Connected Futures: A different approach to funding

Apr 14, 2023

At Youth Futures, our mission is to improve employment outcomes for young people facing the greatest challenge. We believe a place-based approach to joining up support for young people is key to creating long-lasting systems change.
Here, our Connected Futures Lead, Dan Jones, explains our approach to place-based funding.

Time for a new approach

Over one in ten (11.5%) young people aged 16-24 are not in education, employment or training (NEET), nor are they looking for work. These are the young people Youth Futures exists to make a difference for.

But this is not a new problem – despite rises and falls in unemployment, this figure has stayed around 8-10% for at least 15 years. We need new solutions. That’s why we launched Connected Futures.

Services are failing young people

The first thing we did was speak to young people who’ve faced discrimination or exclusion in their journey from education to employment – those most likely to find themselves NEET. They made it clear that the systems and services that are meant to support them are failing. Young people told us about “help” they didn’t need – like being sent on a CV-writing course three or four times. Sometimes it even made things worse – like money to start up in self-employment that turned out to be a loan, leaving one young woman with debts she couldn’t cover, and no longer eligible for benefits.

Too often, services are focused on their activity targets, not what the young person in front of them needs. Young people end up pulled in different directions, and it’s up to them to stitch this together into something useful. And if they can’t, they end up facing impossible choices, like the care leaver we spoke to who had to give up college to meet the job search requirements to qualify for housing support.

This patchwork of different services, with cookie cutter offers, which young people have to find for themselves, and which pull them in different directions even if they do find them, can’t be right. Young people told us what they need – the right support from the right place at the right time to help them into good jobs.

That’s what Connected Futures is all about, and that’s why we’re funding differently.

Connecting the dots in each place

We want to see support arranged around the young person, not the other way around. Young people often need help with housing, health, family responsibilities or benefits, not just skills. However, too many services operate “vertically” – delivering activities based on funding or policy priorities set from the top down, focused on just one step of a young person’s journey to employment. We want to see them working in a more joined-up way – “horizontally” rather than “vertically”.

This means working across different services in the same place – using funding and other support to foster collaboration and cooperation between the different agencies responsible for the same young people.

By funding partnerships with organisations from different sectors who can bring employers, housing providers, criminal justice agencies and others to the table alongside young people, we can draw on the range of unique strengths and opportunities in that place, to develop specific solutions to those challenges. We call this “place-based” funding.

A different approach to funding

However, we also know solutions aren’t easy to find. We want to help partnerships to thoroughly understand the issues and barriers in their place, and to identify the levers and ideas with the highest potential to make a difference.

That’s why we’ve started Connected Futures with funding for eighteen months of exploration. We want partnerships to work with young people to get deeply under the skin of the local situation – where things are going wrong and why, and the opportunities to change this. It’s also a chance for partnerships to make friends – getting local stakeholders to understand and buy into the need for real change.

Unlike most funding programmes, we’re not looking for outcomes at this stage. We want to see shared analysis of the problems and possible solutions, and a shared ambition for change – with more organisations, services, employers and local people on board. We will fund delivery of that shared ambition in phase two.

This is different from the way most funding is provided. Partnerships welcome our model of flexible support to follow what they’re finding out and take the time to go deeper. But they also find it a struggle to structure their work without strictly pre-determined activities and outcomes.

Support as well as funding

That’s why we’re supporting partnerships with more than just funding. We’re working with Ipsos to develop a detailed analysis of the labour market for young people in each place – drawing on employment, education and wider data. Academics from the University of Birmingham are completing a review of the funding available to local areas for youth employment.

Renaisi is acting as a Learning Partner, helping partnerships with the design and delivery of their exploratory research. The social enterprise is helping the seven partnerships to think about what it means to make long-term, deep-rooted change in their place, and are also helping to train young people to lead local research.

Dedicated Youth Futures Relationship Managers work closely with partnerships, helping them to get the most out of the funding and support.

Young people at the heart

But none of this matters unless it comes back to what matters to young people. That’s why young people are at the heart of all our Connected Futures partnerships – as researchers finding out about the experiences of their peers, as advisors sharing findings with professionals, and on steering groups making decisions about solutions for the next phase.

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