In May 2020, as the impact of the pandemic took hold, we launched a funding programme to support organisations in the youth employment sector. We knew that frontline services, particularly during a time of crisis, needed high-quality, sustainable infrastructure, but these organisations often missed out on emergency funding or charitable donations.
Additionally, we knew that the infrastructure organisations were under-researched. We wanted to reach a better understanding of the role that infrastructure organisations play, how they make a difference, and what funders and policymakers can do to better support them. We were keen to create a legacy for the sector, providing them with evidence of its impact.
We commissioned RAND Europe, a not-for-profit research institute, to conduct a research study with the organisations we funded and the wider sector.
Who did we fund and why?
We chose a broad definition of ‘infrastructure’ that allowed us to fund a wide variety of both national and regional organisations that provide support to the sector. For regional infrastructure, we only funded organisations that are either led by or reach Black, Asian or minority ethnic young people, particularly those most at risk of facing disparities in the labour market, including those of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage.
The organisations we supported include:
- Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)
- Centre for Youth Impact
- Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)
- Hackney CVS
- National Youth Agency
- The Skills Builder Partnership
- The Traveller Movement
- The Ubele Initiative
- Youth Access
- UK Youth
What role do infrastructure organisations play?
The research found that infrastructure organisations perform a complex and wide-ranging set of roles. They influence policy, drive up standards and qualifications, promote the use of data and good practice, champion youth voice and build the capacity of the sector. Most organisations play more than one of these roles.
What have we learnt?
Despite being an essential part of the youth employment landscape, infrastructure bodies often face significant challenges. This includes limited capacity, resources and access to funding opportunities.
Our research report shows that networks and relationships with frontline organisations are strengths of infrastructure organisations. These relationships allow them to respond to the needs of the sector, and they have continued to grow and develop in response to the challenges of the past few years. We know that other funders are committed to supporting infrastructure organisations through grant funding, but funders and policymakers can do much more to recognise the role and value of infrastructure organisations and provide support that goes beyond simply providing grant funding.
We launched the second phase of this project, our Infrastructure Evidence fund taking our total grant funding of infrastructure organisations to £3.5m. We have commissioned RAND Europe to carry out further research to explore the ways infrastructure organisations enable and champion the use of evidence. As a What Works Centre, we want to support practitioners to be better equipped to find and use data and evidence to adopt evidence-based practice. We recognise it is vital to empower infrastructure organisations to boost the effectiveness of frontline organisations.
One resource we hope will support this is our soon-to-be-launched Youth Employment Toolkit which summarises high-quality evidence on interventions – to support evidence-based decision-making.