This week, the UKs Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, pledged to deal with the “ticking time bomb” of NEETs – young people from 16 to 23 who are Not In Education, Employment or Training. He announced a £126 million scheme to get 16 and 17-year-olds back into employment or education. At least 55,000 16 and 17 year old NEETs are expected to benefit. Let’s put this into perspective.
The announcement comes less than a week after the latest unemployment figures for the UK showed that the numbers of 16 to 24-year-olds not in work increased by 22,000 to 1.04 million in the three months to December. The last Neets figures, for the third quarter of last year, showed that more than a million 16 to 24-year-olds (1,163,000) – almost one in five – were considered “Neet”.
Let’s put these numbers into context. The UK armed forces employ 189,000 regular soldiers and the NHS, the world’s third largest employer with 1.3 million employees. And yet, this NEET issue is not unique to the UK. The ILO Global Employment Patterns Report, 2012 released recently records 12.7% of the world’s youth population are unemployed. According to a Eurofound Study published this month, youth unemployment across the 27 EU economies stands at 22.7% of the population versus 9.8% overall. That is a cost to the tax payer of €2 billion per week; €100 billion per year or, 1 per cent of the EUs aggregate GDP. If the NEETs were a country within the EU, at 113.5 million they would be the biggest EU country and bigger than Mexico; the 11th largest country on earth or, 1.83% of global population. And this figure varies by country. In Greece, youth unemployment is a staggering 48 per cent; Italy, 31%; Portugal, 30% and Spain, 48%. If any single issue is to focus politicians on growth it is this one.
Aside of direct costs to the taxpayer, opportunity costs are significant. Common sense and research shows that disengagement at this age is disastrous in personal terms; causes problems in the community in the form of nuisance and crime; leads to long-term costs in increased criminality, welfare dependency, housing and a wide range of social and economic factors. A Study by York University (2010) estimates that the UK NEETs issue stands at £22 billion in opportunity costs and more than £13 billion to the taxpayer. Extrapolate this for Europe and the numbers are staggering.
With such large numbers, we have to guard against thinking that this is a homogenous group. First, the vast majority of youth are not unemployed or in the NEETs category. Most do not conform to the media stereotype of the work shy and feckless young person. Common factors were that they were likely to suffer from economic and social disadvantage; have low levels of attainment; and to have been turned off by the education system. However, many NEETs have aspirations to get a job and, improve themselves. The numbers need to be segmented and targeted actions implemented. Overall, there is a need for growth and jobs – more likely to come from stimulus than continued austerity; a wake up call on the nature and approach to learning – classrooms have their limitations and, an acknowledgement that there are those who have fallen off society’s radar completely – the disengaged or, sustained NEETs.
It would be simplistic to say that this is just a matter of jobs. Other studies indicate a rise in productivity in many countries and this has other consequences. For example, in the period 2005-10 employment grew by 0.1% but productivity increased by 34%. There are other examples worldwide. This means that there is a clear indication that whatever growth does build it will not mean a jobs increase by the same proportion. The agenda is getting more complicated by the day. As Governments, employers and educators consider their options, they would do well to recall Einstein who once said that to do the same things but expect a different result is a definition of madness. All leaders are going to have to be innovative to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. If not, social media could fan the flames of social unrest and generate a far bigger problem still.
 Source: York University Department of Social Policy and Social Work and
Department of Health Sciences, 2010