NEET – Problem or Challenge? #WeNEETyouth

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16,1 – 26,9 – 39,7 –  NEET

Numbers and letters that make no sense to most of the (young) people who look at them. Even if they themselves are the elements that are adding up to these numbers, and belong to the group identified by this order of letters.

NEETs are – according to the European Commission Employment Committee (EMCO) –   young people aged 15-24 years who are unemployed or inactive, as per the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition, and who are not attending any education or training courses. For simplifying it: the acronym stands for “neither in employment nor in education and training”.

16,1% of young European citizens (aged 15-34) belong to this group in 2015. 26,9% of young Italian residents are NEET in 2015 (Eurostat). And, according to the Istat (Italian National Institute of Statistics) research concluding data from 2013, 39,7% of Sicilian youth (15-29 years old) are not in education or training and are unemployed. The youth I am working with.

Young people’s perception on the NEET situation

Numbers and letters. Statistics and statisticians.  And policies based on those statistics. But what young people think about it?

Nothing – not the young people I work with. They don’t care about what label we put on them and under which acronym we classify them. None of them will cry out “I am a NEET”! They will look at me and say instead – I don’t have a job. They won’t say “I am nor in education, neither in training”; they will say: I finished my studies, haven’t found a job and now I don’t know what to do – I am desperate. Going back to study – what for? I’ve just finished and look where it got me – nowhere!

To boost youth participation – especially in decision- and policy-making – it is essential that the target group recognises that THEY ARE THE TARGET GROUP. The lack of consciousness of one’s own “statistical situation” creates a big gap between the educational and labour market initiatives and the beneficiaries. We aim to ensure accessibility and create opportunities but eventually we face difficulties when trying to reach the target group.

The difference between NEETs and NEETs

But who are our target groups? There is a big difference between 15, 25 and 35-year-old NEETs. There are NEETs with good economic background and with mobility experience, and NEETs who never had the chance to cross neither their neighbourhood’s borders. There are young people who choose to be NEETs and others who don’t. Ones that have access to privileges and ones who’s right to education and growth is limited. Many have no more than a lower secondary education and are early leavers from education and training. Furthermore, many are migrants or come from a disadvantaged background (COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION of 22 April 2013 on establishing a Youth Guarantee).

For the diversity of profiles we have to tackle the issue from various angles using different approaches. EU and national initiatives, for the sake of equity, mostly focus on young people with fewer opportunities (with economic, cultural, social, geographic or other obstacles) and tend to leave behind the ‘chosen-to-be-NEET’ youngsters, not considering the future outcomes of this act. But what happens when those youngsters – when they are not youngsters anymore – eventually decide to settle for a stable job, without success? Would we have an “Adult Guarantee” or would we just say: it was your choice, now live with the consequences?

I focus my work on these young people, who are mostly over 30 and are on the job-hunt, however still not settling for any kind of job that they come across. They have worked since they reached the legal age; done their masters at the university; taken on many traineeship opportunities, one after the other, and the other, and the other… They are young people for whom the top of the Maslow pyramid became more essential than for the generation before and after them – self-realisation, especially through work, has became a priority in their life, and they won’t shut down their inner voice which says “follow your passion” in exchange for a certain kind of stability. Millennials, generation Y – call them as you wish – are not necessarily sniffy people who don’t want to take on the “dirty jobs”; actually they have done it already, and now want to aim for more. Is that attitude wrong? Should we cut them off from the private and public support initiatives because of a different vision on employment, even if it is shared by a whole generation?

NEETs say …

During the Erasmus+ training course titled “Respond to your NEETs!” (coordinated by the National KID Association from Hungary) we asked a special group of young people about how they see the issue: youth workers gathered from 12 different countries who, themselves, were NEET. These young people have been experiencing “being off the track” for long months or even years and have been suffering the outcomes of failed regional and national initiatives about labour market integration.

We identified five areas where European youth policies should be further improved – from a practical point of view – and/or their national implementation should be better monitored: Education – Internship – Entrepreneurship – Volunteering – Learning mobility. These areas have been defined as pillars for the creation of a positive future perspective for young people, preventing and overcoming skills mismatch between education and the labour market. (During the training the youth workers have prepared recommendations on youth policies which will be published in a booklet in the upcoming months.) Fostering cooperation between the education and business sector, ensuring quality internships, reaching recognition of volunteering, providing accessible learning mobilities and increasing support for young entrepreneurs have been on the agenda of the European Union for long times; however the huge difference in success levels between regions still calls for joint actions. The civil sector and young people themselves must take part in policy making and implementation in order to make the regional and national implementation of EU policies more successful. By calling on youth workers from EU countries, consulting with them about the phenomena of NEET and about the implementation of youth policies, it become clear that the challenge and the responsibility is shared and that we have to unite all international actors to analyze, discuss, develop and promote measures to improve the situation. As suggested by the European Commission, “greater cooperation between stakeholders is effective without requiring large budget” (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion DG).

An army with a voice

These NEET youth workers are the good examples of youth participation and civic engagement. It doesn’t mean that they are not delusional or disappointed, but that despite all that, they still stand up for themselves and for the youth they work with. They continue to make their voice heard, again and again, where they are asked and where they are not. They continue to shake up other youngsters to express their opinion and they will deliver their message when those youngsters face difficulties to do so. They put all their energy into staying determined in order to win this battle.

Because it is a battle with uncertainty, a fight with societal pressure, a wrestle with self-consciousness. And we can only win it if we march together.

Dora Deak