Building up systems to ensure impact: ThinkForward is ready for work

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Today, there are nearly one million young people not in employment, education or training (NEET). With 15 per cent of young people failing to make a successful move from education to employment, ThinkForward is a breakthrough programme providing early and sustained support to young people at risk of becoming NEET.

In 2010, we set out to address the stubbornly high unemployment rates of young people in east London. Our solution is to provide vulnerable young people with a Progression Coach to support them during education and into employment. This may seem similar to other interventions at face value, but there are three things that make us unique:

  1. Our coaches work with young people from age 14 right through to 19, seeing that young person through their GCSEs, college, and into higher education, their first apprenticeship or job. We find early intervention and sustained support to be key in developing meaningful relationships with our young people.
  2. We connect young people with other charities and social services that may benefit them. Crucially, we also connect them with employers, exposing them to the world of work through mentoring, work experience and training.
  3. Last, but not least, we take a holistic approach to our work. Our coaches are based full-time in a school, but they’re not teachers or friends – they are experienced professionals who can help young people build the awareness, self-belief and motivation needed to do well at school and plan themselves a better future.

Ultimately, we want to ensure ThinkForward participants have the mindset, qualifications and individualised support needed to make a successful transition from school into sustained work.

ThinkForward welcomed Impetus-PEF’s Ready for Work report, which identified the capabilities young people need to be considered employable and proposed a common language for young people and employers alike to use. These findings gave us the opportunity to develop our programme further and help even more young people understand what being ready for work really means. We want young people to be fluent in this common language to help them relate their own behaviours to employers’ expectations – regardless of the career or job they choose to pursue.

We have adapted the six capabilities identified in the report to produce a ten-point scale that objectively describes the behaviours of a person at different stages along the journey of developing work-readiness skills. The scale provides a way for us to track and regularly respond to a young person’s development, rather than waiting until the end of the five-year programme to see whether it has worked or not; we’re working in real time and course-correcting along the way – an approach proven to save time, money and, in many cases, avoidable disappointment.

In practical terms, these capabilities help establish a baseline when a young person joins the programme – from being completely disengaged from school to lacking only a few capabilities. It is informed by both the coach’s personal assessment and a tailored psychometric test. We then track each young person’s progress on a fortnightly basis.

To encourage young people to engage with their own work-readiness journey, we make employers’ and our expectations of them explicit and keep our assessment of them as transparent as possible. The ongoing assessment will help our coaches identify the individual and overall needs of their cohort. Importantly, it also allows us to evaluate, modify and design the activities we refer young people to. So, for example, by evaluating a completed placement we can measure its impact in moving a young person along the work-readiness scale.

Finally, the scale will enable us to manage the impact of the programme as a whole, and provide a live-measure of our own performance. This will help us recognise when something isn’t working and adjust our support and interventions accordingly.

Taking a tailored approach is at the core of what we do. Having the capabilities explained in an explicit framework allows us to communicate clearly to and between the employers and young people we work with. It also helps us understand exactly how the programme is helping and what more we can do. All this adds up to employers finding young candidates prepared to start work – and more importantly – with the skills to stay and thrive in employment.

By Susannah Behr, Business Engagement Manager, ThinkForward

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
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