The research suggests that off-the-job training is likely to have a moderate positive impact on youth employment outcomes, as a component of a youth employment intervention. The research suggests that off-the-job training is likely to have a high impact on employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers in the labour market.
What is it?
Off-the-job training aims to develop vocational skills for specific jobs and/or sectors through learning that takes place primarily outside the workplace. In the research for the Toolkit, the term refers to interventions in which technical and vocational training was delivered in any setting other than ‘on-the-job’, for example in classrooms or workshops.
Off-the-job training was only included in this review where it was provided as part of a targeted intervention to improve employment rates among young people. The review does not include off-the-job training programmes that form part of the universal education and vocational training system. Excluded examples would include learning undertaken in schools, and college courses that young people apply to independently. This means the evidence relates to young people who are at risk of marginalisation and disadvantage in the labour market, rather than to all young people in the target age group. Young people who engage in off-the-job training as part of a youth employment intervention may sometimes earn a qualification, or credit towards a qualification, on the basis of their learning.
Because of its close relationship to the labour market, the range, content and format of off-the-job training may change substantially over time to reflect economic needs and priorities. It may also vary between interventions, depending on their context and the opportunities available to young people where they are implemented. It includes:
- ‘technical education’ which provides an understanding of the theoretical foundations of vocational learning,
- ‘vocational education and training’ that focusses on job-specific skills and preparation for employment in particular kinds of role and sector.
Young people may take part in off-the-job training in colleges and other learning institutions, at workplaces in dedicated training settings, in the community, or online. It may be delivered by college tutors or lecturers, private or nonprofit providers, or trainers based in a business.
The following are not included in the definition of off-the-job training used here:
- The off-the-job element of an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are discussed in a separate section of the Toolkit.
- Off-the-job learning that focusses solely or primarily on the development of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy, or life skills (sometimes called ‘soft skills’) such as communication, team-working, workplace behaviours, etc.
The cost rating for off-the-job training is high.
- Number of inputs: Multiple, including recruitment activities, scheduling and organisation, staffing by trainers and others, specialist curricula, programme planning and management, and the formation and management of partnerships between stakeholders such as employers, learning providers, community organisations and others.
- Duration of inputs: Most off-the-job training lasts for several months.
- Sources of inputs: Multiple, including learning providers and employers.
- Expertise: Expert tutors, curriculum designers and student support professionals are needed. Expertise in local labour market analysis and partnership building are also valuable.
- Settings: Specialist workshop and other settings may be required.
- Intervention-only inputs: Many inputs can only be used for off-the-job training.
The research suggests that off-the-job training is likely to have a moderate positive impact on youth employment outcomes, as a component of a youth employment intervention.
The research suggests that, on average, for every 19 young people who can take part in a programme, one will get a job who wouldn’t have done so without the intervention.
The confidence interval for this estimate means that the improvement could vary between about 5 and over 100, depending on a range of factors including how the intervention is implemented. The research findings suggest that the impact may be higher when off-the-job training is offered as a standalone intervention or with one other component. However the evidence base for this latter finding is very limited.
This finding is similar to those identified in other systematic reviews:
- The effect identified for programmes whose major component is skills training in a 2022 systematic review of youth employment interventions across the world.
- The effect identified for high income countries in a 2021 review of youth employment interventions based on skills training.
The research suggests that off-the-job training is likely to have a high impact on youth employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers to employment. This includes young people living with a disability, young people who have been involved with the justice system, or young people with experience of the care system.
The research suggests that, on average, for every 4 young people who can take part in a programme, one will get a job who wouldn’t have done so without the intervention.
The impact rating does not reflect the impact of off-the-job training on any other outcomes for young people.
In addition, the evidence suggests that a combination of off-the-job training with basic skills training and other components could have a high positive impact on youth employment outcomes.
About the evidence
You can find details of individual studies of evaluations that include on-the-job training, as well as other systematic reviews of youth employment evaluations, in the Youth Employment Evidence and Gap Map.
The strength of the evidence for the impact of off-the-job training on youth employment compared to services as usual is moderate.
The network meta-analysis of evaluation findings for the Youth Employment Toolkit includes 20 evaluations of youth employment programmes including off-the-job training that are compared with ‘services as usual’ for young people, in high-income countries. Twelve of these were conducted in the USA. The international nature of the evidence means that the findings may not translate directly to the UK context.
An assessment using the Campbell Secretariat’s Critical Appraisal Tool suggests low to moderate confidence in their findings. The overall rating is moderate because of the relatively high number of studies.
The strength of the evidence for the finding relating to young people who face additional barriers is low.
Further evaluations of off-the-job training interventions in a UK context, in particular those provided to young people who face additional barriers to employment, would be of great value in identifying the most effective approaches to recruitment, design and delivery.
The review included only studies of off-the-job training that was provided as an intervention to improve youth employment. It does not include off-the-job training programmes that form part of the universal education and vocational training system. For example, a college course such as a BTEC that is open to young people in a further education college would not be included. However, on several of the programmes that were included, young people had the option of joining programmes of this kind. Others could use credit for learning gained during the intervention to earn a recognised qualification at a later stage.
The impact of off-the-job training appears to be higher for young people who face additional barriers in the labour market, such as living with a disability, experience of the criminal justice system, or experience of the care system.
How does it work?
Off-the-job training aims to help young people gain technical knowledge and skills for specific jobs and/or sectors. Depending on their schedule and mode of learning, they may be able to combine training with other activities, such as practical experience of the kind of work they are training for, an unrelated job, or caring commitments.
Young people who complete off-the-job training are more likely to be offered jobs that are relevant to the learning they acquire. They offer a higher level of skills to potential employers, and can show their suitability for the work, by using their skills and/or by presenting qualifications that show they have completed the training. They may also be more motivated to work in these kinds of role because they understand what the jobs involve.
Once in work, they are more likely to stay employed. This is because they understand what they need to do, and have realistic expectations. They also have a grounding for future learning at work, which in turn helps them to progress in their career.
How to implement it well
The following summary draws on information about the programmes that are evaluated in the studies included in the network meta-analysis of evaluation findings. This includes descriptions and discussion of the programmes in the quantitative reports, as well as in some cases accompanying process evaluations. It also uses findings from process and implementation studies in the Youth Futures Evidence and Gap Map, a review by the IES for Youth Futures, and a small number of other sources including peer-reviewed academic studies and guidance from organisations with relevant expertise.
Please note that these summaries reflect qualitative findings rather than the comparison group analysis used in the evaluations that are included in the meta-analysis.
The summary does not include guidance on pedagogy and curriculum design in vocational education.
Recruitment and orientation activities
Some programmes assess the suitability of young people for the intervention before they enrol, or include a short orientation phase where factors such as current skills levels, motivation and interests are explored.
Content that reflects employment opportunities and skills needs in the local economy
Many programmes match their content closely to skills needs and job opportunities in the local economy. Approaches include:
- Employer involvement in the design and delivery of programme content, with a specific aim of matching this to local skills priorities and job opportunities.
- Opportunities for classroom and off-the-job tutors to spend time in local firms.
- Extensive ongoing collaboration between education providers and employers, to address emerging issues and identify challenges.
- Working within partnerships that already exist, or building partnerships that last over multiple iterations of the programme and bring together diverse local stakeholders.
In the UK context, the Unit for Future Skills has been established to improve understanding of current skill mismatches and future demand across the UK, and the Local Skills Dashboard provides detailed information.
Some interventions use ‘learning packages’ to develop occupation-specific skills. These introduce participants to occupational standards and let them develop skills that are transferrable within the sector. However, tutors may adapt and/or supplement these to reflect local employer needs and employment opportunities. Some interventions use bespoke curricula but allow local flexibility, with common learning objectives across sites but specific adaptations of context to the local context.
Programme practice and culture that mirrors work rather than school
Young people who enter youth employment interventions have often had poor experiences of school, which can impact on their engagement with off-the-job training. Some programmes use aspects of their design and culture to counter this, making learning environments more like workplaces and less like school. For example:
- Fostering respectful relationships between staff and learners.
- Providing feedback in ways that reflect professional settings.
- Allowing a high degree of independent work, with appropriate support.
- Co-location of learning activities with on-the-job experiences were possible, or using a ‘work-like’ setting if available.
- A training schedule that is similar to a work one, including a requirement for regular attendance similar to that of a job.
- Field trips, tours of business sites and workplaces, talks and visits from professionals.
- Providing off-the-job training at a workplace can also help to improve engagement.
Feedback and assessment can be designed to support subsequent learning.
Learning paced for individuals
Some programmes seek to offer opportunities for independent working and curricula that are ‘paced’ to match the progress of individual learners. These may be offered alongside some individual tutoring or group work.
Although the term is not widely used, several programmes appear to use a framework similar to ‘mastery learning’, in which learners move on to a new element of the curriculum only when they have demonstrably grasped the previous one. Successful mastery learning requires flexibility and supplementary support for learners, as well as effective assessment (Hattie, 2009).
A strong system of learner support
As well as learning support, youth employment programmes may need to make sure that participants in off-the-job training have access to services that can help them deal with personal and social challenges. These are often similar to the ‘student services’ offered in colleges. Where programmes are delivered in collaboration with an educational institution, learners may be able to access the support that is available to all learners.
These services can include supplementary tutoring, career counselling, signposting to services including financial help, support with mental or physical health, and access to provision such as childcare. Curricula and delivery may also be designed with the needs of young people who face long-term unemployment or other social and personal challenges in mind. For example, the timetable can accommodate family or transport factors, and the pace of learning can be adapted to match learner needs.
Off-the-job training for young people who face additional barriers to employment
The network meta-analysis found that off-the-job training can have a high impact on employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers to employment. This includes young people living with a disability, and/or young people with known additional risks of marginalisation, such as experience of the care system, a mental health condition, or current or former experiences of the youth justice system.
The research did not include a systematic review of the literature on how best to develop and implement programmes for young people in these groups. The following account presents some of the key features of the programmes in the research.
The following approaches to bespoke design are described:
- Working with specialist partners (such as youth organisations, community organisations, charities, statutory services and others) to understand the particular challenges faced by learners in the target group for the intervention.
- Setting up programmes with sufficient flexibility to accommodate the needs of young people who experience specific barriers to participation in on-the-job training.
- Identifying the barriers and areas of difference experienced by individual learners that may impact on their engagement with the programme, and providing specialist support or resources, or helping learners to access suitable external support.
- Improving trainers’ understanding of barriers to engagement, and developing their skills to work with young people who experience these.
Summary of evidence
- Findings from an analysis of data on programmes that include an ‘off-the-job training’ component suggest that this is likely to have a moderate impact on youth employment outcomes.
- Off-the-job training is likely to have a high impact on youth employment outcomes for young people who experience additional barriers in the labour market.
- The strength of the evidence for the impact of off-the-job training on youth employment outcomes is moderate in relation to all young people.