What heterogeneity hides behind the acronym NEET?

The Young Entrepreneurs Succeed program, financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway grants fund for youth employment, aims at activating unemployed youth to access the labour market and promote entrepreneurship, through tailor-made innovative solutions. In the framework of the project, a conference was organized in Siracusa on the 5th and 6th of March, an opportunity to understand the reality and the heterogeneity hiding behind the acronym “NEET”.

The definition of NEETs, introduced in the United Kingdom at the end of the nineties but widely spread in the World since the 2010s stands for “Neither in Education, Employment or Training”. It defines a broad group composed of vulnerable categories, often at the margin of our societies. As emerges from the research, Italy shows one of the highest rates in Europe (in 2018, there were more than 2 million NEETs, and specifically 23,4% of young people between 15 and 29 years old, when the European average is 12%).

The barriers that prevent young people from accessing employment are multiple and multidimensional: we are talking about the educational level and personal skills, but also about the social, geographical, family, economic and psychological situation. Some barriers have implications on the short term, such as the lack of access to transport and the unavailability to take on certain responsibilities at a given time; others are more structural, such as disability, lack of ambition or social isolation.

This multi-dimensionality of factors and personal situations results in an extreme heterogeneity within the NEET group. The acronym hides subcategories, all of which representing different realities. We consider these four categories:

  • The Job seekers are the short- or long-term unemployed who are actively looking for a job. The short-term unemployed are mainly affected by circumstantial barriers, such as the economic cycle, or discrimination. The long-term unemployed suffer from deeper problems such as the mismatch between their profile and the current labour supply. Job seekers represent almost half of the NEETs in Italy and often have training and work experience.
  • The Opportunity explorers are not disengaged or excluded but looking for the right career opportunity. They often take part in informal training and try to maintain a high level of attachment to the labour market. They represent 25% of the NEETs in Italy, mostly very young men.
  • The Unavailable are not actively looking for a job because they simply can’t, due to their family duties or responsibilities, or because they have disabling health problems. In most of the cases, they are women with children, with no training or professional experience and represent 19% of the NEETs in Italy.
  • The Decommitted do not search for a job, are not involved in trainings (even non-formal), are not engaged in social or family obligations, and have a pessimistic view of the employment conditions. They have often found an alternative way to live, either in the informal or illegal economy or dependent on someone else. They are the most socially excluded and have the darkest prospects for the future.

The heterogeneity behind the acronym NEET calls for multiple responses from governments, associations and entities operating in the sector. NEETs are the visible aspect of a set of dysfunctions: solutions that could face their precarious situations fall within many areas of public action, such as education, intervention in the labour market, health, transport, childcare, integration of migrants or the fight against the informal economy.

There is no single solution, rather a combination of measures and reforms, which shall be adapted to the specific context and situation. In Italy, the most vulnerable category of NEETs may be represented by the long-term unemployed and decommitted people: for this reason, we may assume that the country (and some region specifically) suffers from more structural problems than other European countries. As a matter of fact, Italy has a school drop-out rate well above the EU average (17% compared to 12% in the EU28), as well as a low rate of young graduates. The culture of informality and the dependency of children on their parents until a late age than in other countries could certainly explain the weight of the different categories listed above within the NEET group itself.

NEET is a term that helps focusing the attention of the public and policy makers. A term that proved particularly useful after the financial crisis, to define one of the groups that had been most affected. However, as already mentioned on this blog, the use of this term throughout speeches and conferences can be dangerous, or at least biased, if it is not accompanied by an in-depth study of the different situations in their local contexts.


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