants were found to have higher rates of participation in education and training, higher qualifications and employment rates. Based on their work experiences, they had developed aspirations for their futures, were more socially included and had a more positive view of themselves as workers.

In response to the employment challenges faced by young people, especially in hard economic times, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided funding to the Indian and Native American (INA) Summer Youth Employment Initiative in 2009-2010. INA grantees developed new and existing summer youth employment (SYE) programs serving at-risk American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian youth. An evaluation of the initiative found that sites could implement funds quickly and effectively using existing well-established SYE programs and relationships with employers and other community partners. Both participants and their employers perceived SYE programs as highly beneficial to themselves and their communities. Young people reported the boost to their self-esteem, careers, and life goals. However, opportunities to transition youth to permanent employment were limited although some young people found ongoing jobs. Most programs were not able to provide follow-up services despite demand for them.

Displaced youth are at a heightened risk of lacking employment, literacy and life skills because their education has been severely disrupted by conflict and migration. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Youth Education Packs (YEP) target youth in post-conflict zones and aim to facilitate access to job and income generating activities. Young people, primarily returnees and internally displaced, are able to acquire basic vocational skills needed in local labour markets or to access further professional training, to become functionally literate, and to develop knowledge and awareness of life skills relating to, amongst others, health, conflict resolution, gender and business. An evaluation of YEP projects in Afghanistan beginning in 2010 found that, although limited in scope, compared with non-beneficiaries, YEP had a clear positive impact on youth employment and income with 76 per cent of beneficiaries reporting earning money as opposed to 24 per cent of non-beneficiaries. Additionally, YEP had significant social impact, particularly for women, with participants better positioned for the future in terms of resilience and self-reliance. Although implementation was successful overall, trainer preparedness and the selection of relevant vocational skills were identified as significant challenges.

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Opinion pieces and news items


Published: February 2018