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Evaluation Blog #13: “Keeping a job is hard”

Helping achieve sustained employment outcomes through in-work support

Employment support programmes have traditionally focused on pre-employment and employment entry. Yet connecting people to jobs is not just about job entry: it is also about sustaining employment and, ideally, progressing in work.

For individuals facing particular labour market disadvantage – including those with little or no experience of employment, lacking in confidence and/or dealing with other issues – the transitions between the steps on the ‘employment pathway’ illustrated below can be particularly challenging.


Provision of in-work support is one means of de-risking the transition between employment entry and staying in work. It encompasses:

  • Practical measures to assist young people to sustain employment – such as help with transport to work, assistance with organising caring responsibilities, job-relevant training;
  • Guidance on work-related matters;
  • Supporting with non-work related issues that impinge on their ability to hold down a job from an adviser/mentor on a formal or informal basis; and
  • Assistance provided to an employer to support a young person’s job retention.

Evidence from Talent Match (a Big Lottery Fund strategic programme developing holistic approaches to combating worklessness amongst young people facing multiple barriers to securing work) demonstrates how in-work support can play a beneficial role for both young people and employers, as well as contributing at a larger scale to reduced spending on out-of-work benefits and increasing tax revenues.

Our thematic study on in-work support involved case study interviews with young people, employers and key worker/ other staff working in four Talent Match partnership areas. This approach enabled us to provide detailed narratives of specific cases of in-work support ‘in the round’ – including supporting a young person with hidden disabilities in employment, helping a young person lacking key life skills with independent living and employment, and assisting a young person lacking confidence in their current job and with planning their next job move.

The young people who were beneficiaries of in-work support valued:

  • Practical support on employment entry and in the initial stages of employment.
  • Advice on appropriate workplace behaviour and dealing with work-related issues.
  • Managing working relationships.
  • Ongoing social and emotional support.
  • Support in thinking about the next job.

Based on their experience the key workers/ individuals providing in-work support emphasised that:

  • In-work support – for young people and employers – needs to be tailored to particular cases – and so may vary markedly.
  • It is important for a key worker to provide a ‘sounding board’ for a young person’s work and non-work concerns when in employment, but to re-iterate the (reasonable) expectations of the employer.
  • In some instances it is keeping open the channel of communication with the employer (and the young person) that matters, rather than necessarily the communication itself.
  • It is important to advise the young person about courses of action to take in particular circumstances rather than taking action on their behalf.

Employers particularly valued a ‘go to’ person with whom they could discuss specific issues as they arose. This communication channel meant they were ‘not on their own’.

The study reiterates the value in viewing in-work support as an integrated element in a package of assistance from pre-employment and employment entry through help with sustaining employment to employment progression. Preventative measures can be taken before job entry (such as reasonable workplace adjustments) to anticipate common problems likely to arise.

But in-work support goes further. It can embrace reactive troubleshooting when challenges occur in employment and providing a ‘sounding board’ for young people and employers. It can assist young people on their employment path and researching and applying for relevant next opportunities.

Anne Green, City-REDI, University of Birmingham, working with Sally-Anne Barnes, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick (, Tony Gore ( and Chris Damm, CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University (

Evaluation Blog #12: How Key Workers can help young people progress towards work

Key workers are central to the Talent Match (TM) delivery model and provide intensive support over a long period. Previous research from the TM evaluation has confirmed the importance of one-to-one support, advice and guidance for young people.

The term ‘key worker’ is used to describe an individual providing one-to-one advice and support to a TM beneficiary. There are various terms used by partnerships to describe the key work role, including mentor, coach, support worker, adviser and advocate.

Case study research (see undertaken as part of the TM national evaluation explores the approaches, capacity and capabilities of TM key workers across the partnerships and in-depth in four TM partnership areas: Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2); Greater Manchester; Lincolnshire; and Middlesbrough. The research draws on 22 interviews with partnership leads, key workers and young people at various stages of their TM journey.

We found different approaches to key working. TM partnerships started out with different approaches and delivery models and recruited key workers accordingly. Whilst some have emphasised a ‘youth work’ approach, others placed more onus on careers information, advice and guidance (IAG). However, all key workers spoke about adopting a person-centred approach:

“So, it’s flexibility, it’s being there to be a whole person-centred focus rather than having to try and fit someone in a box is really important.” (Key worker)

A lot of its holding hands, giving them that real one to one approach.” (Key worker)

In keeping with the ‘test and learn’ ethos, as TM evolved some partnerships have changed their approaches to meet the needs of young people. For some partnerships, there is an increasing emphasis on careers guidance support over time as young people move closer to the labour market as a result of TM support.

Key workers use a combination of experience, skills, local knowledge of services and the labour market as part of their role. A range of skills and attributes were identified as essential and necessary for those is in the key worker role:

  • communication skills
  • empathy and compassion
  • experience of working with young people
  • patience and
  • resilience (including the capacity to mentally manage difficult situations).

One key worker spoke of their attributes of empathy and nurturing as essential to their role and part of building a relationship with a young person:

So, I think it’s very important to have my kind of characteristics where you build up a friendship, build a relationship first and then get onto the nitty gritty, this is what we should be doing, can we push you a little bit further.” (Key worker)

The role of the key worker and their open and flexible approach helps young people to develop emotionally, personally and socially to ensure they are ready to progress into the labour market. This is in-line with a youth work approach which provides a strong foundation for a supportive relationship to develop. As the TM initiative has developed the need for a careers guidance approach has been recognised to support young people in the next part of their journey into the labour market. One partnership lead highlighted the need for key workers to focus on employability as well as the relationship building more typical of youth work:

I think youth work is primarily about engagement and constant contact and interaction and knowing how to get that person out of wherever it is they are and come and meet them, so probably more engagement type things, whereas I think employability background does that to some degree […] but it’s far better in asking the right questions of the young person in terms of employability. If this was purely a welfare-based project, it was just about sorting out young people’s lives and problems, I think a youth working background would be much more valid but as I keep saying to the mentors and people on the team, this is effectively an employability programme.” (Partnership lead)

For those designing employability programmes, evidence from TM supports the need for a holistic approach taking into account the emotional and personal well-being, as well as personal development of a person.

Within the TM context, the holistic approach draws upon youth work and careers guidance approaches. The youth work approach creates an open and safe environment for a young person to start their journey to employment. Then drawing upon the practices of careers guidance, a young person can be supported in developing their knowledge and understanding of the labour market and the opportunities available to them. It is this combination of approaches that can offer support to address the often complex and multiple barriers some furthest from the labour market face.

As part of their everyday practice key workers need to draw upon multiple skills and ‘tools’, as well as knowledge of local labour markets, employers, learning opportunities and services.

By Sally-Anne Barnes ( Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, working with Anne Green (, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.

N.B. The key worker research and report were undertaken with Elaine Batty and Sarah Pearson from Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University.

Evaluation Blog #11: The role of employers in Talent Match

Young people lie at the heart of Talent Match (TM) and rightly so. But if those young people are to enter and sustain employment it is important that the role of employers is centre stage too.

Employers represent the so-called ‘demand-side’ of the labour market and are gatekeepers to jobs. So Talent Match Partnerships need to understand how their local labour market works, whether and how vacancies are advertised and employers’ recruitment and selection policies. They must work with employers if they are to achieve their employment targets.

From the outset of the TM programme the Big Lottery stressed the importance of strategic involvement of employers and employers’ organisations in TM partnerships on an ongoing basis. This could be through direct involvement in the core partnership or an employer forum, so taking a role in strategic decision-making or providing strategic advice. It could also entail provision of operational advice or expertise on specific issues via involvement in other activities.

In contrast, employer engagement focuses on the practical issues of making contact with employers to raise awareness of TM and to encourage them to offer jobs, work placements and other employment-related opportunities to young people. Employer engagement can be:

  • proactive (demand-side led): finding out where there are vacancies and directing young people to those vacancies; or
  • reactive (supply-side led): identifying the job preference of a young person and finding a vacancy that ‘fits’; or
  • a mix of both.

Recent case study research as part of the TM national evaluation explores the role of employers in four TM partnership areas – the Black Country, D2N2, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. It draws on interviews with partnership leads, core partners, delivery partners, young people and employers themselves.

It highlights the importance of reputation and trust with employers. This means that young people need to be ‘work ready’ and matched to opportunities that represent a ‘good fit’. This is important for young person concerned, for the employer and for the TM partnership.

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda and local community spirit can be important ‘hooks’ for employers to be involved and engaged in TM. But it is important that young people are seen by employers as capable, valuable employees on their own merits, and not as ‘charity cases’.

The precise approaches adopted by TM partnerships to employer involvement and engagement vary in accordance with resources and experience. But this is a topic where there is plenty of scope for sharing experience of what works well (and less well).

Professor Anne Green, Institute for Employment Studies, University of Warwick