Beth Suttill

2016 AFPGR Participant
Lazy, unqualified, and unfit for work? Stories of the young unemployed in the East Midlands
About Beth

Beth Suttill is a research student working towards the completion of her doctoral degree in the School of Management. Beth is supervised by Dr Vanessa Beck and Dr Nalita James.

Lazy, unqualified, and unfit for work? Stories of the young unemployed in the East Midlands, in this poster, Beth Suttill describes her research into the experiences of a group of unemployed young people in an area of the East Midlands.

About My Research

From January to March 2014, when this research was taking place, 774,000 young people aged 16-24 were not in education, employment or training (NEET) in England (ONS, 2014). Being NEET has adverse consequences for the individual, society, and the economy. Among other effects, it has an economic cost, has been linked to insecure and poor future employment, and has a detrimental impact on physical and mental health. Due to concerns over these outcomes, the issue of ‘NEET’ young people has become part of youth policy in the UK.

Much of this policy is driven by assumptions and generalisations associated with this group. Youth unemployment has been linked to a lack of aspirations, skills, and qualifications; with young people arguably leaving school 'unfit' for work. While images of the young unemployed often evoke stereotypes of hooded youths and teenage mothers destined for a life on benefits. This research explores these generalisations by looking at the experiences of a group of twenty four young people, aged between 16 and 24 years old, who were on a course for those who are NEET in an area of the East Midlands.

I spent around four months at a ‘lifeskills’ centre, working for two days a week with two groups of young people for the duration of their course, where they aimed to gain qualifications in English, Mathematics, ICT, and Digital Arts and Media. They also did one week of work experience, and got help with job searching, interview skills and their CVs. Their views were captured through a mixture of participant observation, informal conversations, and writing done by the participants. This approach allowed a focus on the narratives of the young people, looking at their perspectives and attitudes, and enabling them to write and speak about things in their own words rather than imposing categories or ideas on them. Their stories demonstrate the reality of being young and unemployed in the region.

Initial Findings and Future Work

The young people had fairly traditional aspirations, based around wanting a family, a home and a job, yet they felt they faced a number of barriers. The most common barriers to employment listed by the young people in this research were lack of work experience and lack of qualifications (in particular they felt like they could not get anywhere without a level 2 – GCSE grade C or equivalent – in Mathematics and English). However, the young people were all facing very different issues. Their unemployment status was mixed in with depression and anxiety, learning difficulties and disabilities, and unstable living arrangements. Other barriers listed by the participants included money, family members, fear, confidence, and issues with transport. Two of the participants also faced barriers due to their body weight; they had been told that they were not ‘big enough’ to join the army or the police force.

A one size fits all approach to helping these young people is therefore not suitable. Instead there should be a focus on looking at them as individuals, acknowledging their specific circumstances, and helping them with issues which may not directly get them into work, but which will help them in the long term. Despite a host of government initiatives, the NEET rate in the UK has remained fairly constant for over a decade. A new approach is needed.

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