HJA was appointed by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to undertake a formative mid-term evaluation of the GO Wales: Achieve through Work Experience programme.
GO Wales is designed to support the employability of young students on higher education courses in Wales and is aimed at young students who have faced barriers in accessing higher education or work experience and are most at risk of not securing employment, education or training (NEET) when leaving their higher education course. The operations of GO Wales are open to participating students from various eligibility groups across the following criteria:
- From a Black and/or Minority Ethnic background – excluding White minorities, but including Gypsy or Irish Travellers
- Have a work limiting health condition
- Have a disability
- Have childcare/care responsibilities
- Be a care leaver
- Be estranged from your family
- Be from a low HE participation neighbourhood
Students in these groups have been found to be at a disadvantage in the labour market, so the programme aims to ensure students from these groups that exhibit risk factors to becoming NEET successfully transition from HE into employment by using work experience as a vehicle for support.
Frontline support is provided by GO Wales teams operating within the careers services of HE institutions. These teams work alongside student-facing staff within their institutions, such as careers advisers, disability advisers, and personal tutors, as well as undertaking direct outreach and marketing activities. Tailored opportunities broadly in the form of unpaid work shadowing (one to three days), unpaid work tasters (two to twenty days), and paid placements (twenty one to thirty days) are secured for students. Participants receive support in preparing for their placement, as well as reflecting on it and identifying appropriate next steps.
HJA’s evaluation of the programme drew on a range of evidence gathered through a desk-based review of operation business plans and monitoring data, consultation with representatives from all joint beneficiary Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Wales alongside a number of external stakeholder organisations, and pilot telephone surveys with 19 participants and 20 host employers.
HJA reported on progress to date by addressing engagement with the programme from both HEIs and students. HJA also explained the contributing factors for the levels of engagement witnessed, identifying factors such as the initial scale of targets set out prior to the operations beginning, timeframes surrounding HEI initiation of operations and challenges faced when recruiting eligible students, which were further explained by referral mechanisms within HEIs, organisational culture and personal relationship building between partners.
Addressing operational structures, management and delivery arrangements, HJA found the main concern operationally to be around administration and paperwork. Tools used to monitor the progress of students through the programme were found to be effective. The delivery of short-term work-experiences were found to dominate the offering of GO Wales, with room for improvement in the delivery of longer, paid forms of work experience.
Early indications of outcomes and impact suggested that while engagement could be higher and the operation of the programme could be improved, there was evidence of students no longer being at risk of becoming NEET.
Based on the findings made in this evaluation, HJA made recommendations on how the programme could be improved. This included, developing a concise set of objectives for the operation, auditing of project paperwork burden, improving referral structures, preparing standardised guidance for scoring the employability assessment tool, and reviewing targets in light of experience to date.
HJA has recently been commissioned to conduct an updated evaluation of the programme. The update has consisted of consultation of GO Wales and HEI providers, surveying beneficiaries and employers and an analysis of responses to assess the impact of the programme on reducing the chances of students becoming NEET. The final report is expected later in 2022.