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This article explores, from my experience over the last year, ‘what works’ to help NEET young people gain positive outcomes. There is no single solution that can be applied to the case of all NEET young people, and that is what makes the task so challenging, yet also rewarding. The pandemic has also had a dramatic impact in terms of what is ‘out there’ for NEET young people to re-engage in.
Firstly, what does NEET mean? It stands for ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’, and is generally used to describe young people who may have discontinued their education but not found any work, early leavers from a course, those who have been made redundant or those who have completed a course but choose not to progress into further education. It has, starting with that first ‘N’, quite a negative connotation, and is a label often associated with young people in exceptionally challenging circumstances.
Secondly, it is useful to try and mentally recreate the ‘world’ of the NEET young person. This helps to understand the context of their support, aims, and the reasons for their challenging circumstances. Examples from my caseload include young people living in abusive households, sometimes with alcoholic parents, those struggling with chronic anxiety and self-harm, and those who have served time in juvenile offender institutions. The challenges to career progression are multi-faceted and complicated, made more so through the pandemic; my hour-long centre appointments have been transformed into short phone calls.
None of the issues described above are solved overnight. I work closely with my colleagues in a team specializing in NEET support, and a kaleidoscope of additional professional services. Clarity on multiple issues needs to be maintained, discussed and support implemented. With some of my caseload, trust needs to be created before appointments will be kept, let alone a task attempted.
Additionally, many are experiencing tumultuous mental health problems and will not feel like engaging for many months. Patience will also be required to help each of them see how useful it can be to discuss a variety of options with a career specialist. Many of my caseload will initially outline their job aspirations in terms of getting ‘any job’; put simply, money matters. Patience is needed to explore other options as well. Can I help them to understand what they are missing by not going to a college taster day (virtual or otherwise)? Can I listen carefully enough to their story to weave the threads of verbal evidence together and arrive at a perceptive interpretation of their current situation?
As an adviser, I like asking questions to gain insight, but patient listening and acute observation of patterns in evidence often provide more answers. There is also an art to waiting for the right moment to ask a question. This, naturally, takes time with a client, and that alone makes it worthwhile for them as well. But then the balance – how much time can I give to one person as to equally help the other fifty on my caseload? It depends on their situation. I make sure I try to call or email each young person once every two weeks as a minimum. Some request a weekly call, others I struggle to reach regularly. There is no clear answer, no set timetable to follow. Patience helps to make informed decisions, which brings me to potential.
This is both ‘positive’ and negative potential. Positive potential is where a young person has their primary needs met so they feel in a position to start thinking about their options. This might be considered as a form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but the example is not entirely satisfactory. Negative potential means that there are clearly issues developing which prevent the young person from moving on towards career decision making and are actually only making those issues worse. These could be family, mental and physical health issues, among others. Another theory of equal use in my opinion is the ‘Pillars of Wellbeing’ approach. Both can be combined and considered with clients with some interesting results.
With any difficult case, and few of them are easy in terms of support, I will be in contact with the rest of the team I work with. They all do likewise, and we discuss our cases anonymously and ideas are suggested. Those with greatest work experience are critical to positive outcomes in this instance, as they can often point to patterns in the evidence and highlight strategies for support. This teamwork is invaluable, and we are a close unit. Working alongside other services, such as the police and social workers, is critical to success too. Only then can we share our experiences of the young people and realise the immense scope for potential they all have. My caseload need to be told they have the ability to succeed, simply because many of them may not hear a kind word spoken to them otherwise by a chaotic family. And that means praise where appropriate.
The most frequent request for help I receive is from a young person wanting to find a full-time job or an apprenticeship. Starting this requires a CV and a knowledge of how to find vacancies. For one of these young people to even begin discussing a job hunt is praiseworthy in itself; the huge leap from coping with personal and family trauma to feeling confident enough to writing a CV (often quite blank) and then searching for work is several orders of magnitude. In addition to these barriers, apprenticeship vacancies almost always require good GCSE passes as a minimum requirement which many of my caseload do not have.
The guidance must be realistic as well as positive where possible. To escape this predicament requires focusing on the skills they do already have, how to increase confidence to begin job applications, and clear praise when a decision is made. A useful approach is also to encourage them to tell me what they think they need to do next; this can empower them and also, if praised, give them confidence that they can research effectively. It is difficult to say how NEET young people will be impacted post-pandemic, but if we can help them to learn lessons from this difficult time then they can surely be well prepared for whatever challenges they face next. This is a lifelong skill far beyond the merit of any grade.
I am proud that my work at C+K contributes to Calderdale’s higher than average national participation in learning rates: Calderdale is in the top quintile nationally for their NEET/Not Known performance in the DfE 2020 scorecard results, that is in the top 30 of the 150 Local Authorities in England.
James Davidson RCDP is a Careers Adviser and Higher Education Progression Officer for C+K.
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