All youth need a nurturing environment and sense of belonging as they come of age, to empower them to discover and develop their interests and strengths. But out-of-school youth in particular struggle to fulfil these and as a result often lack security, direction, and access to growth opportunities. Hence, their wants and their strengths can be more distinctive compared to the wider youth population.
Interventions targeting youth employability need to recognise this in order to succeed. Work placement programmes, for example, are undoubtedly one of the best ways to introduce youths to the world of work and offer them an alternative learning environment in which to excel. Yet it can be an uphill journey for youths and corporate employers to adapt to each others’ needs, wants, and strengths. We have seen employers frustrated at constant workplace transgressions such as lateness and unplanned absences. Youths in turn can feel misunderstood by inflexible employers and uninspired in vocations that turn out to not be in line with their interests.
What helps youth placement programmes to succeed?
We found 3 critical success factors behind effective placements. Each entails a significant mindset shift away from how training programmes are traditionally run:
Nurturing, positive environment: Across all vocations, from heartland tailor shops to hip downtown cafes - the presence of a caring supervisor and mentor was resoundingly cited as the most critical factor to drive a successful placement. Such a figure must be someone who is genuinely invested in the youths’ wellbeing and development and who can spark hunger and motivation in their charges.
Mindset shift: Employers have traditionally focused their efforts on identifying the right candidates and perfecting their programme design. Evidence however shows that the unsung heroes really driving results are the right supervisors and mentors. To this end, companies need to place as much focus on selection, training, support, and recognition of supervisors as for youths.
Resorts World Sentosa ensures that supervisors on their aRWSome Apprenticeship programme "self-select" and gather regularly to provide peer support. The programme selects for supervisors who want to be a part of and are committed to it - not something that's forced on them - and the regular gatherings are a great chance to share common challenges and advice on how best to motivate and support the youth.
Youth development first: We don’t just learn maths and science at school - we also learn important socio-emotional competencies. Out-of-school youth, particularly those from troubled families, often lack foundational skills such as self-awareness and resilience. Development of these skills is a basic outcome that all placement programmes need to target. Otherwise, putting trainees in situations that they are not equipped to handle (e.g. in front of an angry customer) could take them two steps back instead of forward. Mindset shift: Most placements aim to impart technical skills to help youths establish themselves in a particular industry. Our work shows that building socio-emotional competencies and job-readiness skills should take equal, if not more, weight. Not only are these skills highly transferable in a world of economic flux, they can also set youths up for success in all other aspects of life, not just employment.
The Bettr Group empowers at-risk youth and marginalised women to pursue careers in the F&B and Specialty coffee industry whilst scaling up in a holistic manner with the skills to deal with life's challenges. Their training programme adopts a whole-person approach to personal development providing mental, emotional and physical training alongside paid work attachments and job matching. This is bolstered with an intentional support network of certified trainers, industry professionals and programme graduates.
Start with what the youth want: One of the most common reasons that youths give for dropping out of placements is a lack of interest. Intrinsic motivation and interest is the most difficult factor to influence, but also the most critical. Mindset shift: Employers often start with “what jobs do I have?” when thinking about what placements to offer. This can backfire if these are not of interest to the target audience. Employers should work closely with social organisation partners to truly understand “what youth want” and identify vocations that best fit their interests and strengths - and if needed, use befriending and mentorship to bridge any gaps that still exist.
Fullerton Academy, which provides disadvantaged youth with mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities at The Fullerton Hotels Singapore, set up a creative arts track in response to youth demand. According to Cathy Chia, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Relations: "We initially explored coding as an opportunity, but the youth weren't interested. They were keen to try out more creative vocations so we partnered with our regular vendors to provide photography and videography training. The apprentices were not just interested, they excelled."
Next, we’ll be bringing some on-the-ground insights from some brilliant organisations working directly with out-of-school youth. We'll also be talking about future avenues and the most promising ways to create further impact in the youth employability sector (and how you can get involved!)