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Pathway-ED: NEETs or Not NEETs?

Stuart Middleton
19 August 2011


Sometimes the media is capable of inventing differences in opinion and arguments where none exist. Such was the case when yesterday a television journalist, pursuing a story about unemployed youth, interviewed the Prime Minister and was given a figure of 16,000 and from the Minister of Social Development a figure of 58,000.

Shock horror! Who is telling porkies? Government in disarray? All the usual beat up as the journalist sought to show that the Government was confused beyond comprehension.

In fact it was the journalist who was confused and had little comprehension of what she was being told.

 The Prime Minister was speaking about Unemployed Youth and gave a figure of 16,000 while the Minister was talking about NEET Youth (those Not in Employment, Education or Training) and gave a figure of 58,000. There is a difference between the two groups. In addition, the Prime Minister was speaking about 15 – 19 year olds while the Minister was using the convention used in labour market descriptions of defining “youth” as 15 – 24 year olds.

Unemployed youth are exactly what it suggests – those youth who have been in the labour force but who are now out of work. Up to June this year the youth unemployment rate was 17.3% which was almost three times that of the general unemployment rate. The recession impacts on this area.

But the group which should concern educators is the NEET group – those not in employment, education or training. These are the disengaged, the ones who are simply doing nothing – it does not include those engaged in activity that could potentially benefit them such as travel, are between short periods of employment, taking a break from study etc. More recently it has not included those “engaged” in care-giving.

What do we know about this NEET group?

  •  Most are there because they have disengaged from education and have no useful qualifications.
  • There are more males than females in the group with the male group increasing and the female numbers falling – school attainment patterns are the thought to be the cause of this pattern and of course young mothers at home are now excluded from these calculations.
  • There are more Maori NEETs than any other group – 17% of Maori aged 15-24 are NEETS compared to 14% of Pasifika youths and 8% of European youths.
  •  The proportion of NEETS peaks at 11% around the age of 18 and 19 years quite dramatically as a result of those who fail to make the transition from school to work or postsecondary education or training. It then remains constant at around 8% until age 24 years, the upper limit for this group. Presumably NEETs then graduate into the general unemployment, benefit dependent statistics.
  • The rate of those joining the group of NEETs is constant and in some areas (male, Maori, Pasifika) is increasing subsequently frustrating any progress in reducing the overall group. The only reduction achieved has been through removing caregivers from the calculation.

This is not a pretty picture given the demographic profiles of the different groups, the relatively greater proportion of young people are Maori and Pasifika,  and the increasing numbers of males are becoming NEETs.

It is also a cause for concern that youth caregivers have now been excluded from these calculations since it is also known that youth parents (especially teen mums and dads) tend to have lower levels of educational achievement if they have any. They have low levels of visibility as a group. The prognosis for their futures when they are free of the duties of care is not good. Excluding this group from NEET calculations has reduced the total NEETs figures – is there a message here of the educational preparedness of young people for parenthood in this?  There are nearly 28,000 young people in this category!

Again this NEET phenomenon is one we share with other English-speaking countries. We might despair of the size and seeming intractability of the issue in New Zealand but we still have scale on our side compared to those other countries.  How long will we be able to say this.

Tinkering around with the pocket money of a small group within this larger issue won’t have any impact beyond a possible populist appeal to those who believe that NEETs and other like them should be “dealt with”.  A more rational approach would demand a plan to tackle the issue of NEETs and to get the pipeline working on qualifications and educational success at school. While that work is going on others need to be developing a labour market more benign to youth employment and that includes the creation of many more jobs.

So who was right, the Prime Minister or the Minister of Social Development? Both were. They were talking about different groups. It doesn’t help when journalists add to the confusion.

Published inEducation

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