A team of researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s School of Education and Professional Development has spent over five years researching the experiences and needs of marginalised young people, including those classified as not in education, employment or training (NEET). Responding to a need for insight into their lives and possible solutions to the problem of youth unemployment, the research challenges populist conceptions of young people on the margins of education and work.

What was the problem?

NEET young people are often burdened by negative stereotypes and assertions. The University of Huddersfield has addressed these assumptions by uncovering the complex factors involved in young people’s attempts to find a route into work, training or education.

Benefits of this research

The team finds that although many NEET young people suffer significant social and educational disadvantages, most have ‘mainstream’ attitudes and aspirations. Dr Ron Thompson has carried out research relating dominant policy discourses about NEET young people to ideas of social exclusion. This contests the notion that youth unemployment is rooted in cultures of dependency and ‘worklessness’.

What did we do?

At the 6th National NEET conference in 2012, Professor Robin Simmons urged policy makers, educationalists and industrialists not to write off young people who are out of work and have dropped out of education, and argued that training schemes should be more responsive to the needs and abilities of these individuals. He was also the keynote speaker at the 2014 National NEET conference in February.

In 2008 Simmons examined the proposal to extend compulsory participation in education and training to the age of 18. He argued that the needs of NEET young people were in danger of being marginalised by an economy largely based on low-skill, low-pay work. Since 2008, the research has explored training programmes claiming to enhance the ‘employability’ of young people, a critical area for practitioners and policymakers.

The team’s research into Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes and similar provisions warned that their focus on generic skills could promote an impoverished form of “employability” and reinforce class-based labour divisions. Subsequent research by Simmons, Thompson and Dr Lisa Russell showed how a target-driven system and funding constraints can compromise the ability to meet young people’s needs. Such schemes, although potentially helping young people to find work, are unlikely to offer participants a meaningful advantage in adverse economic conditions.

What happened next?

The success of this research helped secure funding from The Leverhulme Trust to carry out research into the lived experience of NEET young people between 2010-2013. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation then awarded the same team a grant to examine the workplace experiences of young people who have previously been NEET, a project which ran from 2012-2013.

The team reported the results of the Leverhulme-funded research in the book Education, Work and Social Change, published by Palgrave Macmillan in summer 2014.

A special issue of Research in Post-Compulsory Education, guest edited by Simmons and Thompson, has been dedicated to the NEET research, highlighting challenges surrounding post-compulsory education and training.