1. Introduction

 

The Young Service Steward (YSS) program was started in 2021 with a dedicated focus to support young adults 25-29 years of age with no education or employment or training. (NEET). The overarching goalwas to improve their life situation and employment possibilities in their local community. The YSS Program, funded by the EEA Grant, has accumulated valuable experiences on how  to upgrade life-skills, digital skills and engagement in local community services and on-site employment opportunities. The principles of the YSS community service initiative are now comprised in a Capacity Building Series.

The Capacity Building Series consist of this Open Educational Resource (OER), offering an overview of the main principles of the YSS program. It provides direct links to the activities, tools and methodologies created by the program and all encompassed in three Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); see below.

The target group of the Capacity Building Series includes volunteers and professionals working with the target group of young adults (NEET). It is hoped that the Capacity Building Series can inspire and motivate professionals and volunteers at all levels to enhance the inclusion of young adults and positively influence local communities to include and elevate the acceptance of young adults!

The YSS Program at large….

Community development program aimed at 25–29-year-old adults in 12 locations in Hungary, Romania and Spain (Altogether xxx persons involved in the program)

Offering

30 hours of tailored training program in digital competence

  • 3 Life Skills Program – “Motivation for an active life” – “A self-sustained life” – “Empower for employment”
  • Group and/or one-to-one counselling support
  • Mentoring for finding employment and to on-board local workplaces
  • Community service initiatives (welfare / circular economy
  • A full set of support materials (counselling/mentoring/train-the-trainer) for professionals involved in the program.

You will find all the detailed materials on activities and methodologies by entering the 3 MOOCs of the program:

1.1 Young Adults (NEET)

In the overall EU context, the group of young adults (15-29 years old without job or education) plays an important role. After decreasing in 2018 to around 10-11% of their age group population, the global COVID pandemic has again elevated  the number of NEET to around 14% with significant diversities between the EU countries. The EU target for 2030 is for the NEET category to be 9% or less of their age population. (Link: Eurostat).

The main purposes of this ambitious target are to:

  • Lift life-quality and combat poverty;
  • Prevent radicalism among young people and adults;
  • Bring people out of passive public support to become contributors to community and to give the young adults a real possibility to be included in their community.

In this OER we will invite the reader to explore the YSS strategies to motivate and empower young adults. The OER will fall in 4 main chapters:

  • Understand the challenges of young adults (NEET)
  • A 360-degree approach and Motivational Learning Strategies
  • Pathways to an included life
  • An ecosystem to support young adults.

2. Understand the challenges of young adults (NEET)

 

Population Statistics is one reality, but when it comes to improve the possibilities and the life situation of the individual young adult, it is necessary to understand the story behind why their life turned out as it did, and in many cases created obstacles to release their life expectations.

Under the “umbrella-term” NEET exist a very diverse group of citizens. So diverse that no “one-size-fits-all” strategy would work. It stretches from single mothers; young people fully responsible for their family or siblings; young people with serious behavioural challenges e.g young prisoners; people who did not fit into the institutionalized education system or who had other aspirations – and in some cases, young people who were attracted to alternative ways of living. The NEETs’s situation also reflect their communities, where resources of job and training possibilities are low or not existing. Especially this is crucial for young adults with learning disabilities or who need special attention to raise motivation.

2.1 New directions in life

In the YSS program, it has been crucial to focus on how all these experiences could be elaborated under various aspects of life-skills. As a point of departure, the program made an open invitation for all potential participants in the involved communities to give them the opportunity to express their needs and what content would be of help in their present situation. This open process gave an understanding of the diversity of participants, and how the training material should be used and with what intensity.

All reflections on own situation, life-stories and how it affected their opportunities was collected and turned into a discussion on new directions of life – one step at a time. (link: MOOC Life Skills). This was done in joint sessions and with follow up by one-to-one counselling. (Link: Counselling Manual)

Success story from Nagykálló (HU): How the success of individual mental health support influenced the participation in the life skills training

NEET young people have a wide range of problems, including mental health problems. In many cases, participants in the programme need mental health support. By providing this, the effectiveness of their participation in the programme elements could be greatly enhanced.

In one group, the trainer noticed that one participant was “not present” in the session, was overwhelmed by his “inner”feelings, only partially completed the exercises and did not answer questions.

The trainer offered to talk to him about his problems at the end of the session. The discussion (using the methodology of mental health supportive talk) was carried out and two more followed. The participant was able to talk about her anxieties and difficulties. The special attention of the professional, the listening, the acceptance had a good effect on the young person, he appreciated the help very much. He participated much more actively in the next sessions of the training than before.

Miskolc (HU): “NEETs at the edge of town”

Finding, addressing, motivating and mobilizing the target group of NEETs in a larger city is a particular challenge because of the diversity, geographical distances and difficulties in public transport. Therefore, the cardinal issue was to find a group that could be addressed quickly, simultaneously, “mobile” and relatively intellectually homogeneous. “This led us to choose non-working, non-educated mothers aged between 20 and 30, living in the city’s mothers’ care center.

The first thing to do was to convince the managers and social workers of the institutions. My decades of experience and my network of contacts in the social professions played a crucial role in the success of my consultancy role. Subsequently, I focused on the preparatory work with the mothers. At this point, I involved a trainer of my choice with the appropriate expertise, who could work in the same approach as the counsellor. This trainer, an experienced social worker, mediator, mental health professional, an group leader, was engaged in the selection and involvement of participants from the very beginning”.

Before the counselling sessions and trainings, the entry into the programme was also preceded by an interview. During this interview, individual fears, motivations, needs and wants were revealed and mobilised. At this early stage, it was important to empathize with the current vulnerable and wounded situation of the mothers, without expectations. We visited the mothers’ homes to see their current living conditions and understand their life situation better. They came with their children even for the first interview, and getting to know and accept their children was an important influencing factor for them during these first discussions.

Several factors played a role in attracting NEET mothers, including:

  • Working with an experienced trainer whose professional knowledge and client-centred “Rogersian” approach I trust.
  • My decades of family care work and family therapy practice, recognised by my local social work peers, facilitated quick access, and the local social workers themselves were already motivating the mothers.
  • We created a non-judgmental, calm, and safe atmosphere.
  • We use prospective questioning techniques that reinforced participants’ self-reflection and existing skills from the very beginning.
  • Our high degree of flexibility, while keeping the objectives in mind at all times.”

3. The 360-degree Approach and Motivational Strategies

 

The YSS program has placed a strong emphasis on how to motivate the group of young adults, no matter how diverse the group could occur in the local context. Motivation is key to guiding the individuals one or more steps up the ladder to a sustainable life, ensuring they are not solely reliant on to e.g. the public work schemes with limited skills development as the only solution. The program aims to avoid imposing a one-size-fits-all plan for escaping poverty, especially when depending on low public benefits, if any at all.

3.1 Motivational factors – a 360° perspective

The idea behind the YSS program was to create a synergy of motivation from a 360° perspective…:

The life skills program has, to the widest extend possible, used the participants’ real-life topics, turning them into direct training and processes. The use of real-life topics formulated by the participants gradually led to a motivation for finding new opportunities in the local community, and within the field of various community services  – from welfare to environmental services.

The 360° approach has also enforced…:

  • Joint terminology – speaking the same language (trainers/counsellors/mentors)
  • Coordination between the different activities (find the right timing and flexibility to make it a good experience for all /timing, readiness, and involvement).
  • A progression from the “YSS skills program” and to be prepared to test of possible employment activities.
  • Joint effort between the program and the local cooperation partners
3. Figure: NEETs by age-subgroups in Europe, Eurostat 2019

Motivating young adults without education and work requires a multifaceted approach. To create an atmosphere of self-worth and purpose is crucial both in individual relations and in the group activities. On-site workshops were supplemented with the YSS counseling and peer support, playing a significant role in cultivating a positive mindset. These strategies aim to help individuals to recognize their values and potentials. In the YSS Learning Program it has been pivotal to elevate participants on the latter (see above ) from public work schemes and activation and into a perspective of improving their own competence such as:

Digital Competence Development Program

On-site digital competence development

 

Young participants in the program have the option to engage in presence-based or online digital competence development according to their individual needs and preferences. The presence-based digital competence development program contains a total of 30 hours training.

The trainer conducting the presence-based digital competence development sessions tailors them entirely based on the participants’ needs. No predetermined lesson plan was created or suggested for the trainer. The trainer had access to an online preparatory module, providing pedagogical insights and practical methodologies for digital competence development. Additionally, both participants and the trainer have access to a digital competence knowledge base on the Learning Management System (LMS) platform. Utilizing these resources and considering the participants’ preferences, the on-site trainers develop a customized action plans for each learner group for the digital competence development sessions, aligning with the specific needs of the participant.

On-line digital competence development

The YSS Project not only aims to give a boost to the lives of the NEET through local programme implementation. In Spain, Romania and Hungary, we are running a broad campaign to reach as many young people as possible and provide them e-learning opportunities to develop their digital competences. The program has a focus on work-life approach and consists of three levels: Level 1 (modules 1-4), Level 2 (modules 1-5) and Level 3 (modules 1-6).
Level 1 focuses on the individual as job seeker, while Level 2 is designed to prepare learners for the work, and Level 3 is aimed at providing learners with additional skills that employers might appreciate.
Online digital competence development is supported by tutors. The tutors are responsible for

  • Supporting NEETs in signing or logging in into the platform.
  • Help NEETs if they forget their username and/or password.
  • Motivate NEETs to continue their learning on the platform by tracking participant progress.
  • Providing technical and professional support for NEETs during the learning process

The online digital competence developer e-learning can be taken by young people who are otherwise enrolled in the local attendance programme but for some reason cannot participate in the digital literacy attendance session.

Life Skills Programs

 

The life skills trainings strengthen life skills, motivation, and empowerment to improve each NEETs’ ability to live a selfsustained life

4. Motivation for an active life

5 Modules

30 Hours

with e-learning

5. A self-sustained life

5 Modules

30 Hours

with e-learning

6. Empowerment for employability

4 Modules

30 Hours

with e-learning

In the YSS, the training program takes its point of departure in the experiences of the young adults. The important learning strategy has been to motivate based on the individual experiences and ideas, such as what an active life means and how it can encourage the young person to discover resources and new ways to approach their opportunities in the local labor market. The learning program is also organized to prepare young adults to find and meet local employers and workplaces. Therefore, the learning program combines both life necessary skills and skills to improve chances on the local labour marked.

The counselling – one-to-one support throughout the whole programme implementation

The counsellor´s resources, in terms of available time for counselling work, are set at 10 hours (600 minutes) of counselling on average for each participant.
A counsellor represents stability in the YSS process. It is their job to accompany the participant on its path towards a more competent and fulfilled future. The counsellor is not only there for the participant at the beginning, at the planning of its path through the program but will support them every step of the way.
The counselling resources are suggested to be used partly according to a standardized counselling scenario, which includes a certain number of contacts with each participant in diverse forms initiated by the counsellor. These are the minimally required counselling steps. The standardised counselling scenario also includes regular contacts initiated by the counsellor with the other support functions in the YSS process (project coordinator, trainers, employer practice hosts).

Additionally, a substantial part of the counselling resources can be used in the form of individually necessary support when and where extra help is needed. The counsellor might encounter individual needs for further assistance and help in case of some participants that need to be taken care of. Some young people might need psychological counselling (including therapy), coaching (for personal life or business-related), career guidance or educational guidance. Depending on the local arrangements, some centres might decide to bring additional professionals (eg. psychologists) on board. Eventually, some participants will also initiate contacts with or require help from the counsellor. All these efforts are to be accounted for as part of the individually necessary support.

Learning linked with Job Practice in the local community (onboarding)

The final step up the latter has been to create a link between the labor practice opportunities in the local community with an on-site mentoring system carried out by dedicated “company instructors”.  So the last step of learning/mentoring was to combine labor practice with dedicated support on the site of the labor practice through so-called “workplace practice hosts” to mentor and support the onboarding of the individual young adults. The work experience component was also adapted to local opportunities and the needs of the participants. Either the participant was placed in an organisation/company or received mentoring support to start their own business.

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Success story: Entrepreneurial activities (RO)

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Success story: Rémi’s story

Rémi had a promising future as a child and aspired to become a teacher. However, his environment was not supportive, and he was on the verge of becoming a drug dealer when he joined the program. What proved to be a real game-changer for him was that the training sessions helped him to identify his strengths, and he is now preparing to apply to school.

3.2 Motivation for job practice or other employment initiatives

The important strategy in the YSS has been to motivate the young adults based on their individual experiences and their perception of an active life. Starting from this point, the aim is to encourage them to discover resources and new approaches to employment opportunities. Employment is understood here withing a broad frame (see Mooc 3 -; Pathways to employment): progressing from brief meetings with companies or workplaces to site visits and eventually transitioning into short employment practice periods.

3.3 Motivation of local stakeholders

Being aware of or finding the motivation of the local stakeholders is an important preparation for a program like YSS. Stakeholders’ motivation may not necessarily align with the motivation of young adults. Not to blame them, but they will focus on what is beneficiary for themselves and the local community at large. In this respect, it is important to have focus on aspects of lack of “labour force”, reducing community cost, making community more attractive, and attract investment and external resources. Addressing these aspects is essential to create a win-win situation between target group and stakeholders.

4. Pathways to an included life (community)

 

Inclusion is a key goal in working with young adults outside the labour market and formal education. Achieving inclusion and acceptance from local community is essential for young adults to improve their life situation. This involves inclusion in community activities and opportunities for potential job and workplaces.

The involvement of local stakeholders, both from private sector (companies, associations, interest groups) and the public sector (municipalities, institutions, suppliers), plays a crucial role in providing sustainable support to young adults. Without local participation, the effectiveness of the program may be challenging to maintain beyond the program period. The risk is that without local involvement, young adults may  experience a lack of interest and continuity, potentially leading them to be thrown around in the system one again!

3. Figure: NEETs by age-subgroups in Europe, Eurostat 2019

As a first step in the YSS local programmes, a comprehensive description was prepared for the municipalities and the surrounding areas where the implementation would take place.

4.1 Description of Program context

Knowledge about the local environment, including the main local actors and stakeholders, the characteristics (needs and opportunities) of the target group’s smaller groups, and the existence/lack of infrastructure on the ground, is essential to ensure that the professional development and other procurement activities will be carried out in the project tailored to the needs of the target group.

The purpose of the description

  1. To give an overview of the city (location) and the organisation that will host the local implementation of the YSS Project in the future. The aim of the specification is not only to help define the focus of implementation but also to provide a starting point for the professional development of the project so that it can be more tailored to the needs of the target group.
  2. Sustainability is crucial for the beneficiaries. Sustainability, in terms of a long-term perspective of the participation of the target group, which will give them time and possibilities to anchor better in the community. Additionally, sustainability is crucial for the organisations that shall provide employment, training and personal development. The description focuses on who will be best to ensure this sustainability and how.

4.2 Local actors in a program

The second step of the “local descriptions” involved direct contact with local actors who have connections with local young adults and who also could support the implementation of the programme, either by helping to reach out and involve young adults or by support to develop their skills or to gain work experience.

The typical actors

colleagues of local youth clubs, colleagues from orphanages and maternity homes, municipalities, experienced locally recognised and known trainers and mental health professionals, large employers, public employees, and heads of social departments.

The identified stakeholders were invited to a meeting to understand the plans and ideas for the programme and to brainstorm and discuss why it is worth supporting local young people and who and how could support the programme. At the end of the event, the participants signed a declaration stating their willingness to support the local implementation of the programme to the best of their abilities.

The reality of many local communities is however that they offer very limited opportunities in the form of actual jobs or employment possibilities. This has been the case in some of the communities involved in the YSS. The “inclusion challenge” has led to ideas on how young adults can start their own “one-person business” or employment by offering small services, selling products, or participating in community services. all initiatives to secure better income and prospect of life, and not depending entirely on the local employers.  Entrepreneurial skills and training in these local communities have been a valuable contribution to how young adults can become a part of the solution for their local community.

Traditionally a “local community” is understood as a physical entity limited by persons, buildings, and land location. But the experience from the YSS strongly indicate that for young adults it possible also to anchor in “virtual communities” using social media. The search for job and the presentation of oneself to a very high extent go through a virtual community. There are examples from the YSS program where young adults, by entering virtual communities, have been able to sell products to people in other parts of their region.

This underlines the fact that in programs like YSS, where employability and community service go hand in hand play an important role, it is crucial to be open to defining “pathways to employment” in a broader sense, not only focusing on the classical understanding of local community.

3. Figure: NEETs by age-subgroups in Europe, Eurostat 2019

In the YSS program, the strategy has been to prepare as many links and measures as possible to local stakeholders:

  • Presenting the result in “local meetings/hearings” as kick off for the program (Link: Example of meeting)

  • Inviting local “Practice hosts” for a training program in “Mentoring” young adults. This program provided an HR opportunity for people in both public institutions and private companies to learn how to “on-board” new and un-experienced staff (Link: “Practice host manual”)

  • The life skills program “Empower for employability” was organised with the possibility to invite and involve local employers and community service organisers. (Link: Mooc 2 – Life skills trainings for NEETs)

5. An ECO-system to support young adults (NEET)

 

The simplest way to define an eco-system is “a community where all members interact and supplement each other to make the community work”. Many efforts have been done over time to support young adults without job or education, but in many cases, it has been done disconnected to local needs and circumstances, often leding to more isolation of the group.

To enforce an ecosystem is to defend important principles:

Embed activities into actual needs...
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... in the local community like welfare and environment, and as close/integrated to needs of other groups in society (elderly/children/handicapped).

Create synergy...
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... between public and private stakeholders.

Ensure longer-term continuity...
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... of the activities (find local hosts or sponsors of the activities).

Adaptable for the young adults...
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... so they can experience their own real-life obstacles and possibilities, especially for those young adults who are fighting with learning disabilities.

Flexible...
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... to make it possible for young adults to align it with other obligations they are facing with e.g. child-care or support to family members.

Progressive skills development...
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... so that it is possible to build sustainable and relevant basic skills to increase how the young adult can create better self-sustainability by various forms of employment.

The YSS program has been created to explore and test some of the principles of an integrated ecosystem to support people with low education and job attainment.

There is still a long way to go to name it an “ecosystem”. Especially to create the long-term continuity in these activities as it will also require long term investment of resources before “return on investment” in both human and financial resources can be impact measured. Primarily, as the program has been developed in a limited project frame. The involvement of the local community moreover requires recognition and proven reliability before it is accepted, and this grow out of long-term relations and cooperation. Finally, it is important to be aware that local communities in remote areas often not well prepared for such external initiatives, as most citizens and stakeholders are under pressure of resources.

YSS – An outline of a basic ecosystem to support young adults.

The experience of YSS, however, gives some clear indications of what is needed in such an ecosystem.

Basic Skills Access

play a very important role to create an ongoing progression to make the young adults (and all adults in general) adapted to the needs and requirements of society. A supportive step is to collect and visualise all possible types of basic skills training available – online and onsite.  This can be done by a local catalogue or a portal showing the possibilities.

Support for Life Skills and Personal Development

Most young adults without education and job needs a preferable one-to-one support to be ready for their next life step, and they need dedicated support to formulate this. It can be a supplement to existing labour market centres/program. The Life Skills program in the YSS have proven how crucial this is to bring most of the group forward with education, employability or to find new possibilities in their community (virtual or physical).

Community service/Community initiatives

are important to link with the target group of young adults as it is a way to expose the group and to strengthen their relations. It is also to find a pathway that can be relevant and important for the “survival” of the local community – whether it contain aspects of welfare support, environmental issues, support to special groups or community development at large. The aim is to raise motivation and belonging, but also to find new ways of employability and engagement.

Local Partnerships

The final important factor in creating a basic ecosystem for young adults is to bring the most interested stakeholders to the table. The long term sustainability depends on how well private initiatives, interest groups, employers, public institutions, and municipalities are able to work together in a partnership aimed at giving the young adult support and recognition.

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