Yesterday, I attended the launch of the NPC/Inspiring Impact project on the ‘Journey to Employment’ (JET) framework. Subtitled ‘A guide to understanding and measuring what matters to young people’, this is aimed at better capturing what is involved in young people navigating their way into a job.
The framework is based on the Inspiring Impact partnership’s shared measurement approach, which aims to ‘change the way the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact’. This is a laudable aim and much needed to demonstrate the value of this sector, particularly in the face of an ongoing challenging funding environment. As I have written before, I also have strong feelings about this being particularly necessary in the voluntary youth sector – where much of the focus and activity of any work on employability with young people will be focused.
A shared measurement approach can only work, however, is many organisations involved in working with, funding and measuring the impact of such programmes take it up. In this respect, it was reassuring to see representatives of all these different groups represented at the launch event, and sharing ideas and experiences afterwards.
I will not go into too much of the detail of the framework here, since I am sure that there will be plenty coming out from NPC. The full report and additional resources are available here. Broadly, however, it recognises that there is a need to consider much more than simply whether a young person ends up in a job in understanding the value of much of the support provided. It is important to identify ‘intermediate outcomes’ on this journey, and valuing these both in their own right and as steps on the way to long term, sustained employment. We have seen with many previous short termist approaches to getting young people back into work that organisations simply force young people into the first job that comes up – thus meeting their performance targets and, often, receiving some financial reward for doing so. Whilst this might work for, say, the six months required under the Work Programme, it is hardly a satisfactory approach to dealing with the challenge of youth unemployment.
What the JET framework proposes is a more holistic approach, illustrates by their helpful infographic. It suggests that it is important to consider both the extrinsic and intrinsic factors at play in terms of young people’s ability to get and sustain employment. Extrinsic factors are those which are ‘tangible, objective and can be more easily observed’, such as qualifications, functional skills and work experience. These are typically what providers of things like the Work Programme focus on. They are also easier to measure.
Crucially, what the JET framework also recognises is that intrinsic factors – such as self-esteem, confidence, perceptions, attitudes or interpersonal skills – are also equally important. It is, perhaps, these things which are more effective in young people sustaining and developing their employment. Although many working in this sector would argue that it is hard (or undesirable) to measure these areas, there are actually many tools out there to do this in a very appropriate way.
I will quickly cover a couple of critiques of the framework, before moving on to a wider discussion of how it might be used. Although the Catalyst Consortium is referenced in the report (through the input from the Young Foundation), it is a shame that partners in that project were not more closely involved with the JET framework. This is particularly the case given that they represent a broad spectrum of organisations working with young people on the ground, and was a recognised, government-supported initiative. The concept of ‘shared’ measurement’ is great and, as outlined, I welcome the overall approach of the framework; my concern is more whether it would be more likely to be used by those in the youth sector if there was more buy in from organisations like NCVYS and the NYA (more on this below).
At a more methodological level, and linked to the previous Catalyst Framework of Outcomes for Young People, I would suggest that there is a lack of any obvious consideration of ‘creativity’ – defined by Catalyst framework as ‘imagining alternative ways of doing things… innovating’ – is, I believe, a serious challenge. This is both in relation to the economy increasingly shifting towards sectors and technologies which require this and, linked to this, the increasing prevalence of young people starting their own businesses. It is as if the JET approach aims to prepare young people for existing jobs, rather than thinking a bit more widely.
Whilst I certainly broadly welcome both the shared measurement approach and the areas covered in the model, my final question – and one to anyone reading this as much as to NPC and other authors of the report – is: how is it going to be used going forward? From my previous work both in and with the youth sector, I believe that there is one fundamental challenge which needs to be overcome in order to make a success of this report and that is that I believe there are
Issues within the youth sector around both measurement and working in partnership/sharing information with other organisations
Addressing each of these in turn:
- Measurement: as touched on above and as I have written about previously, there seems to be a reluctance by many in the youth sector to measure the outcomes and impact of its work. I will not repeat the previous argument here about why I believe that measurement is not only necessary but beneficial to young people, other than to say that I believe it can both deliver better support and outcomes for young people and demonstrate this to external stakeholders. Both of these, presumably, would be welcomed by most in the sector
- Sharing: there is a similar reticence to enter into partnership or share ideas and resources with others in the sector. Historically, I think this was due to many charities seemingly being in competition with each other for access to funding and to ‘claim’ more of the positive changes experienced by young people. Similarly, I think there is a need for everyone to stop and think about exactly what they are trying to achieve which is, ultimately, about supporting and providing better outcomes for young people. If this can be better achieved through working more closely with other organisations, then surely this is to be encouraged.
It is in relation to both of these areas that I feel that it is a shame that there was not more involvement by the Catalyst partners who are more connected with front line providers.
It would be great to hear from you if you would like to talk more about the JET framework or wider issues of measurement and evaluation in the youth sector. I have experience of developing and implementing a wide range of measurement programmes, as well as working with staff on the value of positive engagement with this process.