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Everyone’s talking about youth unemployment in the run up to the General Election. But this isn’t a new challenge – young people have long struggled to make successful transitions from school to work, and youth unemployment was rising long before the recession. Numerous approaches have been taken in the past with limited success in addressing the multiple and diverse barriers faced by young people, while also responding to the needs of employers. Addressing these issues is made all the more challenging by the austerity measures that are set to continue in the next Parliament, regardless of which party gets into power. All of this means it’s time for something new – our latest research looks across the Atlantic for inspiration.
Youth Opportunity explores youth employment initiatives in eight US cities. These cities – with higher levels of autonomy and a more diverse range of funding sources compared to the UK – have formed a variety of collaborative partnerships in order to address these shared challenges.
The extent to which the private sector invests in city-based initiatives is particularly striking. The New York City Workforce Funders (a group of 40 private funders) invested $29 million in youth services in the city in 2013, for example. Nothing of comparable scale or nature happens in UK cities. A growing number of organisations in the US are also working directly with employers and a number of different models have emerged.
These forms of collaboration mean that – alongside more effectively addressing the complex needs of young people and responding to employer demand – partners have increased the accessibility of services and created new pathways for young people.
The level of experimentation and variety of different approaches being taken in US cities means that there is also a growing understanding of what works. The Centre for Economic Opportunity in New York has piloted close to 70 anti-poverty initiatives – many with a strong emphasis on youth – since its inception in 2006, with programmes closely monitored from the outset. The federal government are also learning from city-based initiatives. Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) is evaluating nine career pathways programmes across the country using randomised assignment – widely viewed as the gold standard in impact evaluation.
The experience in the US raises some important questions for UK cities and policymakers. Despite some progress in this area, it is unrealistic to expect any significant improvement in outcomes among young people in the UK without stakeholders taking a more joined-up approach – and the business community becoming far more involved in designing, delivering and funding initiatives. Reductions in government spending creates additional urgency for cross-sector leaders to come together to deliver solutions, and provide a real imperative to encourage greater levels of experimentation and improved evaluation of initiatives undertaken.
There are real gains to be realised by looking at the kinds of initiatives being implemented in the US. Overall, they show that cities have to ensure that strong leadership and structures are in place to bring cross-sector leaders together and maintain their active engagement. Data can have a critical role to play here; it can catalyse action and help partners understand where to channel their resources. The levels of autonomy afforded to cities in the US can’t be ignored either. National policymakers in the UK must create the tools and incentives to enable and support cities – including devolving any future youth employment programmes to cities. Business as usual will not provide the solutions to the UK’s youth unemployment challenge.
Policy and Research Manager
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