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Creative Industries Centre, University of Wolverhampton Science Park, Glaisher Drive, Wolverhampton, WV10 9TG


Prosper visited Chamber Patron member, the University of Wolverhampton and met with its Director of Education & CEO of the Multi Academy Trust, Professor Michelle Shaw, to get an insight into today’s young people and their move from education to the world of work.

For the first three months of 2019, there were over three-quarters of a million young people, aged 16 to 24 years, in the UK who were not in education, employment or training, known as (NEET). A figure that represents some 11% of the population in this age group.

Shocking statistics with one in ten of our young people not able to get their feet on the first rung of the economic ladder.

“When we drill down into the statistics,” Professor Shaw said, “It’s even more disheartening.

“Just under 40% are actively looking for and are available for work, therefore being classified as unemployed. However, the remainder is either not looking for work and/or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive.”

Whilst numbers of NEETs are decreasing over time, linked to a shift in education policy which now proactively drives more young people into continuing their studies, the decline is marginal with a paltry 0.3 percentage point decline over the last year. The education policy shift has had limited success. From 2016, all students who failed to gain a grade 4 GCSE in Mathematics and English were required to re-sit the qualification to ensure they had the basic skills for future employment. However, the policy has had limited success. GCSE data for 2019 shows the scale of the challenge. Only 23% per cent of students aged 17 and above achieved this grade in GCSE Mathematics. In GCSE English it was only 33% per cent.

“It is not only the waste of talent and young lives that should concern us,” Professor Shaw added, “there is a recognised cost to our wider society of being NEET.”

Government research as far back as 2001 indicated that the estimated additional lifetime costs of being NEET were as high as £7 billion in resource costs, and £8.1 billion in public finance costs - and this was a modest estimate. The average per-person costs over a lifetime were just under £100,000. These figures did not include significant additional costs related to health impacts; the justice system, social housing, additional education courses, initiatives to reduce unemployment and support for the voluntary sector.

Not surprisingly it is the costs of unemployment, in the form of benefits, that dominate. Where young people have multiple challenges at this age, such as crime combined with being NEET, the costs increase significantly. Even for those young people who eventually secure a job, the impact of being NEET will persist over their lifetime with an average loss of up to £50,000 in lifetime earnings compared to a young person who was never NEET.”

Clearly, this is an issue for all of us. Taking time to identify the causes of young people becoming NEET and trying to ameliorate them will benefit wider society. “The first issue, of course, is raising the overall standard of education,” reports Professor Shaw, “to ensure all young people achieve the GCSE grades they need to access further opportunities. However, we also need to provide high-quality careers education. Schools are legally required to provide.

“Careers education means young people learning about different kinds of work. This begins in primary school. Careers guidance helps young people think about their personal skills and interests to enable them to have realistic career aspirations.  

“Put simply,” she said, “it is about providing young people with the information they need to enter the world of work - to prevent them from becoming NEET. 

“Employers routinely identify that young people are not ready for the world of work. They indicate that they want skills in their employees such as confidence, the ability to communicate, problem-solving skills, and self-organisation skills.


They want employees who can negotiate and persuade, who are team players. They want employees who have motivation and perseverance and the ability to work under pressure. They want to see leadership. And they want all of this underscored with commercial awareness. We appear to have a mismatch between what our education system produces and what employers want.”