The severity of the global recession in 2008-09 and austerity measures that followed have caused policymakers and practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic to think differently about how to address common challenges. All cities have been affected to varying extents by widening economic divides, rising youth unemployment, and an increasingly constrained public funding environment.

Younger generations entering the labour market today face different challenges compared to previous generations. Changing demographics, the increasing number of graduates and the changing shape of the labour market will all impact on young people’s employment prospects, particularly those without higher-level qualifications. This is coupled with rapid technological change that brings greater uncertainty as it changes the world of work in ways that we cannot fully comprehend. Youth unemployment was rising long before the recession and is unlikely to drop significantly as a result of the economic recovery alone.

City policymakers and practitioners increasingly recognise the need to work in partnership to address these challenges, and are collaborating in a variety of ways to ensure programmes are responsive to the needs of employers and individuals, and ultimately improve outcomes. With youth unemployment recently reaching all-time highs and in anticipation of further austerity measures in the UK, this report explores collaborative youth employment initiatives in eight US cities with distinctive labour market challenges to identify the factors that lead to effective intervention.

Collaborative working in the field of youth employment support has taken a variety of forms in US cities in part due to the role of the state relative to other actors and comparatively high levels of city autonomy. The redistributive function of US government spending and relatively low levels of spending on welfare in the US means that private citizens and philanthropic organisations play a more significant role in funding workforce development or employment support activities. US cities have greater fiscal autonomy compared to UK cities giving them greater flexibility and more room to innovate. In addition, the blend of public and private funding allows cities to plug gaps in provision and experiment with new ways of working. Yet funding for programmes often falls short of the level required for provision to reach the majority of youth and adults in need of assistance.

Experience in US cities shows that collaboration can achieve better outcomes by allowing partners to: address the complex issues facing young people; meet employer demand; increase the accessibility of services and create new pathways into employment in a more effective and efficient way while improving their own financial stability.

But some partnerships have been more successful than others. The most effective ones have high levels of employer engagement and direct involvement from employers. Successful collaborations also have strong leadership; shared and measurable goals; support from an intermediary organisation; and monitoring and evaluation systems that encourage continuous engagement and best practice sharing.

Funders and policymakers also have an important role to play in ensuring that the wider policy and funding environment enables and supports collaborative working.
Several recommendations for UK cities and local partners emerge from the study.

Combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) should:

  • Ensure strong local leadership and structures are in place to bring cross-sector leaders together with shared goals to improve young people’s employment prospects, and maintain their active engagement;
  • Use evidence and employer engagement to establish a narrow set of clearly defined and shared goals centred around youth employment;
  • Leverage from a more diverse set of funding streams, including private sector investment;
  • Designate an intermediary body (either the Combined Authority or the local Chamber, for example) to foster public-private relationships on a city-wide scale, engaging with employers with a clear offer of how they can get involved;
  • Ensure that supporting infrastructure – data, performance management systems and a coordinating body – are in place to support the collaboration;
  • Share data and monitor programme performance in an open and transparent way and consider pooling resources with other cities to fund the robust evaluation of similar initiatives.

Businesses, local Chambers of Commerce and other business representative bodies should:

  • Get involved with, and where appropriate lead, the design and delivery of city-led youth employment initiatives that are delivered during the next Parliament;
  • Work with Combined Authorities and LEPs to develop a city-wide offer for work experience and work-based learning in collaboration with schools and other learning providers.

Funders and policymakers need to create tools and incentives to enable and support collaboration. National governments in the UK should:

  • Devolve commissioning of the post-2016 Work Programme and any subsequent youth employment programmes to cities;
  • Implement Community Budgets to allow cities to join services up around young people;
  • Commit long term to establishing partnerships to improve outcomes for young people;
  • Support evaluation of the most promising city initiatives to assess whether they should and can be replicated elsewhere;
  • Improve cities’ access to quality labour market intelligence by investing in research and real-time databases, and by sharing more administrative data (DWP and HMRC specifically) with local partners;
  • Explore ways to better align central government department programmes and delivery bodies with each other and with local partners.