Public Services > Education

Tackling youth unemployment – is it time to dig deeper?

Published 21 September 2017

There are challenges to overcome in keeping youth unemployment figures falling. Graham Kavanagh, chief product officer at Capita One, examines the issues and talks about how local authorities are tackling them


Social, cultural, attitudinal or economic – the reasons why some young people are not in education, employment or training are as complex as they are varied.

There are geographical nuances that can come into play too.  

In one area, low academic achievement or rising crime rates could have an impact on youth unemployment, in another area, deprivation or speaking English as a second language might be at the heart of the matter. 

The initiatives local authorities have introduced to tackle youth employment in recent years are having an impact – the latest government figures reveal that just 11.1% of 16 to 24-year-olds are now not in education, employment or training (Neet), compared with 16.2% five years ago.

Such a multifaceted issue is never going to have a simple, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. So, what are local authorities doing to help reduce youth unemployment? And how can they keep the number of jobless young people falling?

Starting early

The work often starts well before a child reaches Year 11. Those councils tackling youth unemployment most effectively are likely to have spent time lower down the school to understand the extra challenges their most vulnerable children face, so that provision can be put in place to help them get the most out of their school years.

To get a clear picture of what’s affecting the job prospects of young people in their area, councils are increasingly turning to schools. Staff analyse information such as historical attendance or achievement figures from a previous Neet cohort and dig down into details of exclusions to identify the key risk factors that might increase the chances of a child ending up out of education, employment or training in later life. Other factors that can have an impact will be looked at too, such as whether or not the child is looked-after or in residential care.

Risk factors vary from area to area so in some councils, being a teenage parent can increase the likelihood that they will disengage from learning. In another it could be tracked back to children with lower attainment in the early years.

Knowing what the issues are puts council staff in a stronger position to take action that will keep vulnerable children on track with their learning throughout their school years.  And the greatest success is often achieved in local authorities where ‘vulnerability’ reports are run on a regular basis. Changing circumstances, such as an unexpected period of absence or a bereavement in the family, could have an impact on a child’s progress in school. By running regular reports over time, staff can flag when dips in achievement occur and can put support in place to prevent individuals and groups from falling through the net.

The September Guarantee

Early intervention can help councils put the right support in place, at the right time, to make a difference. However once young people near the end of their school years, early prevention work is focused on meeting the requirements of initiatives such as the September Guarantee, a government-led pledge for all school-leavers to be offered an education or training opportunity by the end of September.

To deliver on the September Guarantee, councils need an effective way to capture a range of information about all young people in their area leaving school. This includes their intended destination – further education, a part-time training placement or an opportunity that combines volunteering with an apprenticeship, for example. It is also vital to know if the offer has been accepted, the young person is undecided or they have refused the opportunity. That way, alternative pathways can be identified, wherever possible.

Some local authorities take this a step further by putting strategies in place to ensure that young people take up the opportunities they have been offered. With their permission, staff might follow school leavers up by phone, or via social media, to keep their records up to date.

But having data sharing agreements in place with a range of organisations – schools, colleges, training providers and employers – can help ensure authority staff have the latest details of a young person’s situation.

Uncovering and removing barriers

The most important step for identifying and engaging with the hard-to-reach is to follow up on those young people who have not turned up at the college they were expected to join, or have failed to take up the training opportunity offered to them.  

Some local authorities do this by phone and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, can also help. I know of one authority that makes a home visit to any young person who has not taken up an educational or training placement.

There is often a reason behind this – the young person’s circumstances have changed, for example, they have had a change of heart or they have started caring for a family member who has recently fallen ill. With the right support, the local authority could prevent them from joining the Neet statistics and put them on the road to a happy and fulfilling career in the future.

Over and above the headline fall in the youth unemployment statistics, the reality is that some young people face more complex barriers than others trying to find their place in the world.

By identifying them and putting the support in place to keep them engaged, local authorities stand the best chance of securing them a bright and successful future. The benefits of achieving this, for the young person, their family – and society as a whole – cannot be underestimated.  

Graham Kavanagh is chief product officer at Capita One

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