Developing young workforce strategy - impact on employer engagement: evaluation

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

Background and introduction

About DYW

The Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Strategy (Scottish Government, 2014) was the Scottish Government's response to the Education Working for All! Report of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce of 2014. The Strategy set out a seven-year plan to 2021 and built on the recommendations of the report (all of which were accepted by the Scottish Government). It focused on ways of ensuring that young people were more aware of the world of work and the full range of its opportunities, were better able to take informed decisions about their future career, and were better prepared to thrive in the world of work. The DYW Strategy aimed to take a whole system approach to deliver work relevant education for young people. This included implementation plans agreed and jointly led with local government.

The delivery plan was structured into five 'Change Themes' of which effective employer engagement is a significant part. This report sets out to explore the extent to which Change Theme 5 of the delivery plan has made an impact:

Change Theme 5 – Aimed to build a network of employer hubs supporting partnerships with schools, and a wider range of apprenticeships and investment in young people.

With the inception of the DYW Strategy in 2014, DYW has played a significant role in ensuring young people have a work relevant educational experience. In particular, the establishment of employer-led Regional Groups was a fundamental element of the strategy, designed to bridge the gap between industry and education and assist employers to play an active role in preparing young people for the world of work

The Young Person's Guarantee (YPG), was introduced in 2020 in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market and the publication of the report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (Scottish Government, 2020). YPG forms part of the wider package of support provided through No-One Left Behind (NOLB) and Fair Start Scotland, which will provide Local Employability Partnerships (LEPs) with the opportunity to combine a range of funding streams to develop, implement and procure a locally appropriate employability service, with a strong focus on supporting the employability of young people.

The YPG has the stated ambition that, within two years, every 16-24 year old in Scotland will have the opportunity to be in paid employment, enrolled in education, actively involved on an apprenticeship or training programme, or engaged on a formal volunteering or supported activity programme. Engaging with employers is a vital part of both the DYW strategy and the YPG. The brief for this evaluation was to explore the extent to which the approaches taken to engage employers in support of the DYW and the YPG have achieved their stated aims. The DYW and YPG strategies cover a range of actions relevant to employers. Overall, these actions aim to support employers to actively contribute to the development of the young workforce. 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.

DYW is not the only key work happening in the sphere of young people and skills development or employer match in Scotland. Other key organisations and schemes in this sector include, but aren't necessarily limited to, Skills Development Scotland (SDS), regional economic development agencies, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), local authorities, Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI). It should be noted that while this research is focused on the DYW strategy, this is in practice complimented by other structures, organisations and schemes across Scotland.

Purpose of the study

The Scottish Government, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, commissioned Rocket Science to undertake an impact evaluation of the employer engagement approaches undertaken in the delivery of the Youth Employment Strategy - Developing Scotland's Young Workforce (2014-2021) (DYW) (Scottish Government, 2014). This will also incorporate an evaluation for the employer engagement approaches used in the delivery of the YPG (2020-2022).

The purpose of this evaluation is to inform current and future policy development to engage employers in support of young people's employment and education in Scotland. In summary, taking into account the above background and context, this evaluation assesses the extent to which the approaches taken to engage employers in support of DYW and the YPG have achieved their stated aims by exploring:

  • Perceived strengths and weaknesses of the employer engagement approaches since 2014, including what has been effective and less effective, by employer type.
  • What motivates different employers to support and engage with the agenda.
  • Employers' preferences for supporting young people and the challenges they encounter when delivering support.
  • Extent to which the Scottish Government's funding of employer engagement has leveraged input from employers, and how this can be built on further to deliver the YPG.
  • Effectiveness of employer engagement.
  • What could be improved to increase the breadth and depth of employer support for the agenda.
  • The evaluation should assess both the strengths and weaknesses of recent employer engagement approaches and attempt to capture the extent to which the Scottish Government's funding of employer engagement has leveraged input from employers.

This research is not intended as an evaluation of the entire DYW, or YPG. Additional research has been commissioned to collect the insight of education professionals.

Particularly in the light of the impact of COVID-19, it was felt to be important to explore the extent to which employer engagement has contributed to equity and equality. We understand that the Scottish Government need to understand employers' abilities and motivations to support young people facing the greatest barriers to entering employment and how this could be improved. The focus of this assignment was on developing a robust and systematic base of evidence, drawn from data and interviews, which can be used to inform future policy around preparing young people for the world of work.

To answer the research questions and aims of this evaluation, Rocket Science developed and implemented a six stage methodology which is set out below:

Stage 1: Inception and planning

  • Understanding the context for the work.
  • Agreeing the methodology.

Stage 2: Desk Research and sampling framework

  • Desk review of research to date.
  • Development of a sampling framework. See Appendix 1 for detailed sampling framework.

Stage 3: Evaluation framework and research design

  • Identify employers, practitioners and stakeholders to interview.
  • Design research materials all engagements.

Stage 4: Fieldwork

  • Telephone and video calls with employers, practitioners and stakeholders.

Stage 5: Analysis and reporting

  • Analysis of employers and practitioners using a charting approach.
  • A draft and final Report.

Stage 6: Dissemination

  • A PowerPoint presentation for use with a range of stakeholder audiences.

A detailed description of our methodology can be found in Appendix 1: Detailed methodology. The remainder of this is section summarises the desk research which informed our approach to engagement with employers and practitioners.

Desk-based review

The first stage of the evaluation was a detailed desk review to explore existing related documentation, including a review of the evidence, management information (MI) data and strategies to draw out relevant findings and insights. The focus was on understanding and articulating common themes of activity and impact, variations in this across DYW Regional Groups, sectors, and populations, and identifying examples of good practice and innovation in terms young person engagement, and preparation for the world of work.

The detailed findings from the desk review can be found in Appendix 2: Desk-based review of data and literature, including links to data sources and references. The summary findings from this research are presented below. This stage was also important in understanding the existing evidence base and to help shape and inform the research materials for this evaluation.

Summary of desk review findings: Employer engagement

Between 2014-2019, the proportion of employers in Scotland providing work placements and recruiting directly from schools remained fairly stable. However, there was a notable decline in the proportion providing work inspiration activities, from 21% to 15% (Employer Perspectives Survey, EPS, 2019).

During the same time period, larger employers were more likely to be offering both work placements and work inspiration activities to young people (EPS, 2019).

There was also notable variation between sectors, with the highest engagement from the Education and Health and Social work sectors, and lowest from primary sector (agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining etc), construction and hotels and restaurants (EPS, 2019).

There is some evidence that employers are motivated to engage with DYW to help young people and 'give back' to the community, rather than for direct economic benefits to them – for example, through improved recruitment.

Appropriate and high quality employer interaction supports young people in acquiring essential employability skills, and specific employer interactions can help with specific needs at different stages (Rocket Science, 2019).

In 2019, 75% of surveyed school headteachers (n=159) said they had established long-term relationships with employers (Senior Phase: Headteacher Survey, 2019).

Barriers to engagement include employers not having suitable roles for work placements, and not having the time or resources to support engagement. Lack of awareness of available standards and guidance presents further barriers to engagement for employers.

DYW Regional Groups

The DYW Regional Groups were felt have been particularly effective as a single point of contact for employers and to be simplifying the DYW landscape for employers, during the formative evaluation of the project (2017-18) (SQW, 2018).

There is some evidence to indicate that employers that have engaged with DYW Regional Groups offer higher quality activities (SQW, 2018).

Just 3% of respondents to the EPS had engaged with their DYW Regional Group in the 12 months preceding the survey. Those who did engage were notably more likely to have offered work inspiration activities and work placements (EPS, 2019).

Employer engagement and COVID-19

Providing virtual activities has been a good alternative for employers to continue engaging with young people throughout the pandemic, and has also broken down geographical barriers, enabling rural and remote employers to engage with DYW more frequently. However, young people who have experienced virtual engagement express a strong preference for face-to-face engagement and recent research with young people highlighted the scale of the problem of digital exclusion in terms of equipment, quiet space and access to broadband (DYW, 2021).

Limited data is currently available on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employer engagement. Information from the Employer Skills Survey provides some context for changes employers have experienced as a result of the pandemic, which are likely to have had an influence on the time and resource available for DYW engagement and on employers' practical ability to deliver activities (Employer Skills Survey, 2020).

Employer and practitioner engagement

Working closely with the Scottish Government, a sampling framework was agreed for both employer and practitioner participants. While this research did not require a systematic sample of employers, the sampling framework for this research does consider the scale, sector and geography of employers to allow for disaggregation in the analysis. The detailed sampling framework can be found in Appendix 1: Detailed methodology.

From the desk research we identified some emerging gaps and areas for exploration in qualitative fieldwork (below). These were used as a starting point in developing the topic guides for primary research with employers and practitioners (see Appendix 3: Core topic guide for and Appendix 4: Core topic guide for practitioners) which were sent to the Scottish Government and Research Advisory Group (RAG) for review and approval.

Emerging gaps and areas for exploration in qualitative fieldwork

Based on the key findings from the data and literature review, the following areas were identified for exploration in the qualitative fieldwork: (See Appendix 2: Desk-based review of data and literature for links to data sources and references).

Employer engagement:

What are employers' motivations for engaging with DYW? Some evidence indicates employers are focused more on the benefits for young people and the community, rather than direct gains to their organisation. It would be good to understand in more depth the reasoning for participating in DYW and how this fits into business planning and if this motivation has changed since the pandemic.

What type of activities work best for employers in engaging with young people, particularly post-pandemic? There is some evidence available on best practice in DYW employer engagement, but there is a need for a post-pandemic perspective on understanding how DYW activities can best suit the need of employers in line with their sector, size, and location.

What level of involvement do employers want in the decision-making and planning of DYW activities in the school curriculum and what would this involvement look like? Some pre-COVID evidence indicates that employers and their DYW activities are not fully embedded yet in the school curriculum. It would be useful to explore further to what extent employers want to be involved in these decisions and how this may be valuable to them.

How aware are employers of the Career Education Standard, Work Placement Standard and Guidance on School/Employer partnerships and have these been useful to them? A 2017 Education Scotland report found that most employers were not aware of these standards and guidance available to them. The interviews could uncover if this awareness has changed, as well as if these resources are useful to employers.

What are the barriers to offering work placements and work inspiration activities and how have these changed as a result of the pandemic? Barriers to offering work placements include not having the right roles and not having the time or resource to support young people. It will be useful to explore how these barriers may have changed as a result of the pandemic, how they vary by sector, size and location, and the support needed to overcome them.

DYW Regional Groups:

How are different Regional Groups facilitating employer engagement, and what has been their added value? The 2018 formative evaluation of the DYW Regional Groups gave an early overview of impact and added value across four Regional Groups. The qualitative fieldwork will be able to uncover a more comprehensive picture of the differences between all Regional Groups in their facilitation of employer engagement, impact made, and value added.

What are the factors supporting engagement with the Regional Groups? While we know larger organisations are more likely to engage with DYW, just 3% of those who responded to the EPS had engaged in the last 12 months. Research to date suggests engagement with DYW does support higher quality support for young people, so understanding how engagement with DYW is best facilitated will be important.

Has the support needed from the Regional Groups changed as a result of the pandemic? In addition to understanding the added value of Regional Groups in a post-pandemic setting, the interviews can dive further into if there has been a change in the support needed from Regional Groups pre- and post-pandemic.

Fieldwork took place between March and September 2022, involving video and telephone calls with employers. In total, 89 employers and 16 practitioners took part in this research. A table summarising this engagement by different employer and practitioner groups is included in the detailed methodology in Appendix 1: Detailed methodology. The full list of employers and practitioners we spoke to can be found in Appendix 5: Employers, practitioners and stakeholders interviewed.

A range of practitioners and employers were consulted for this research. The types of employers ranged across size, geography, and sector, but included:

  • Members of DYW Regional Groups – employers who were involved in activity in one or more DYW Regional Group.
  • ERI – employers who had used the Employer Recruitment Incentive (ERI) to support hiring new staff who face the greatest barriers to employment.
  • Marketplace – employers who had used Marketplace, an online tool connecting schools and colleges with business.
  • 5 Asks/YPG – employers who had signed the YPG 5 Asks, pledging to support young people into the world of work.
  • Non-engaged employers – a randomised sample of Chamber of Commerce members, who had not formally taken part in the DYW strategic activity were also interviewed to understand what, if any, work they did to support young people, and to understand the barriers that prevented them from doing so.

Practitioners were considered to be a broad category of those working in the sector to support young people into work, including through training and apprenticeships. These practitioner types included:

  • Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) members - SAAB gives employers and industry a role in developing apprenticeships in Scotland. To ensure apprenticeships develop to meet industry and economic need, fair work, and job opportunities. It is led by employers and representatives from industry bodies across a range of sectors.
  • DYW School Coordinators – School Coordinators work to support senior management in the school to embed DYW and other employer offers within the curriculum. They create and implement a structure for employer engagement and maintain a network of partners within the local business community. This connects into national priorities around employability, Career Education Standard and Work Placement Standard.



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