‘There will always be NEET young people in the land’ – will it ever be different?

By Dr. Thomas Spielhofer

Monday 18 May 2015

Over the last 20 years, there have been numerous reports, strategies and initiatives aimed at addressing the so called, ‘NEET problem’, but yet there is no sign that this problem is going away. This is not a bad thing for researchers like me who specialise in this area and can benefit from research funding to evaluate the latest initiative or project aimed at making sure that fewer young people are NEET (not in education, employment or training). However, from a human perspective, this is of course a great tragedy – as it shows that despite so much effort and cost expended on this, we’re still no closer to a solution.  

In 2009, the DfE published a report I worked on which explored the main characteristics of young people who are NEET at 16. This split them into three groups: the ones who are very likely to re-engage in education or training (‘the short-term NEETs’), those who have a tendency to move in and out of education, training or employment (‘the undecided NEETs’), and those who are at greatest risk of staying NEETs in the medium to longer term (‘the core NEETs’). The last two of these groups and the last in particular are really the most serious problem. However, I suspect that a lot of initiatives end up engaging those in the first group, who are the ones easiest to find and to engage, while ‘the core NEETs’ and even ‘the undecided NEETs’ are the ones hardest to find and/or engage.

Over the last few years, researchers and policy makers in Europe have also started to use the ‘NEET word’ – this is not surprising given the effect of the economic crisis on youth unemployment. In countries such as Spain and Italy, more than one in five young people aged 15-29 are registered as being NEET and in some countries this figure includes those who would like to work but who simply cannot find suitable employment. This is the real tragedy – as lack of employment at this stage of their lives has been shown to be linked to poor mental health and low self-esteem as well as political radicalisation. It is in the interests of the whole of Europe therefore to try and address this issue – although educational and training initiatives alone are unlikely to be enough.

Within this context, the Tavistock Institute invited colleagues from NFER to contribute to a seminar with European colleagues from Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal as part of a wider European Union project (called ‘NEETs at Risk’) funded by the Erasmus+ (KA2 – Cooperation and Innovation for Good Practices) funding stream. The aim was to discuss the different issues in our respective countries and to learn about different solutions adopted; the aim of the project is to develop and pilot a model aimed at preventing young people from becoming NEET. The overall consensus from our discussions was that provision needs to be flexible, adapted to each individual young person and provide a link between learning and the world of work. In addition, whatever approach is adopted, the staff delivering the programme need to have the skills and enthusiasm for working with the target group.

But will this project succeed where others have failed? Will we still be talking about the NEET problem 20 years from now, or will all this concerted effort by researchers, policy makers, educators and trainers finally resolve this tricky issue? Jesus is said to have said: ‘You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’ (John 12:8). Will we always have the NEETs among us as well?

Dr. Thomas Spielhofer is a Senior Researcher at The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. NFER hosted a seminar on NEETs at risk for the Tavistock Institute on 6th May 2015.