Features: November 15th, 2017

Graham Kavanagh, chief product officer at Capita One, discusses the challenges around tackling youth unemployment and looks at some of the ways local authorities are keeping the numbers moving in the right direction.

There’s no single answer to the question of how local authorities keep young people in education, employment or training after the school years. A complex mix of factors can contribute to the issue – such as deprivation, low aspiration or a history of poor attendance in school.

Nonetheless, the latest government figures remain encouraging. They 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.

So, what initiatives have worked well for local authorities? And how can they continue to drive youth unemployment down?

Working with schools

Many councils have introduced initiatives to tackle youth unemployment well before a child leaves school, following the maxim that prevention is better than cure.

To do this effectively, the first task is to understand what issues put young people at greater risk of being out of education, employment or training. These factors will vary from area to area. One way local authorities gain insight into how they can work with schools to improve outcomes for young people is to scrutinise historical data from previous cohorts of these young people.

For some local authorities, being excluded from school has been found to be a key factor that can prevent a child from reaching their full potential. For others, it might be having English as a second language. More broadly, councils may also find that whether or not a child is looked-after has an impact on their future employment prospects.

Knowing the issues affecting outcomes for young people can put council staff in a stronger position to take action that will help to keep children on track with their learning throughout the school years. This might be an overhaul of the council’s alternative education provision for children excluded from school, or a school-wide initiative to boost the achievement of looked-after children or those whose first language is not English.

Whatever the key issues, being able to pinpoint them and work closely with schools to address them has been an important first step in many local authorities that have been successful in improving the life chances of young people in their area.

Delivering on the September Guarantee

As the end of Year 11 draws near, councils focus 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 support this, councils need 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 for staff 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.

With data sharing agreements in place with a range of organisations – schools, colleges, training providers and employers – local authorities can help ensure that staff with the appropriate authorisation have the latest details of a young person’s situation to hand.

But, what can staff do when someone does not turn up at the college they were expected to join or the training placement offered to them? Many local authorities take a proactive approach to finding out why.

Engaging with the hard-to-reach

There could be any number of reasons why a young person might not take up an offer under the September Guarantee. The issue could be circumstantial – they have had to start caring for a family member who has fallen ill unexpectedly, for example. They may have had a change of heart or been unable to meet the necessary transport costs. This is where the local authority can make a real difference.

By understanding the issues, the council can put the right support in place, at the right time to prevent the most vulnerable children and young people from becoming jobless in the future.

This targeted support might be all that is needed to help local authorities keep the Neet figures falling and put young people on the road to a happy and fulfilling career.