Released every two years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s 2016 Society at a Glance report provides an overview of social indicators and addresses the growing demand for quantitative evidence on social well-being and its trends. The 2016 report, published just last month, notably highlights the challenge presented by “NEETS” and explores solutions to better support jobless and disengaged youth.
NEETs, as defined by economists, are young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training. Within the United States, 14.4 percent of young people age 15-29 are NEETs, according to the OECD.1 Furthermore, of young people who have not completed high school, 44% are not in education, employment, or training – in comparison to the 12 percent of those who have a college education.2 Understandably, these numbers greatly reflect the deep correlation between social well-being and educational attainment. The high percentage of NEETs also represents a major economic cost to the United States, estimated at between $360 billion – $605 billion, further underlining the need for action to further support this cohort of individuals.3
Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director of Employment, Labor and Social Affairs, commented on the increasing challenges facing high school dropouts in the job market, noting that opportunities may not necessarily increase with an improving economy. “It is getting harder and harder for young people with low skills to find a job, let alone a steady job, in today’s workplace,” Stefano said. “Unless more is done to improve opportunities in education and training for everyone, there is a growing risk of an increasingly divided society.”4 In line with this concern, Richard Reeves of The Brookings Institution commented at the recent 2016 Close IT Summit that without new opportunities for social mobility, the enormous gap between those in the top and bottom quintiles of wealth in the population will remain and mobility will be stymied.
What Can We Do?
Society at a Glance offers several recommendations and insights to better support at-risk youth, particularly through education. The report notably calls to boost the quality of vocational education and training to help smooth school-to-work transitions.5 Not only would this type of training better prepare youth for the workplace, but it would respond to the skills demands of employers and the labor market. However, access to this type of training is often limited to individuals with an upper secondary qualification, so high school completion must still be emphasized as the first stepping stone.
Secondly, the OECD notes that flexible schooling environments are beneficial learning options for disadvantaged youth. In a mainstream schooling environment, this might materialize as smaller class sizes or nontraditional teaching methods based on the needs of the students. However, the concept of flexible schooling can also mean using technology to amplify a blended learning experience, or learning exclusively online to cater to additional work and life commitments. By increasing the number of educational opportunities, learning methods, and overall pathways to success, we can better support at-risk youth and the entire NEET population.
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