NEET – but not for the want of trying

It was interesting to see the topic of young people not in education, employment or training discussed in the third televised leaders’ debate last week.

The three main parties have all mentioned initiatives to support more young people into work, training and/or learning in their manifestos.

Addressing the ‘NEETs’ issue has been high on the political agenda for some time and significant resources have been invested in NEET reduction and prevention initiatives. In some cases, this has had a positive impact; however there is still further development needed.

At a recent conference that I attended, the success of NEET reduction and prevention programmes was discussed under the workshop title ‘NEET – but not for the want of trying’. The session was led by Paul Fletcher, Director for Policy and Development at Rathbone. Paul provided a summary of the Engaging Youth Enquiry, a piece of research carried out by Rathbone and the Nuffield Foundation into why young people become NEET.

As part of the research, young people were asked what they felt would be a successful way of reducing NEET numbers. The research found that it is a myth that young people aren’t ambitious and that one of their biggest concerns is lack of opportunity. The research report can be found here.

Paul’s presentation of the research findings prompted some thought- provoking discussions. The majority of those present were advisers or learning providers who specifically work with young people who are, or are at risk of becoming, NEET.

A key issue which was raised was around the sustainability of some NEET reduction initiatives. A number of those present expressed concerns with high ‘churn rates’ – young people doing short-term learning and training which does not result in a more long-term opportunity. This leads to them moving on and off the ‘NEET Register’ as they do a succession of short courses with no real long-term impact on their future. Advisers were concerned about the negative impact that this has on young people, that a training course may raise their expectation that they are going to achieve employment at the end of the course, only for them to be disappointed and demotivated when they are unable to find an opportunity.

Another element of the discussion that I found interesting was the conflict that some advisers felt around the advice that they offered when opportunities were limited. If a young person is interested in a learning, training or work placement for which there are few opportunities locally at present, is it better for them to wait or should they be encouraged to take an opportunity which is outside of their area of interest in the meantime?

There was also discussion about the impact that unemployment among new graduates will have on NEET numbers, with more competition for employment opportunities.

While a number of issues were discussed and opinions were divided in some cases, two themes where strong throughout: the importance of IAG and the need to involve young people in devising initiatives.

Whatever the election result, the government will have a challenge to reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training.

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