Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to engage young adults furthest from the labour market
Owner and director of ConnectMore Solutions, Richard Hazledine, shared with EPALE how the YaS project helped young adults who are far from the labour market to find employment.
In 2014 I was appointed to lead an evaluation of a UK-based employability project designed to ‘test and learn’ what works when supporting young people furthest from the labour market to develop their employability.
The project was known as ‘Young and Successful’ (YaS) and was part of the Big Lottery Fund Talent Match programme.
The link between distance from the labour market and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Throughout the process of evaluating the project, it became apparent that there was a potential link between the behaviour of young people furthest from the labour market and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The anecdotal evidence suggested that unless the basic life needs of young people were being met, it was difficult for young people to focus on how they might go about developing their employability.
This initial observation was somewhat consistent with the thoughts of Abraham Maslow who devised his hierarchy of needs to help explain human behaviour.
Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.
Anecdotally it appeared to be that young people who were not meeting their basic needs in terms of shelter, security and food were not necessarily engaging well with pure employability interventions. Instead meeting their basic needs became their main life focus.
Conceptual model to explain the affinity between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and young adults furthest from the labour market
In response to these observations I worked with the Horizon 2020 Enliven (Encouraging Lifelong Learning for an Inclusive & Vibrant Europe) team at the University of Nottingham to develop a conceptual model to illustrate how the life circumstances of young people furthest from the labour market could be aligned with each of the five stages of the Maslow hierarchy (see figure one below).
Helping young people move up the hierarchy of needs and move closer to an employment outcome
The model initially helped to illustrate how the ‘Young and Successful’ project endeavoured to create an environment which helped young people address their barriers and move up the hierarchy.
We knew from real world experience that many young were not meeting their ‘physiological needs’ and ‘safety needs’ at the point of access into the service (Stages one & two). Unless a plan was established to help meet these needs then it was proving to be very difficult to engage young people in the wider service.
Building a sense of belonging to help young people make the transition from education to employment
In recognition of these challenges each young person on the project was assigned a dedicated mentor from the outset to help address individual barriers. The mentor in essence helped to provide a ‘safe space’ where the young person could ‘belong’ (stage 3).
This sense of belonging was deemed to be crucial for many young people as they navigated the unfamiliar transition from education to employment. The mentor provided a crucial support function to help nurture each young person to devise a workable action plan whilst at the same time helping to avoid the debilitating effects of lost confidence, anxiety or depression.
Increasing the confidence and self-esteem of young people
Throughout a period of months young people typically worked with their mentor to develop a person-centred employment plan to define the key actions they needed to be taking to develop their employability and address barriers to the labour market. As this process was undertaken, young people gradually moved into the fourth level of the hierarchy where their confidence and esteem began to rise.
As the process continued, young people were supported to make job applications. Crucially the mentor also helped young people undertake reflective learning in the event of unsuccessful applications. This is crucial – since many employers do not possess the capacity to provide detailed insightful feedback on candidate performance there is a danger that young people can very quickly lose enthusiasm to continue the job search process.
The transformational moment of the first ever job: a glimpse at self-actualisation
Through the process of working with their mentor, around 33% of young people on the project were supported into employment. Other young people returned to education and training, or engaged in work experience or volunteering opportunities. For many of the young people securing employment for the first time this was a life changing moment as they realised that employment was actually an attainable lifestyle. This part of the hierarchy was been re-named ‘a glimpse at self-actualisation’ since young people who secure employment for the first time begin to realise employment is attainable lifestyle. Prior to this point our experience was that many young people had begun to doubt whether they would ever find work.
Michael’s story (see below) helps to illustrate some of these principles of the ‘Young and Successful’ service model and the journey of young people in greater detail.
Watch Michael's story here (3 min 25 sec)
Our experience showed that in reality it is not as simple as young people progressing through the hierarchy in a linear fashion. As real life happens our experience revealed that young people can and do go up and down the hierarchy in response to external factors.
Testing the conceptual Maslow model
To test the conceptual model which had been developed, we worked with the Enliven team at the University of Nottingham
Through discussions with the Enliven team it was decided that we would use decision tree analysis across the project data set to reveal the strongest predictors that a young person would secure a job outcome. This analysis revealed that collectively young people were more likely to secure a job outcome on the project if they had:
- Good levels of confidence
- Good levels of mental health
- worked before
This finding was interesting because you could reasonably assume that young people who are not consistently able to meet their basic physiological needs and safety needs are also more likely to be affected by poor levels of confidence and mental health. For example, if you have been living in unstable housing situation for a number of months it could reasonably be expected that this would have a negative influence on the outlook of the average young person. In these situations a young person might feel less confident about their future and their ability to make progress in life.
The importance of having worked before
The analysis revealed that the strongest single predictor that a young person would secure employment was to have worked before. As we can see on the bar chart below, ‘Having worked before’ towers over the other project variables. This trend was so striking that this chart has been referred to as the ‘Eiffel tower’ chart across the project team!
This trend is also crucial because it begins to reveal an important truth about the role of work experience. If having worked before is such a strong predictor of future employment, what happens to the young people who have never worked before? How can they singlehandedly resolve this issue, overcome their experience gap, and secure employment? The evidence would tend to suggest that this gap reinforces the need for a mentor-based approach to help young people access appropriate employment opportunities, apprenticeships or work-based learning schemes.
Based on the original design of the YaS project the mentor role was crucially deemed necessary to help each young person who had never worked before to maintain the necessary focus. This was deemed to be necessary to help each young person navigate through the on-going challenge of submitting job applications and, if unsuccessful, dealing with employer rejection. The mentor role is there to help the young person reflect on their experiences and learn from the challenges that they face.
Understanding employment as an attainable lifestyle
Crucially, the mentor knows that employment is an attainable outcome in spite of these struggles. For the young person faced with a steady stream of rejection experiences employment may not seem attainable. This is why we consider that actually landing your first ever job is a key transformational moment in a young person’s life; we believe it can be considered a ‘glimpse at self-actualisation’.
As the challenge of youth unemployment continues to rise across Europe, I wonder if we need to invest in the development of models to help employability providers, commissioners, policymakers and education institutions understand in greater detail the life challenges that young people face when they transition from education into employment?
In the UK we still appear to have much to learn when it comes to working with young people furthest from the labour market. The evidence tends to suggest that employability providers are better at working with mainstream clients who are the most employable from the outset. For example, take a look at an independent evaluation of the government-funded Work Programme:
‘The Work Programme, while it may deliver ‘acceptable’ results for main stream jobseekers, is letting down those furthest from the labour market. While one in five mainstream jobseekers will find work through the programme, as few as one in twenty of those with more complex needs will access employment. Even the providers most effective at delivering support for mainstream job seekers appear out of their depth when assessing those with more complex conditions.’
Source: Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North. Work Programme – Alright for some? Fixing the Work Programme locally (2014)
Given the scale of youth unemployment across Europe there is also an emerging need for the adult education sector to re-think its approach to work-based learning in early life. From the experience of evaluating the ‘Young and Successful’ project it is clear that young people furthest from the labour market benefit hugely from exposure to workplace environments which otherwise might appear to be unattainable, unfriendly and inaccessible. The anecdotal evidence suggests that young people can only learn so much from attending a continual stream of CV writing workshops and job search sessions for example. By comparison, the actual experience of the workplace provides young people with a valuable opportunity to develop their employability skills and at the same time provide some tangible experiences to help market their skills to prospective employers. The experience of ‘having worked before’ really is crucial!
What do you think?
- Do your experiences of youth unemployment in your country reflect a Maslow-based approach?
- Do you think young people disengage from employability programmes when they sense that their basic level needs will remain ignored and unresolved?
- Could providers, commissioners, policymakers and educational institutions design more effective employability provision in the future through a Maslow-based approach?
A free copy of the final ‘Young and Successful’ evaluation report with more details on the development of the Maslow model can be downloaded from www.yasevaluation.com
Richard Hazledine evaluated the ‘Young and Successful’ project over the period of 2014-2018. Richard is the owner and director of ConnectMore Solutions – a UK-based project management business designed to support third-sector organisations, and positively contribute to the design and delivery of publicly funded projects. For more information see www.connectmore.org.uk
About the Young & Successful project
The Young and Successful project operated from 2014-2018 and provided much needed support to young adults (aged 18-24) living in some of the most deprived areas of Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2).
The quantitative data collated on the project was compiled as part of the Common Data Framework (CDF) established by the National Talent Match evaluators (Sheffield Hallam University).
Throughout this time the ‘Young and Successful’ project was led by Groundwork Greater Nottingham