Helping NEET Young People Towards and Into Employment: Learning From Talent Match

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In this blog, Professor Anne Green discusses Talent Match, a programme set up after the 2008 recession in response to rising unemployment,  with the aim of supporting young people aged 18-24 years, especially those who are furthest from the labour market (and sometimes ‘hidden’ from mainstream support) to achieve sustainable employment and fulfilling lives.

In July 2020 the final assessment of the £108 million National Lottery-funded five-year Talent Match programme was published. This is significant because the Talent Match programme was set up in response to the rise in unemployment in the last recession and so provides important learning for the contemporary situation. (At a personal level it has afforded the opportunity for me to work in partnership with colleagues at Sheffield Hallam, Warwick and Cambridge on the National Evaluation of Talent Match from start to finish.)

About Talent Match

At a time of rising unemployment, the focus of attention often turns to young people who are newly unemployed. Talent Match was different. It aimed to support young people aged 18-24 years, especially those who were furthest from the labour market (and sometimes ‘hidden’ from mainstream support) towards sustainable employment and fulfilling lives. The sub-groups targeted across the different local partnerships are outlined below, with the long-term unemployed and young people with mental health issues particularly prominent.

A bar chart showing the groups targeted by the Talent Match programme. The long terms unemployed and people with mental health issues were particularly prominent.

The approach adopted was inspired by a belief in people-powered change and the ability of young people to improve their own circumstances and life chances with the right support. This target and focus is important as there is a danger in current economic circumstances that this group is forgotten and their potential contribution overlooked.

… and how it was distinctive

Talent Match was not a national mandatory programme (like the Work Programme, which operated at the time). Rather it was a voluntary programme, delivered in 21 local partnership areas across England, with local co-ordination from voluntary sector organisations. In the WMCA area, there were separate Talent Match Partnerships in the Black Country, Greater Birmingham and Solihull, and Coventry and Warwickshire, along with Staffordshire and the Marches from the wider West Midlands.

The programme adopted a ‘test and learn’ approach, designed explicitly to provide partnerships with the scope to develop and adapt bespoke solutions, responding to local priorities and opportunities. One of the most innovative aspects of the programme was that it was co-designed and co-delivered with young people, who also benefitted by coming together in social activities and from peer support. Underlying this foundational principle was a belief in people-powered change and the ability of young people to improve their own circumstances and life chances with the right support.

The final assessment showed that those young people who were most involved in wider Talent Match activities improved their confidence, reliability and team-working skills and were more likely to enter formal education, secure an apprenticeship or work placement or take up volunteering than those who were not involved. Young people had representation in the programme. Their involvement in partnerships boards, groups and in delivery gave them a voice and enhanced the legitimacy of the programme. It also improved the quality of the services delivered

Their lived experience of the realities of unemployment helped to shape programme design and implementation. The young people involved experienced direct benefits through increasing confidence, enhanced understanding of partnership working and in finding employment. This suggests that beneficiary involvement needs to be an integral part of future programmes.

Talent Match services

The types of services provided by Talent Match to young people (either directly or via referral to specialist organisations) were an initial assessment; development of an individualised plan; information, advice and guidance (IAG); basic skills (e.g. literacy and numeracy provision); soft skills (including confidence building); employability skills; peer mentoring; therapeutic support; specialist support; and job search support.

Pre-employment advice and support included short-term work experience and work placements to give an initial experience of employment; structured volunteering; and (to a lesser extent) internships. Most local partnerships performed some form of job brokerage – linking beneficiaries to labour market opportunities.

Key workers and a person-centred approach

Typically, key workers worked with Talent Match beneficiaries on an individual basis, combining youth work and careers guidance approaches, supporting them on employment and non-employment issues. The approach adopted may be characterised as relational. The final assessment of the programme concluded that there were clear benefits of taking a holistic and person-centred approach to supporting young people as they progressed towards their goals – including before entry, on entry and when in work. This is especially the case for those young people who are most distant from the labour market.

Talent Match in statistics

By the end of December 2018 when the programme finished 25,885 young people had been supported by Talent Match. This is 93% of the planned beneficiary caseload. 38% of Talent Match beneficiaries were from the 10% most deprived areas in England (as measured by the Index of Deprivation). 11,940 (46%) of beneficiaries secured some form of job, including 4,479 (17%) who secured sustained employment or self-employment.

The impact evaluation showed high reported levels of job satisfaction, improved wellbeing and a positive social benefit with at least £3.08 of public value generated for every £1 spent on the programme.

Local level support for the long-term

The final assessment of Talent Match highlights the value of investment in coordinated and collaborative local youth employment partnerships – involving local authorities, Jobcentre Plus, voluntary organisations and employers/ employer organisations. Building adaptable and resilient local employment support ecosystems is important for dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.


This blog was written by Professor Anne Green, Professor of Regional Economic Development, City-REDI  / WM REDI, University of Birmingham.

Disclaimer: 
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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