FORGET the image of “work shy” youngsters.
That’s the view of researchers from the University of Huddersfield.
In the wake a political row over young people and employment, policy makers and business people will be told to question their negative preconceptions of feckless, work shy young people.
Researchers at the University of Huddersfield are building up a very different picture of a generation of 16-19 year-olds desperate to find decent work and build a future, but thwarted by limited opportunities, the economic climate and the benefits system.
In a survey, asked why they turned down applicants for unskilled jobs in sectors like catering, manufacturing and retailing, some 62% of employers cited “poor work attitude and ethic” and 57% “poor presentation”, compared to just 29% who complained of lack of academic skills.
But Dr Robin Simmons and his colleagues Dr Lisa Russell and Ron Thompson have completed the first 12 months of a three-year project, funded to the tune of £124,00 by the Leverhulme Trust, in which they investigate the lives of so-called NEETs – young people who are not in employment, education or training.
The researchers have now built up a network of NEET young people in the Calderdale and Kirklees areas and will continue to follow their lives for the next two years.
Using a method known as “snowball sampling”, in which one introduction or contact leads to another, the University of Huddersfield trio have recruited a diverse group of young people from a variety of social, educational and ethnic backgrounds, many of whom are eager to talk about their lives.
“Many young people have not had an opportunity to express their own views and opinions before,” said Dr Simmons.
“We are giving them the chance to tell their story.
“And it has turned out to be a fantastic project which is producing material that challenges some established conceptions of young people.”
Later this month, Dr Simmons and Dr Russell will present their interim findings to a conference of academics in Oxford.
But Dr Simmons has also been invited to a conference taking place at Westminster in October that will be attended by movers and shakers from the worlds of politics and business.
He will aim to overturn some of their negative notions of today’s youth.
“If you look at the whole discourse around young people, either from policy makers or the media, it is that they are inherently problematic and that many are from cultures of fecklessness or worklessness. But we are finding that there is no evidence of that.
That vast majority of these young people want to work and are trying under very difficult circumstances to access work or training and make a transformation to adult life.
“Most of these young people seem quite proactive and are trying in difficult circumstances to build a life.
They are not feckless youngsters. But there are many barriers facing them.”
Dr Simmons and his colleagues have encountered no evidence of a culture of poverty across generations of the same family.
“We certainly haven’t found any ingrained long-term worklessness. If anything there is a churning between work and unemployment all the time.”