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How to improve the relationship between education and employment

Who are “Neets”, precarious dropouts without training or employment?

On January 12th, 2022 |
4 min reading time
Jean-Francois Giret
Jean-François Giret
Professor of Education Science at Université de Bourgogne
Key takeaways
  • “Neet” refers to young people aged 15-34 who are Not in Education, Employment or Training.
  • The term originated in the 1980s when the United Kingdom wanted to identify young people, previously invisible to regular statistical measures, who had dropped out of the labor market.
  • Their proportion of the population varies greatly from country to country; less than 10% for some such as Switzerland (7%), the Netherlands (7.2%) or Sweden (7.6%), but between 10-15% in most OECD countries.
  • The probability of becoming a Neet is very high in people who lack written language and mathematical skills. Some graduates even have a deficit in basic skills can be a handicap in accessing employment.
  • Countries with a dual education system, such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria, have Neet rates generally below 10%. Apprenticeships can facilitate the transition from the education system to the labor market.

Who are Neets (“Not in Education, Employment or Training”) and when did they first appear?

The appear­ance of the Neet dates back to the 1980s when the UK want­ed to iden­ti­fy young peo­ple who were pre­vi­ous­ly invis­i­ble in labour mar­ket sta­tis­tics, i.e. school dropouts. This iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was not fea­si­ble at the time through unem­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics, as these young peo­ple were not always look­ing for a job. It was then adopt­ed by EU coun­tries who want­ed to under­stand this phe­nom­e­non, with the term Neet now becom­ing part of pub­lic debate. It refers to peo­ple aged 15–29 or 15–34, depend­ing on the nation­al or inter­na­tion­al sta­tis­ti­cal insti­tute, who are not in edu­ca­tion, employ­ment or voca­tion­al train­ing. Their pro­por­tion in the pop­u­la­tion varies great­ly depend­ing on the coun­try. Fig­ures are less than 10% in a few coun­tries such as Switzer­land (7%), the Nether­lands (7.2%) or Swe­den (7.6%), but it is between 10% and 15% in most OECD coun­tries. It is, for exam­ple, 12.4% in the UK, 13.4% in the US or 15% in France. For some Euro­pean coun­tries, it even exceeds 15%, such as Spain (18.5%), Greece (18.7%) or Italy (23.5%)1.

What are the main factors explaining the evolution of the number of Neets?

One of the first fac­tors is the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion and the dynamism of the labour mar­ket. Young peo­ple are more affect­ed by eco­nom­ic dif­fi­cul­ties than oth­er groups. They are often unem­ployed when they leave the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and find them­selves in pre­car­i­ous, often very vul­ner­a­ble jobs. For exam­ple, the 2008 cri­sis led to a very sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of Neets, espe­cial­ly in South­ern Europe. In Greece, the Neet rate almost dou­bled between 2008 and 2013. A sec­ond fac­tor is the lack of basic skills, espe­cial­ly in numer­a­cy and lit­er­a­cy. The like­li­hood of becom­ing Neet is very high in the absence of writ­ten lan­guage and math­e­mat­i­cal skills. Even for some grad­u­ates, a deficit in basic skills can be a hand­i­cap in access­ing employ­ment2. Oth­er fac­tors such as health prob­lems and fam­i­ly dif­fi­cul­ties may also come into play.

Beyond the economic environment, how do you explain an overpopulation of Neets from one country to another (OECD)?

Coun­tries with a dual edu­ca­tion sys­tem, such as Ger­many, Switzer­land or Aus­tria, have Neet rates gen­er­al­ly below 10%. A major­i­ty of young peo­ple go through appren­tice­ships to acquire the skills need­ed to prac­tice a trade. This facil­i­tates the tran­si­tion from the edu­ca­tion sys­tem to the labour mar­ket. How­ev­er, the sys­tem also ensures a good com­mand of lit­er­a­cy and numer­a­cy for young peo­ple who will leave appren­tice­ship after a long sec­ondary edu­ca­tion. Ger­many has drawn the con­se­quences of the so-called ‘PISA shock’ from the poor per­for­mance of its school sys­tem in the ear­ly 2000s. Of course, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem do not explain every­thing: coun­tries’ choic­es in labour mar­ket leg­is­la­tion can also influ­ence access to employ­ment and the Neet rate. Nev­er­the­less, one of the major chal­lenges remains to try to secure their path­ways and to fight against pover­ty, which is high­er among young peo­ple and has been on the rise in France in recent years.

How can we tackle this social and economic problem?

Over the past twen­ty years, France has made progress in its pol­i­cy to com­bat ear­ly school leavers. How­ev­er, young peo­ple with­out a diplo­ma, of whom there are between 70,000 and 80,000 each year, find it very dif­fi­cult to inte­grate into soci­ety. Three years lat­er, near­ly 60% of these young peo­ple are still unem­ployed. This is a very dif­fi­cult pop­u­la­tion to reach, espe­cial­ly for those who left after sec­ondary school or in the first year of a voca­tion­al train­ing cer­tifi­cate. Pub­lic poli­cies, and in par­tic­u­lar drop-out schemes, are only par­tial­ly suc­cess­ful in re-mobil­is­ing the most dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple. Because of their expe­ri­ence in the school sys­tem, their rela­tion­ship with train­ing is dif­fi­cult and their pos­si­bil­i­ty of access­ing selec­tive schemes such as appren­tice­ships is rel­a­tive­ly low.

There is often an oppo­si­tion in employ­ment poli­cies between « work first », i.e. the pri­or­i­ty giv­en to access to employ­ment, and « learn first » where the empha­sis is on train­ing. The two should not be opposed: it depends on the skills of young peo­ple and their need for sup­port. The struc­tures of inte­gra­tion through eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty can rep­re­sent an oppor­tu­ni­ty: some offer both employ­ment and prepa­ra­tion for basic skills cer­ti­fi­ca­tion through pre-train­ing. In France, for exam­ple, there is the CléA cer­tifi­cate, which is an inter­pro­fes­sion­al cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. It guar­an­tees an employ­er a min­i­mum com­mand of writ­ten lan­guage and num­bers, but also of what are known as soft skills: the abil­i­ty to work inde­pen­dent­ly and in a team, the capac­i­ty to learn new things or even respect­ing health and safe­ty rules at work.

Oth­er more spe­cif­ic cer­ti­fi­ca­tions exist, such as the Caces (cer­tifi­cate of apti­tude for dri­ving safe­ty equip­ment), a use­ful cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for logis­tics jobs, for exam­ple, which allows the safe dri­ving of fork­lift trucks. But even for this type of basic skill, it is not easy to return to train­ing for the part of the Neet young peo­ple who have the most dif­fi­cul­ty: the chal­lenge is to find active and fun teach­ing meth­ods to devel­op these skills and access these cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. Final­ly, in a more struc­tur­al way, one of the best ways to reduce the dif­fi­cul­ties of inte­gra­tion of young peo­ple is to con­tin­ue to reduce the num­ber of dropouts upstream, with­in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem. Reduc­ing inequal­i­ties at school is a deci­sive chal­lenge for edu­ca­tion poli­cies in order to enable the school sys­tem to be as fair as it is effec­tive, which often goes hand in hand in education.

12020, source OECD. https://​data​.oecd​.org/​y​o​u​t​h​i​n​a​c​/​y​o​u​t​h​-​n​o​t​-​i​n​-​e​m​p​l​o​y​m​e​n​t​-​e​d​u​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​o​r​-​t​r​a​i​n​i​n​g​-​n​e​e​t.htm
2 Jean-François Giret, Janine Jong­bloed. Les jeunes en sit­u­a­tion de NEET : le rôle des com­pé­tences de base. Céreq Bref, 2021, 413

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