Developing the Young Workforce evaluation: evidence synthesis

An evidence synthesis on Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) strategy.

1. Executive summary

1.1 Background and methodology

Developing the Young Workforce programme (DYW) is Scotland’s national youth employment strategy. DYW sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for a world-class vocational education system that supports young people to engage in work-relevant learning, attain industry-recognised qualifications and pursue sustained and successful career pathways. This evidence review, which has been carried out by the Scottish Government as part of the evaluation of Developing the Young Workforce programme (DYW), synthesises evidence collected over the seven-year duration of DYW (2014-2021).

The objectives of this review are to summarise the available evidence on DYW activity and outputs between 2014-2019, and to identify good practice examples and service delivery lessons arising from DYW activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The evidence review was conducted in autumn 2022 and comprised three phases: (1) review of key policy documentation; (2) data collection from internal and external partners; (3) documentary review and descriptive statistical analyses of the collected evidence. It drew on evidence originating from a wide range of published and unpublished documents, such as official statistics, surveys, websites, reports, policy documents, and the findings of DYW annual reports (2014 – 2019).

Practice examples of DYW implementation activities are also included in this report in the form of four case studies: work-relevant learning embedded in the curriculum across Scottish schools; Foundation Apprenticeships in Aberdeenshire; employer engagement in Ayrshire; alternative routes to positive post-school destinations in South Lanarkshire.

1.2 Key findings

1.2.1 Overview

The headline target of the DYW to reduce youth unemployment (excluding those in full-time education) by 40% by 2021 was achieved four years early, in 2017. The main successes of the DYW programme are manifested in the development and expansion of the provision of apprenticeships across all educational institutions, and year-on-year increases in the attainment of vocational qualifications at SCQF 5 or above. The continued challenges for vocational education and the wider DYW vision for youth education and employment are to increase employer engagement and positive destination attainment in under-represented groups of young people.

1.2.2 Work-relevant learning 3-18

In 2014-16, DYW was established, guidance documents were published and resources such as SQA Journeys and My World of Work were promoted. Key documents such as Education Delivery Plan - Delivering Equity and Excellence in Scottish Education, National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan and Education Governance: Next Steps affirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to DYW. In 2017-19, SDS began delivering an even more comprehensive range of career information advice and guidance (CIAG) services.

As shown in school Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations data, there were increases in the attainment of vocational qualifications at SCQF 5 or above every year (9% in 2014-15; 10.7% in 2015-16; 12.8% in 2016-17; 14.8% in 2017-18, 17.1% in 2018-19). In colleges, there were increases in the number of senior phase pupils who enrolled on, and completed, college courses, and who progressed into positive destinations between 2014 and 2021. According to 2020-21 College Leaver Destinations data, 91% of college leavers who completed a full-time course went into positive destinations. This amounts to an increase of 7.1 percentage points since the baseline year, 2014-15 (when the figure was 82.9%).

School staff and DYW stakeholders surveyed and interviewed in 2022 thought that DYW afforded young people access to a much broader range of work-based learning opportunities, positively impacted parents’ and young people’s views of work-based learning, and addressed educational and workplace inequalities (Scottish Government, 2023a and 2023b). They identified five facilitating factors for DYW: staff and leadership; teamwork; monitoring, resources and funding; partnerships with employers and colleges; parental and community involvement. Challenges to embracing DYW were also identified: staff capacity, skills and funding; co-ordination and information management, including information overload; geography and school type, with an emphasis on the unique challenges rural areas face; pupil needs and lack of incentivisation for participating in DYW activities; barriers to partnerships with employers and colleges such as those relating to a lack of employer awareness or buy-in to DYW.

1.2.3 Apprenticeships

The number of apprenticeships (Foundation, Graduate and Modern) developed and completed by young people increased between 2014-2019:

  • In 2014-15, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) developed two pilot foundation apprenticeships (also known as “pathfinders”), and recruited around 300 senior phase pupils from across 20 local authorities on them. SDS data shows that in 2016, more than 300 young people enrolled on Foundation Apprenticeships, and in 2017, more than 1,200 young people were enrolled on Foundation Apprenticeships. In 2018, 1,535 young people enrolled on a Foundation Apprenticeship. This represents an increase of over 1000 young people since 2014-15 (Scottish Government, 2015).
  • The delivery of Modern Apprenticeships exceeded the 25,500 MA target figure for new starts in 2015-16, providing 25,818 opportunities (SDS, 2021). The number of MA opportunities rose from 25,818 in 2015-16 to 26,262 in 2016-17. This corresponds to an increase of 1,986 from the baseline figure in 2013-14 (when new MA starts were 25,284) (SDS, 2020).
  • In 2017-18, SDS engaged with employers to develop a new apprenticeship opportunity at graduate level: the Graduate Apprenticeship (GA). Graduate Apprenticeships provide young people with an opportunity to participate in paid employment whilst gaining qualifications at SCQF levels 8-11. There were 277 GA starts in 2017-18, 920 starts in 2018-19, and 1,160 starts in 2019-20 (SDS, 2022).

The apprenticeship successes were supported by partnership efforts and the launch of the website, which connected potential apprentices with employers.

1.2.4 Employers

Employer engagement with DYW was supported through the formation of several national and regional groups. In 2014, the national Developing the Young Workforce Group – an expert group drawing expertise from industry, local government, education and trade unions – was launched alongside eight regional groups. In 2015-16, 17 additional regional groups were launched, and the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) was established to enhance the apprenticeship offer in Scotland through industry leadership. In 2016-17, better engagement between employers, schools and colleges was facilitated through the creation and implementation of a digital matching platform called Marketplace, an online tool hosted by SDS, connecting schools and colleges with business.

According to the 2018-19 DYW annual report, in 2018-19, DYW Regional Groups reported 2,350 partnerships at engagement level where employers engaged with schools to deliver one-off events (such as careers fayres), 1,099 partnerships at collaborating level, where employers and schools co-delivered projects, and 102 influencing partnerships, where employers participated in curriculum design and delivery. Based on this data, it is evident that all schools had some degree of school-employer partnerships in place.

However, according to the 2021 Scottish Employer Perspectives Survey 2021, employers need to be supported further to engage with DYW. Only 8% of employers had provided work placements or work inspiration activities to young people at school in 2021, and only 19% of employers offered apprenticeships to young people. The main limitations on employers engaging or doing more around the DYW agenda are: a lack of staff time and opportunity costs; communicating with schools; COVID-19; and negative perceptions of young people.

Employers report having skill shortages in both technical and soft skills, most commonly in specialist knowledge (58%) and self-management (58%); these skills should be developed in the future workforce through education, work experience or formal workplace training.

1.2.5 Equality and inclusion

To facilitate the equitable inclusion of young people in vocational education and support DYW implementation, DYW partners published action plans and developed projects to address specific challenges. Examples of key action plans include SDS’ “Modern Apprenticeship Equality Action Plan” (2014-15) and SFC’s 2019 Gender Action Plan (GAPs) (SFC, 2019).

Examples of equality-oriented projects included:

In December 2017, an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) reporting the progress of the DYW programme in the first three years was published. Equality impact was verified against the 39 recommendations of the DYW Commission. Positive impact for age, disability and gender themes was recorded for most recommendations.



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