Developing young workforce strategy - impact on education: evaluation

An independent evaluation of the impact of Developing the Young Workforce Strategy on education.

1. Introduction

The Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) strategy was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2014 to prepare learners for future employment pathways and opportunities as they transition into the world of work. Building on foundations embedded in the Curriculum for Excellence, DYW engages pupils from early years through Senior Phase and beyond. The strategy promotes collaborative work between schools, colleges, employers and local government to ensure that career guidance and curricula reflect learners' abilities and preferences, and the labour market's needs.

The Lines Between was commissioned to understand the impact of implementation of the strategy, focusing on provision in schools through Broad General Education (BGE), and the Senior Phase of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Key research tasks were to explore variance across implementation and to evidence the extent to which the DYW programme aims have been met, exploring:

  • the status of DYW and work-based learning in schools
  • factors that encourage or hinder DYW implementation
  • approaches to promoting DYW learning among young people
  • the impact of DYW and work-based learning on young people.

Policy context

The Scottish Government created the Developing the Young Workforce strategy in response to the independent report, "Education working for all: developing Scotland's young workforce". This report suggested that gender, race, and disability significantly affected access to education and employment, as did experience of the care system. When the strategy was published in 2014, the youth unemployment rate in Scotland was 18.8%, with more than 50% of school leavers not continuing onto university.

Developing the Young Workforce was a joint partnership programme between Scottish Government and COSLA, which aimed to support young people to become better qualified, more work ready and gain skills relevant to the current and anticipated job markets. To achieve these goals the Scottish Government funded 21 employer-led DYW Regional Groups to partner with local educational institutions.

Within this landscape, a number of other steps were taken to continue to improve, understand, expand and diversify the pathways to employment for young people in Scotland. This includes the:

  • Young Person's Guarantee, introduced by the Scottish Government Fair Work, Employability and Skills Directorate in 2022. An update report on the Young Person's Guarantee was recently published, setting out progress over the two years of the Guarantee and the direction of travel going forward.
  • Response by the Scottish Government to recommendations in the Careers By Design report (2022) by Skills Development Scotland; and
  • Recognition of DYW by the OECD in the 2021 report 'Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence into the Future' as one of the three pillars of education, alongside the Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child.
  • Results of the Employer Perspectives Survey, which cover awareness and engagement with DYW Regional Groups and highlights key skills sought by employers. Meta-skills were the most sought after attribute in candidates among employers, with 70% rating these as significant or crucial when recruiting staff. Meta-skills include problem solving, critical thinking, communication, creativity and leadership, and these are the kinds of skills that DYW and work-based learning can develop in young people.

Overall, efforts to address youth unemployment in Scotland appear to have been successful - the target to reduce youth unemployment by 40% was met in 2017, and the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds decreased by 3.3% over the period April 2021 to March 2022 compared to the previous year.

The Scottish Government, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, commissioned independent research to evaluate the impact of the Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Strategy (December 2014-2021) on education in Scotland. The research was not intended as an evaluation of the entire DYW strategy and is part of a wider ongoing programme of research which includes an evaluation of DYW's engagement of employers and an internal evidence review by the Scottish Government.


This study took place accross 2022 and involved mixed methods, featuring:

  • interviews with 67 staff from a sample of 15 schools across Scotland
  • interviews with 14 national and local stakeholders; and
  • an online survey of staff within schools that took part in the research to extend the reach of participation from the school sample and gain the perspectives of wider staff groups within each school, which achieved 63 responses.

In the research planning stages, the Scottish Government followed the access protocols for social research in school settings and sought all necessary opt-outs from Scotland's Directors of Education. They provided a list of eligible schools for the research team to draw their sample from. A sampling framework (see Appendix B) was developed to ensure engagement with a diverse mix of primary, secondary and ASN schools, spanning urban and rural locations, different school sizes, geographic spread across Scotland, and the percentage of the school roll living in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland (SIMD Quintile 1). Once the sampling framework was approved, researchers identified multiple schools that met the criteria.

Headteachers were asked for consent for their school's participation in the research; if they declined or did not respond, the offer was extended to another school with a similar profile. Reasons for declining the invitation to participate in the research included: head teacher absences due to sickness or bereavement, and lack of capacity within schools due to staffing issues linked to COVID-19. In total the research team approached headteachers in 30 schools to achieve the required sample of 15 schools.

Tailored discussion guides were designed for staff in schools and stakeholders. These included core questions to be asked across all interviews, supplemented with specific questions tailored to the audience. The questions were designed to provide structure to conversations with interviewees, while providing the flexibility required to further explore different themes as they emerged. This allowed us to capture individual perspectives and experiences.

All interviews took place on an anonymous basis, to encourage openness, transparency and honesty on critical topics. Participants were emailed an information sheet before the interview and interviews were conducted virtually, either via phone call or Teams meeting. Where consent was given, interviews were recorded and transcribed.

Interviews were supplemented by an online survey of staff from schools that participated in the research. Headteachers, department heads, and senior management team members were asked to share the survey with teachers and other relevant staff within the school.

The location of schools which participated in the research is shown below:

A grey map of Scotland showing the locations of participating schools. Pink, green and blue pins are used to denote secondary, primary and ASN schools, respectively. The map shows that participating schools were based in: Aberdeenshire, Borders, Dumfies and Galloway East Lothain, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Stirling, South Lanarkshire, and Western Isles.

Qualitative data gathered through interviews was converted into transcripts and any open-ended survey questions were downloaded. These data sets were then exported to Excel for thematic analysis. The thematic analysis process involved an initial read-through and review of the data to identify key themes, then coding all data in detail according to those themes and any other themes which emerged during the coding process. This ensured a full, robust and systematic qualitative analysis process with all data. It enabled the team to group the main themes in responses to each question, consider the range of views across all stakeholders, and select illustrative examples and quotes.

Quantitative data collected through the survey was analysed using Microsoft Excel.

Data limitations

There are some limitations to consider with the data collected through this research, as summarised below.

  • A limited sample: the research design allowed for interviews and an online survey with staff from 15 schools across Scotland. This sample, while limited, did reflect the breadth of types of school (in terms of size and geographical spread. This provided an opportunity to gather detailed quantitative and qualitative information, but it is a small sample of all schools in Scotland. The survey findings are not to be interpreted as statistically significant and the qualitative data may not represent all schools' experiences. However, this study does provide insight about experiences that has never been previously available, and a foundation that can be built on as the evidence base is further developed.
  • Level of DYW engagement among participating schools: this was an opt-in study and it is possible that schools agreed to participate, at least in part, because they were already engaged with DYW. Some schools that were not involved may have lower levels of engagement with DYW and, again, it is important to note that other schools may have given different feedback to those involved in the research.
  • Attribution: while the research explored the impact of DYW on schools, it should be noted that there are other initiatives and policies focused on work-based learning that may also have had an impact on schools.
  • Feedback from young people and parents: the findings set out in this report are based on interviews and a survey with education professionals. While the research explored professionals' perceptions of attitudes among young people and parents, it did not involve any young people or parents directly.

Report structure

The findings set out in this report are structured as follows:

  • Chapter 2 presents an analysis of the status of DYW and work-based learning in schools. It provides an overview of schools' work to implement DYW, examples of good practice, variance among schools including differences between BGE and Senior Phase, findings on the impact of COVID-19 on the status of work-based learning and schools' responses, the impact of DYW on the status of work-based learning in schools and any influence on attitudes to work-based learning.
  • Chapter 3 covers factors that encourage or hinder DYW implementation.
  • Chapter 4 addresses approaches to promoting DYW learning, and an analysis of the impact of DYW and work-based learning on young people.
  • Chapter 5 summarises key learning points to inform future policy formation.
  • Chapter 6 sets out conclusions.
  • The full survey results are included as Appendix A and the research sampling framework is presented in Appendix B.



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