What makes a NEET?

by Karinne Logez
Statistician, Directorate for Education and Skills

NEETS – young people aged between 15 and 29 years old who are not in employment, education or training – are a potential problem both for society and for themselves. The proportion of young people neither working nor studying offers an insight into how well economies manage the transition between school and work – better than youth unemployment rates, which do not take into account the numbers in education. It’s especially illuminating when the figures are broken down into those who are still looking for work (“unemployed”) and those who have dropped out of the labour market altogether (“inactive”). Particularly worrying are those in the very youngest age bracket – aged 15 to 19 – who may not have completed their secondary education and are disproportionately likely not even to be seeking work. There’s a risk they may never catch up with their better educated peers.

So what makes a NEET? And what can governments do to make sure young people successfully make the transition from education into work? The latest edition of Education Indicators in Focus suggests that there are several intertwined factors.

Is it the educational system?
As well as increasing their education participation rates, making the educational system more relevant to the labour market may help reduce NEET rates. Countries with widespread work-experience programmes, offering recognised vocational qualifications, see higher levels of young people in employment and lower NEET rates, although the effect has been more muted in this current economic crisis.

Is it the state of the economy?
NEET rates and employment-to-population ratios tend to mirror the economic cycle. When times are tough it’s harder to find a job or keep the one you have if you’re competing with more experienced workers. Fortunately, many young people react by staying on longer in education instead, so when the economy picks up, they’ve got a head start finding work. As young people are the main source of new skills in the labour force, increasing education participation rates are an encouraging trend.

Is it a cultural thing?
On average, young women are more likely to be NEET across the OECD than young men. In some countries – such as Turkey and Mexico – this effect is particularly marked. It may reflect expectations that women will be concentrating on starting a family than forging a career, particularly where young women are disproportionately inactive rather than unemployed and seeking work.

Is it an age thing?
Generally, the demographics are on the young people’s side – as the population in OECD countries age, and the proportion of young people in the population fall, both employment rates and education participation rates should increase. At the moment, economic stagnation has counteracted the effect of demographics, but once the economy picks up, young people should be well placed to forge ahead.

It’s all of these
Clearly the problem of young people dropping out of education and the labour market is a complex one with no single determining cause. However, the consequences for both individuals and society mean that it’s important to prevent young people becoming NEETs – and help reintegrate them back into work or education if they do.

For more information
On this topic, visit: 
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2012
OECD’s Actin Plan for Youth
OECD Forum 2013: Give youth a chance
OECD Skills Strategy Spotlight: Apprenticeships and Workplace Learning
OECD Skills Strategy

Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013:  Indicator C5 (www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm) to be released 25 June, 2013

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