Far from all young people in Denmark forge a strong connection with the labour market. Every year, around 5,000 young people find themselves without either a job or a qualifying education; this corresponds to 6–8% of each school year. Not only does this have major social and economic consequences for the individual young person, but it also costs Danish society DKK 12–15 billion per year to have young people thus isolated from the labour market.
In spite of a raft of good intentions, reforms and economic upticks, this proportion has not changed significantly in 20 years. As a society, we need to dare to break with conventional practice and start thinking along new lines. Taking knowledge from research as our starting point, and working closely with local authorities, companies and – in particular – the young people themselves, the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit has developed a network-based employment initiative: NExTWORK. NExTWORK is a long-term investment with the objective of helping the most vulnerable unemployed young people to start a job or a course of education – and to see it through.
In 2014, the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions unit joined forces with municipal partners to develop, trial and evaluate a new initiative for young people: NExTWORK. The objective of this initiative is to encourage young jobseekers, who are among the most vulnerable in the group, to start a job or an education – and to stick with it.
What is NExTWORK?
NExTWORK is an initiative for young people aged 18–29, where groups of young people and groups of companies team up to form mutually beneficial networks. The young people commence internships and are given the opportunity to experience different jobs and workplaces. The young people are divided up into groups of 6–8 members who meet up weekly to exchange ideas and experience with one another.
A key concept of the initiative is that the young people themselves choose the company where they want to serve their internship. During the process, they have the opportunity to switch workplace so as to experience other sectors and/or types of assignment. By gaining specific and relevant work experience, the young people, together with the other members of their group and their colleagues at the workplaces, have the chance to acquire new experience, articulate some of the things they are exposed to and participate in at work and, over time, build up a “work identity”.
The young people and the companies that participate in NExTWORK receive support from a team that facilitates the network itself and acts as a sounding board for both the young people and the companies as the initiative progresses.
Principles and fundamental elements in NExTWORK
NExTWORK is an initiative built on principles. Instead of having the work of the professionals based on a written manual, which can often prove restrictive and stifling, it is the principles that establish the framework for how those professionals work in the context of the initiative.
The three principles – work identity, many to many, and power shift – constitute the core of the initiative. They maintain focus on how NExTWORK is different to the existing employment system. When the professionals work on the basis of the principles, this has an impact on how they interact with the young people and the companies, how they shape the activities within the initiative, and how they support the network and help the young people to find a path out of unemployment.
The principles in more depth
The focus in NExTWORK is on the young people’s “work identity”. Instead of encouraging young people to take courses in order to prepare for a job or an education programme in the future, the young people are given actual work experience from internships. By focusing attention on experiences and reflecting on them jointly with other young people and companies, the young people can build up a work identity.
Many to many
NExTWORK places emphasis on work communities established between young people and their peers, and between young people and companies. Rather than attempting to help young people one-to-one, the companies, the professionals and the young people themselves work in groups to create good opportunities for everyone. In addition, the young people are allocated a place in a young people’s network, where they can mirror themselves in each other’s experiences.
The focus in NExTWORK is to shift the power to make decisions to the young people and the workplaces, with a view to creating ownership. Instead of having the professionals dictate the direction, the young people are given genuine choices in their own processes. The young people and the companies get to know one another and hold conversations relevant to work. Having had the chance to meet and talk to representatives of several companies, the young people then choose where they would like to work.
Municipal pilot projects and impact assessment
NExTWORK pilot projects are being implemented at a number of local authorities in different parts of Denmark, with staggered start-up dates for the different authorities. The first such project was implemented in the Municipality of Roskilde back in 2017. At present, six local authorities have already participated in pilot projects, including the City of Copenhagen and the Municipalities of Roskilde, Sønderborg, Vejle, Horsens and Kalundborg. In the various local authorities, a total of 1,000 young people have already participated in the initiative, and almost 600 companies have been involved.
One of the purposes of developing, trialling and implementing NExTWORK is to contribute new knowledge about “what works” in the field of employment. In order to build up solid documentation of the impact of NExTWORK, the initiative is therefore being assessed through a randomised, controlled trial, where the target group of young people for the initiative is selected at random and divided into an “initiative group” and a “control group”. To find out more about how and why we evaluate, click below.
The impact assessment is being carried out by researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.