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The Number of Gen Zers Who Aren't in Work or School Is Rising. Here's How to Tackle It, According to Experts. It's a number that hasn't been seen in nearly two decades.

By Lindsay Dodgson

Key Takeaways

  • A fifth of 15-24-year-olds in 2023 were NEETs, per the International Labour Organization.
  • The acronym stands for not being engaged in education, employment, or training.
  • Poor mental health, lack of financial safety, and disconnection from society are partly to blame.
EmirMemedovski/Getty Images via Business Insider
Young NEETs — those not in education, employment, or training — are on the rise.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

A growing number of young people globally are struggling to stay in work or school.

According to the International Labour Organization, about a fifth of people between 15 and 24 worldwide in 2023 were considered NEETs, which stands for not being engaged in education, employment, or training.

That's a level not seen in nearly two decades.

Recent research from the St. Louis Federal Reserve's Institute for Economic Equity, previously reported by Business Insider, looked at the challenges young people aged 18 to 24 are experiencing in today's economy. It found that more than one in three have no income at all.

Some are out of work due to disability, mental health issues, or a lack of skills, while others — known as "voluntary NEETs" — have chosen the lifestyle and are supported by the family or the state.

"When kids become disconnected from school and work, there's just a downward spiral that is too often going to result," Sen. Tim Kaine, who's introduced legislation to help at-risk youths find jobs and receive job training, previously told BI. "Some people can figure their way out of that spiral, but many cannot."

Mentorship and support

Countries around the world are trying to find ways to reduce the number of NEETs. There isn't a simple solution, but there are areas that have been shown to help.

There has been an increased focus on education and mentorship. For instance, the European Commission is working with various countries to commit to the Youth Guarantee — an initiative that aims to ensure people under age 30 all have access to employment, continued training, and apprenticeships.

It seems to be working. Turkey's youth unemployment rate was 17.4% in 2023, its lowest in a decade. Nezih Allioglu, head of the Young Enterprise and Governance Association, cited encouragement and competitiveness as some of the reasons behind the boost.

But companies can also make changes. Some career and leadership experts who spoke with BI believe workplaces should adapt to become more inclusive and supportive and provide mentorship to attract and retain young people.

A focus on mental health

Kraig Kleeman, the founder and CEO of The New Workforce, told BI companies "must adapt to the current times."

"Generation Z, the newest group joining the workforce, places great importance on company values and culture," he said. "They are searching for places where they can be true to themselves, where mental health is not looked down upon but helped, and where working sometimes from home or a coffee shop is possible."

According to research by the Prince's Trust in the UK, an increase in mental health conditions and low self-confidence are key factors preventing rising numbers of young people out of work from entering employment.

It cited data from a Labour Force Survey, which found a quarter of young people who are NEETs experience some form of mental health problem, compared with 9% of those in employment.

"We know it's a very challenging time for young people, and employability programs that offer additional support around mentoring, confidence, and mental health are needed now, more than ever, to help them succeed and thrive," said Michaela Wright, Head of Sustainability for HSBC UK.

Tackling voluntary NEETs

These tactics may not work for people who are NEETs by choice, who reject the idea that being a NEET is a bad thing, and who want to reclaim the label by creating a subculture of the voluntarily dormant.

Rather than jump on the first opportunities that come along, voluntary NEETs are holding back for the right job.

Friederike Fabritius, a neuroscientist with a specialty in leadership who has worked with Google and Deloitte, and is the author of the WSJ best-seller "The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay," told BI companies changing with the times isn't providing a solution to the problem of voluntary NEETs.

"A person who chooses to do nothing is somebody who lacks passion, motivation, and willingness to add value to society," she said. "Rather than being more understanding, I would recommend the opposite approach."

Fabritius said she doesn't believe companies should be hiring people who are not motivated or willing to add value.

How schools and parents can help

Rather, experts say learning to be motivated should start earlier in life, at home with parents and at school.

Fabritus blames "permissive parenting" and kids being allowed on electronic devices for too many hours in the day as root causes of disconnection. She said this can lead to a lack of interest and passion, which can cause major issues later in life.

"The reason why there are so many NEETs is because they have someone financing their doing nothing — normally, it's the parents who reward them for doing nothing," she said. "They mean well but end up destroying their kids' abilities and motivation."

Change also has to start at school, Fabritus added.

"In school, you should encourage students to show up, to do something, to be active, and to add value," she said.

Better guidance

Other career experts agreed that development should start early so students understand the variety of different paths available to them.

They said choosing a career without necessary guidance can lead to frustration and regret later on, which could have been avoided.

"Career advice should not be something that happens only once a year and seems unrelated to real life," said Kleeman. "It needs to be a continuous discussion helping students see the link between their studies and how they will apply it later in actual situations."

Schools can do "much more" to bring real-life situations to the classroom, he added, by arranging partnerships with local businesses for internships and projects.

"This kind of practical approach may help create interest and show students many different paths they might take in the future," he said.

Experts remain divided over how to address the rise in NEETs, in part because no solution would work for all.

One thing is clear, however: the rise in NEETS is a global problem, and it's vital for the global economy and society to find ways to bring disconnected youth back into employment and education.

The NEET problem is big, but it can be tackled, Kleeman said.

"We must pay attention to our young people and make changes — not only because it helps business, but also because it's the correct action," he said. "Let's work hard together and assist future leaders in discovering their way. They have many things to give, and it is our job to help them show their best."

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