There are 50,000 young adults in Denmark living on the edges of society – without education or work, and at great risk of never being able to obtain a foothold in the labour market. This has huge social and financial consequences for the individuals concerned, and it costs Danish society as a whole fully DKK 12-15 billion for each year that these young adults remain outside the labour market.
These numerous young people who have missed out on further education and have poor job prospects represent a major challenge for society, with enormous consequences for both the individuals themselves and for the national economy. New solutions are needed which can equip these young adults with the experience, resources and skills they need to enter and remain in either education or work.
In 2014, the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit teamed up with several municipality partners to launch an initiative to develop, trial and evaluate NExTWORK, a new initiative designed for unemployed young adults. The aim of the initiative was to help some of the most vulnerable of unemployed young adults to commence, and remain in, education or work.
As its name suggests, NExTWORK is a network-based scheme in which groups of young adults and employers link up. The young adults are organised into small groups of six to eight. They attend weekly meetings where the focus is on learning from each other’s experiences in the workplace, giving each other support, and discussing topics which are primarily work-related.
The participants choose their internship placements from among those offered by the various employers in the network, and over the course of the programme they have the opportunity to switch to an internship with a different employer and thus to try out various sectors and work roles. Through this practical work experience, the young participants have the opportunity to develop their personal and social skills and to chart a course towards education or employment.
The employers and young adults who participate in NExTWORK are supported by a team of specialists who facilitate the networks, provide support and serve as a sounding-board for both the young adults and the employers throughout the programme.
NExTWORK is based on three principles that focus on developing participants’ work identities, building up relationships and networks in a many-to-many approach, and generating a shift in power by putting the capacity to make decisions in the hands of the young adults. The principles guide the implementation of the programme and provide the framework for the facilitation of the networks for the young adult participants and the participating employers. The principles are important for how the NExTWORK teams interact with the young adult participants and the employers, and for how the teams provide support for the networks and for the young adult participants in finding their way out of unemployment.
The NExTWORK programme is municipality-based, and is currently being implemented in the municipalities of Roskilde, Copenhagen, Sønderborg, Vejle and Horsens in pilot projects lasting two to three years. The municipal programmes each have an enrolment of 40-50 young adults at any given time. The average duration of participation in the programme is seven months, so that there are currently at least 300 young adults annually participating in NExTWORK in the five municipalities where the programme is implemented at present. At least 50 employers participate in the initiative in each municipality. With participation by more than 250 companies across the five municipalities, the network spans a wide range of private and public sector employers.
One of the purposes of developing, trialling and implementing NExTWORK is to contribute new knowledge of ”what works” in the public employment services system. Consequently, a randomised controlled trial is being carried out in order to obtain firm evidence of the impact of NExTWORK. Young adults who fall within the target group for NExTWORK are allocated at random to either an intervention or a control group. The impact evaluation will be conducted by researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, London, and it is expected that the first results will be ready in the first half of 2022.
What has been different about doing an internship through NExTWORK compared with other places I’ve been is that there has been a lot more follow-up – about my internship, and how it is going. They ask about how the internship is going, and have meetings with the people who are responsible for me out in the internship firm, and do follow-up reports, and things like that. I think it’s great compared with the usual approach of ‘Now we’re sending you off to an internship for three months, and we’ll see you again when it’s over.’”
/ Young adult participant, NExTWORK Copenhagen
A lot of the guys I got to talk to in the network group were in the same boat as me. We got to be really good at talking about what NExTWORK is all about when new people joined the group. And we got to be good at helping each other and helping the others, because we’d grown through the NExTWORK programme, or whatever you call it. We clicked really well, and we’d all reached much the same point in our lives – some a bit worse off than others, but we’d all more or less hit rock bottom and needed to build ourselves up again.”
/ Young adult participant, NExTWORK Roskilde
The pilot implementation of NExTWORK has been staggered, with start-up in the Municipality of Roskilde as far back as 2017, and the most recent implementations in the municipalities of Vejle and Horsens commencing in the spring of 2019. This means that the piloting and evaluation phase will continue until 2021, and that the first results of the impact evaluation are expected in early 2022. At the same time, work has begun on the scaling phase, with preliminary studies being conducted of development trends that may support the spread of NExTWORK, of mechanisms for financing the implementation of NExTWORK, and of the organisational structures which are necessary for the deployment and scaling of the programme within Danish municipalities.
If you would like to know more about NExTWORK, please contact the programme leader, Annemette Krabbe, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on+45 31 72 94 37.