Facilitators of learning and innovation
In most of the countries studied, local/regional administrations and agencies exchange knowledge on policy processes and tools among themselves and are involved in EU-wide mutual policy learning.
The role of policy entrepreneurs in promoting policy transfer and learning − initially in the context of sectoral and/or local pilot initiatives, subsequently to be spread nationally − has been highlighted in a few countries (e.g., Slovakia, France and partly Greece and Spain).
EU level strategies, such as the Youth Guarantee and the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, recently opened up windows of opportunity for policy entrepreneurs.
Equally important for policy innovation is local knowledge accumulated by key actors in policy design and delivery institutions, which enables them to build trust and working relationships with major stakeholders.
Innovative practices and added value
Innovative practices at the local/regional level draw on the added value that is created for existing policies by local partnerships and networks among major actors (regional/municipal authorities, PES, employers, youth agencies, educational and training institutions, social enterprises and other relevant stakeholders).
A comprehensive and integrated perspective for promoting youth employment is considered to be the added value. This combines early intervention, personalised guidance and individualised action planning for young people in taking the initial step into employment (with a specific emphasis on subgroups of NEETs).
Successful cases of innovative practices
Our analysis highlighted a number of promising (but still at an initial stage) or already successful cases of innovative practices at the regional/local level involving policy learning and transfer.
The Mid-Brabant Pact in South Netherlands, signed by major stakeholders in order to develop interventions that are expected to lead to a ‘Youth-Unemployment-Free Zone’ within a three-year period (from 2015 to 2018) emulates successful network-based strategies for employment growth and youth labour market integration in another region of the country (the Southeastern Brainport region).
The UK implementation of the Youth Contract in the region of Wales demonstrates ample scope for spreading innovation further.
The Community Centres in Slovakia targeted at young Roma introduced significant innovation in helping disadvantaged youth to develop soft skills for jobsearch. Epistemic communities and international NGOs transferred expertise for the establishment of these Centres.
The ‘Local Missions’ and the ‘Pôles emploi’ in France, which function as main hubs of wider partnerships at the local level, promote innovation through coordination of measures aimed at NEETs.
Inter-regional spread of the JEEP (Jeunes, école, emploi) initiative, initially introduced by the Forest municipality of the Brussels region in order to inform and counsel young people about their future employment before they leave compulsory education, is another successful case.
Also in Spain, some local pilot projects involve cross-regional learning (e.g., Aragón imitated the employers’ space of Lugones, and Gijón learnt from Cartagena the value of partnerships),
Governance barriers to learning and innovation
However, for the above initiatives to yield results with regard to sustained labour market integration of youth at the national level, a policy environment conducive to co-ordinated sharing and diffusion of knowledge between different levels of administration and joint stakeholders’ bodies is required.
In some countries (e.g., Denmark), corporatist governance highly supports systematic bottom-up and top-down learning and policy innovation, while in other countries fragmented governance hinders co-ordinated learning exchange.
Major barriers are presented by fragmentation of competencies among different levels of administration, which leads to inconsistent cooperation across regions and across other actors, slowing innovation diffusion (e.g., in Belgium and Spain).
Over-centralised administrative structures, dominance of fragmented project-based solutions and the inability to convert such projects into long-term sustainable policies (in Greece and Turkey) are another barrier.
Political culture and values (e.g., a strong liberal tradition in the UK) and party-political expediency (e.g., in Slovakia), do not always favour a systematic and co-ordinated flow of information into high levels of (strategic) policy decision-making.
Hence, the improvement of coordination capacities vertically and horizontally among key policy actors is crucial for facilitating the spread of good practices nationwide.
Foci of policy innovation: ‘Triple’ helix, the Youth Guarantee and apprenticeships
The main foci of innovation regarding effective STW transition strategies consist in:
- a novel mode of governance in policy design and delivery often referred to as a ‘triple’ or ‘multiple’ helix, which involves collaboration between the public administration, professional bodies and education/training providers, employers, youth associations and other stakeholders regarding employment growth and youth labour market integration;
- a commitment to the Youth Guarantee through an integrated preventive and proactive approach that combines services and provides comprehensive support tailored to individual needs; and
- the strengthening of traineeships and apprenticeships (such as the dual VET) as a significant tool for enhancing youth employability in parallel with the mobilisation of employers to play a more active role in this respect.
In the countries considered, front-runners in active ALMPs have developed upper-secondary vocational programmes comprising schooling and work-based training (e.g., Denmark, Netherlands). The main policy challenges for them are to:
- improve the image of VET (set in the context of an integrated service provision to youth),
- strengthen the commitment of employers to offer apprenticeship places, and
- promote dissemination of knowledge about the matching of skills to the needs of industry.
In the UK and France, the key challenges are how to:
- mobilize employers, in collaboration with professional bodies and training providers in order to reconsider the knowledge base, learning methodology and delivery of VET, and
- develop new apprenticeship standards.
In Greece, Spain and Slovakia, the challenges with the expansion of dual learning models in VET are:
- the needs to be supported, with the aim of improving the content and quality of dual VET,
- strengthening feedback mechanisms between VET and the labour market, and
- raising VET’s public visibility and attractiveness for young people.
In these latter countries, the reform of VET and apprenticeships is closely linked with another major policy challenge concerning the delivery of integrated, individualised services under the Youth Guarantee. Improving the quality and capacity of PES operation is of paramount importance in this respect.
Finally, in all countries, a more consistent policy approach to tackling the intersection of disadvantage linked to youth, gender, ethnic and migrant status needs to be developed from an early stage of the education path through to labour market entry.
Policy pointers drawing on database analysis
An analysis of the database’s programmes has highlighted a number of policy pointers that can serve as recommendations for successful policy learning and innovation in relation to effective school-to-work transitions in the EU. These are presented below.
- Prevention and early intervention at key transition stages over the full cycle of school-to-work transition
- Policies designed with enough flexibility to cater for the different needs of specific sub-groups of NEETs, or targeted at particular sub-groups
- Proactive outreach work, including through active involvement of NGOs and/or youth organisations and e-outreach
- Systems for diagnosing vulnerable young people’s specific needs
- Early, integrated and person-centred interventions to address complex needs
- Effective case management combined with individualised action planning together with personalised mentoring, help and support, as well as follow-up well after the end of the intervention
- Sufficient PES capacity and resources to properly service youth at risk who require much more intensive and personalised attention
- Programmes integrating and combining services to offer a comprehensive approach tailored to young people’s individual needs in relation to school-to-work transition
- Involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including youth organisations and youth workers
- Partnership/multi-agency working and co-ordination for an integrated service to youth at risk, especially at local level
- Individualisation of learning pathways based on a good understanding of how the young person actually learns; flexible/modularised curricula and alternative learning environments together with a focus on attitudes/self-esteem, and ‘soft’ and basic skills
- Programmes combining work and study such as quality apprenticeships, traineeships and work experience placements together with, where required, pre-vocational/pre-apprenticeship training
- Financial support acting as a safety net for vulnerable NEETs taking part in an intervention