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.