I was having a conversation with half a dozen other youth professionals yesterday and mentioned my dislike for the term NEET, an acronym for ‘Not in Employment Education or Training’, most often used when referring specifically to 16 to 24 year olds.
My initial reasons seemed clear to me, but as I explained them I began to realise that there was more subtleties at play. After all what’s wrong with a convenient abbreviation for a lengthy and awkward term? Well I guess, as with many things, it’s how it’s used.
I initially thought my issue with the term was about the negative characterisation of young people by what they are not rather than what they are, and whilst it may be true that this is indeed an unhelpful way of defining people, I find this isn’t really the main contention that I have. In fact, former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton and others have suggested we begin to use the term GREET (Getting Ready for Employment Education or Training) but equally this grates on me and smacks of the patronisation.
No…my problem is with the way the term is bandied around by the media and professionals alike as a catch all term, pigeon-holing diverse and distinct individuals, with a wide-range of needs and influences, as one neat little group of NEETs. When used in this way the sub-text very often seems to suggest a certain ‘type’ of young person, as David Cameron might put it, a shirker, not a striver.
The truth is that with one million young people out of work, the reasons that led each one of them to that point are varied and very often complex, the solutions therefore to support them to move towards education or employment are equally varied and complex. So it’s plainly not useful to categorise them all as one group or one type, which fosters generic solutions, and encourages the young person to begin to define themselves in those terms, impacting upon their self-esteem and leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Following that thought process this is my conclusion. A young person may be described as being NEET, but they themselves are not NEET, and no such group exists, i.e. “Jack is currently NEET” and “I’m working with young people that are NEET” is a useful acronym, whilst “Jack is a NEET” and “I’m working with NEETs”, is an inaccurate and damaging categorisation.