The research suggests that on-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-the-job training is likely to have a very high impact on employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers in the labour market.
What is it?
On-the-job training, or in-work training, consists of a structured programme designed to develop skills for a specific occupation and/or sector, primarily through activities undertaken in the workplace. In the research for the Toolkit, the term applies to:
- Structured training programmes for young people, where all or most of the training takes place in a workplace, alongside or embedded in practical activities associated with a particular job and/or sector.
- Training designed to develop practical skills for a specific job and/or sector.
- Training programmes that include a partnership between a training provider and an employer, to facilitate training of the kind described above.
- Programmes that meet the above definition and last between a few weeks and twelve months.
The following were not defined as on-the-job training, and are not included in this summary:.
- Apprenticeships, which are defined as programmes that combine on-the-job with off-the-job training, last for a year or more, and lead to a major nationally- or regionally-recognised qualification. These are discussed in a separate section of the Toolkit.
- Work experience and internship programmes, where young people may gain vocational skills through informal instruction and practice, but the programme does not include any formal training element.
- Work experience gained through volunteering or through work that is not part of a youth employment intervention.
In on-the-job training, young people gain practical experience of the workplace, and of working in a sector. They may receive instruction from dedicated trainers, staff with a specialism in training, managers, or a combination of these. Sometimes young people who take part may gain a qualification or credit towards a qualification, but this is not an essential feature of on-the-job training interventions.
On-the-job training may be delivered alongside off-the-job training, basic skills training, life skills training, mentoring or coaching, and other interventions. It may be paid, unpaid, or subsidised.
In the UK, traineeships are a common form of on-the-job training. These are work placements of 70 or more hours, in which learners are supported to develop vocational skills that will help them to progress within their chosen sector, including skills to support progression towards an apprenticeship. They also receive training in basic skills and skills for finding a job.
The cost rating for on-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 partnership formation and management. Young people involved in on-the-job training may also be paid.
- Duration of inputs: Most on-the-job training lasts for a month or more.
- Sources of inputs: Multiple, including employers and other stakeholders.
- Expertise: Expert tutors, curriculum designers and student support professionals are needed. Expertise in local labour market analysis and partnership building is also valuable in planning and delivering programmes.
- Settings: Specialist workshop and other settings may be needed.
- Intervention-only inputs: Some of the inputs to on-the-job training are specific to this activity.
The research suggests that on-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 12 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 identified for this estimate means that this number could vary between little impact on employment and around 6 depending on a range of factors including how the intervention is implemented.
The research findings suggest that the average impact could be higher when on-the-job training is offered as a standalone intervention or with another type of intervention. However the evidence base for this latter finding is very limited.
The research suggests that on-the-job training is likely to have a very high positive 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 two 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 identified for this effect means that in some cases for every three young people who can take part, one will get a job who wouldn’t have done so otherwise.
The impact rating does not reflect the impact of on-the-job training on any other outcomes for young people.
The review included only studies of short on-the-job training programmes that are provided as a targeted intervention to improve youth employment. It did not include on-the-job training courses that young people followed as part of a universal education system. Some targeted programmes offer young people the option of joining programmes of this kind where they are available as part of a universal education offer. Others let young people use credit for learning gained during the intervention to earn a qualification at a later stage.
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 on-the-job training on youth employment compared to services as usual is low.
The network meta-analysis of evaluation findings for the Youth Employment Toolkit includes seven evaluations of youth employment programmes including on-the-job training that are compared with ‘services as usual’ for young people, in high-income countries. Five of these were conducted in the USA, and the rest were conducted in Europe. 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 generally low confidence in their findings. This rating may reflect the way in which the studies are reported, rather than the way they were conducted. The small number of studies also contributes to the low rating.
Further evaluations of on-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.
Other reviews of the evidence on youth employment interventions have identified a similar level of impact for programmes whose major component is vocational skills training. For example:
- A 2022 systematic review of youth employment interventions.
- A 2021 review of youth employment interventions based on skills training.
These programmes often include other components alongside vocational skills training. The impact of other components is separated from that of on-the-job training in the research for the Toolkit.
Relatively few studies in the UK evaluate on-the-job training. A 2019 evaluation of Traineeships found positive impacts on progression to apprenticeships and further Level 2 learning for young people aged 16-23.
How does it work?
On-the-job training aims to help young people gain technical knowledge and skills for specific jobs and/or sectors. They also get practical experience of the workplace and the kinds of activity that the job involves. Young people who complete on-the-job training are more likely to be offered jobs that are relevant to their training – or, indeed, offered a job at all. They offer a higher level of skills to potential employers, and can show their suitability for the work. They may also be more motivated to work in these kinds of role because they know first-hand what the job is like. Some young people may decide not to pursue an unsuitable career path following the work experience gained during an on-the-job training intervention.
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, as well as studies in the Youth Futures Evidence and Gap Map, a review by the IES for Youth Futures, and other publications. Please note that for the most part these reflections are not grounded in the kind of rigorous evaluation approach which underpins the quantitative findings in the meta-analysis, but instead reflect qualitative findings.
Recruitment that fosters good learner-to-programme matching
Some programmes use recruitment approaches that aim to match on-the-job training opportunities closely with young people’s interests and motivations. These may include:
- Meetings with potential programme participants.
- Extensive information about the programme for potential entrants.
- A formal application process, which may include an interview.
- Pre-course assessments to identify skills gaps that could impact on engagement and progression, with opportunities to address areas for development.
An orientation phase can also help young people to form clear and realistic expectations of the programme, and build group cohesion between learners.
Programme content and design
Programme content and design varies depending on the sector in which young people engage in on-the-job training. Some of the approaches described include:
- A balance between broad and transferrable workplace skills, and role-specific skills.
- Opportunities for group work and project-based learning.
- Opportunities for learners to ‘debrief’ and reflect on their learning, and to apply newly-acquired skills in independent work.
- Opportunities to gain recognised qualifications, or credit towards qualifications. Partnerships with colleges and other learning providers may facilitate this.
Partnerships with youth and community organisations can help programme designers to understand specific needs and apply this knowledge to programme design.
Modelling workplace culture and behaviours
Programmes may integrate learning about the world of work with vocational and job-specific skills development. This helps learners prepare for employment, and also differentiates on-the-job training from school—which is important for young people who have had poor experiences in compulsory education. For example:
- ‘Modelling’ workplace culture and expectations throughout the programme, for example in how learners are addressed, providing feedback in ways that mirror workplace reviews rather than school assignments, etc.
- Fostering cultures of mutual respect between learners, trainers, and colleagues.
- Integrating learning about general skills for work, such as workplace behaviours, with learning about the specific job and sector.
Alignment with local opportunities and skills needs
Many programmes align their content closely with opportunities and skills needs in the local labour market. This relies on strong partnerships with local employers as well as good-quality labour market intelligence. Approaches include:
- Programme content planning that uses local labour market intelligence.
- Matching technical skills for particular occupations closely to the needs of local employers, even within bespoke sectoral or occupational training.
- National or large regional programmes that allow flexibility for local providers to reflect the current and anticipated needs of local employers, with support for local matching while maintaining overall programme goals and models.
- Agility that allows providers to adjust programmes in response to changing local contexts and opportunities.
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.
Partnerships with employers
Programmes frequently include a strong partnership with employers in the local area where an intervention is delivered. This may include:
- Employer commitment throughout the intervention lifecycle, from design through delivery and including supporting learners who complete the programme.
- Regular contact and mutual feedback opportunities.
- Formal agreements that document the level and nature of commitment at each stage, and clearly set out roles and responsibilities.
- Links to job openings for young people who complete a training programme.
- The involvement of sectoral organisations as well as individual employers.
The research indicates that employer partnerships can be resource-intensive to set up and maintain. Successful examples often build on existing relationships and collaborations.
On-the-job training for young people who face additional barriers to employment
The network meta-analysis found that on-the-job training can have a very 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.
Provision and support designed for young people who face additional barriers to engagement
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.
Working with autistic young people
The following design features were noted in programme for autistic young people. Note that this is a description of the relevant programmes; the features described were not subjected to individual comparative evaluations to assess their impact on outcomes.
- Analysis of the tasks in specific occupations and workplaces to develop suitable adaptations for autistic young people.
- Analysis of the activities involved in on-the-job training to understand how these will work for autistic young people. This includes scored task analyses, structured repeated trials for discrete tasks, behavioural rehearsal for specific social skills, visual and self-directed prompting procedures for behavioural challenges, and reinforcement for socially-expected ‘professional’ behaviours.
- Programmes that offer a higher intensity of opportunities to learn both technical vocational skills, and social interaction skills. For example, learners had opportunities to practice job-specific skills repeatedly, in a generalised setting. The principles of mastery, fluency and generalisation of skills were core to programme design.
- Support for autistic young people to understand common work statements in behavioural terms, e.g. behaviours associated with workplace values and phrases.
- Regular review of programmes and collection of data to assess how they are working for autistic young people, with the option to adjust plans for instruction and behavioural management on the basis of findings.
- Access to specialist educational support for young people, or embedded educational support in workplace learning settings.
- Additional training for trainers on how to support autistic young people.
- Assessment of individual learner needs, and support for programme participation.
Letting employers observe autistic young people over time and in different professional situations lets these learners demonstrate their work ethic and the value they add as employees. In turn, greater employer understanding builds ‘buy in’ for the employment of autistic young people.
Summary of evidence
- On-the-job training is likely to have a moderate impact on employment outcomes for disadvantaged young people.
- On-the-job training is likely to have a high impact on employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers to employment, such as those living with a disability, experience of the care system, or a history of engagement with the criminal justice system.
- The strength of the evidence for on-the-job training is low, largely because of the relatively small number of evaluations that have been conducted. Further research examining interventions in the UK context would be of great value, especially in relation to impacts on employment outcomes for young people who face additional barriers to employment.