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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Improving working lives

Improving young people’s working lives

Research by the University of Southampton’s Work Futures Research Centre, in collaboration with LLAKES: the Centre of Research on Learning and Life Chances based at the Institute of Education, University College London, has contributed significantly to the support and training offered to young people seeking to enter the labour market. The Centre’s research has informed the design of a range of youth employability training problems offered in different regions of the United Kingdom to improve the chances of young people of all backgrounds to access good quality work.

Research Challenge

The recent economic recession and years of subsequent austerity only served to exacerbate the general trends in youth labour markets established at the end of the twentieth century. Young people have been particularly hard hit by economic turbulence, with youth unemployment and job insecurity increasingly experienced by young people from all educational backgrounds.


Professor Pauline Leonard has been investigating a range of entry route schemes across different regions of the United Kingdom aiming to challenge young people’s under-employment and support them into ‘getting in and getting on’ in good quality work and careers. The programmes evaluated include apprenticeships, employability training, enterprise schemes, internships and volunteering.

Our solution

Considerable variation was found to exist within the UK’s different regional economies in terms of the opportunities and outcomes offered to young people. While some young people gain access to high quality training and a secure job as an outcome of their programme, many exit only to remain on the ring-roads of un/employment: another part-time job or short term contract.

Across the regions investigated, two factors were established as key to this income. For the young people, social class remains a critical feature, determining their opportunities and outcomes. In terms of the effectiveness of the training programmes, whether this is offered ‘in-house’ by an employer or by a third sector agency is also critical. In the former, employers recognise that they profit from access to talent and can respond quickly to offer employment.  In the latter, in spite of the fact that employability programmes benefit from high quality staff and unwavering commitment, that they need to rely on a network of committed employers to offer good training and work experience presents intractable problems. Employers need to step up and into the youth employment agenda.

What was the impact?

Pauline’s research has had an impact on both third sector training providers and government policy making. She was invited to advise the UK’s Cabinet Office on policies aiming to support young people and work, and to outline the important role that private and voluntary sectors can play within this, such as mentoring young people, providing good quality careers advice, introducing pre-apprenticeship schemes and providing ongoing workplace training for young people, whatever their contract.

The research has also been drawn upon to inform Scottish regional policy on the role of volunteering in providing young people with much-needed employability experience and to evaluate employability and skills training programmes in the North East of England.

Key Publications

External research staff

Rachel Wilde  Lecturer in Education, Institute of Education, University College London

Internal research staff

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