The 8 Steps of Effective NEET Support A Paper by Paul Oginsky
Introduction The term NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) is an unusual method of identification as it refers to what a person is not doing. A bit like identifying you and I as NIRD’s (Not Inflating a Rubber Dingy) it doesn’t actually tell us very much. I am presuming that you aren’t? NEET is a way of categorising the un-categorised and must not be thought of a derogatory term. These young people may be disengaged from society in the eyes of a government (which, values people by their ability to pay taxes) but over the past twenty years I have worked with thousands of NEET’s and in my experience they are incredible human beings. They are loving sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. They are often humorous, ingenious and shrewd. They can survive in violent surroundings and they can demonstrate fantastic teamwork. They are by no means angels but if we are really going to support them and enable them to contribute into the economy there is one thing we need to check before we explore the first step. How we are viewing them. If you can’t see the good in them, appreciate them and do this work because you genuinely care about them don’t bother. Take up rubber dingy racing. If however you believe that these young people are amazing and you would like to understand a methodology to tap into their potential, please read on. Background Who Are These NEETS? (taken from the DCFS NEET Strategy 2008) The NEET group is not static but rather a rapidly changing group - most young people do not spend long periods NEET. The vast majority of young people who are NEET are engaging in education, employment or training, but moving in and out of the system as they drop out of or complete their previous activity. It is estimated that only around 1% of 16–18 year olds are “long term NEET”, defined as young people who are NEET at each of the three survey points at 16, 17 and 18 years old. And at any one time, over half of the NEET group is actively seeking education, employment or training. •
The NEET group is not homogenous. There is a diverse range of young people in the group with quite different characteristics. We also know that: the NEET group is getting older – around half of those NEET are of academic age 18, compared with just 40% 5 years ago; The gender gap is widening – 16 year old boys are now more than twice as likely to be NEET as 16 year old girls; A higher proportion of young people are ‘inactive’ and are not looking for work or learning;
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39% of those with no GCSEs are NEET at 16, compared to 2% of 16 year olds who attained 5 or more A* – C GCSEs; Persistent absentees are 7 times more likely to be NEET at age 16; Young people with learning difficulties and disabilities are twice as likely to be NEET as those without; An estimated 20,000 teenage mothers are NEET.
Any country whose young people are as disenfranchised as the above statistics show will be experiencing serious social problems including underachievement, criminality and addictions. Further problems of family break up, long-term unemployment and financial indebtedness are also being stored for the future. Put simply, this level of NEET young people is simply unsustainable; it has to be tackled now! The Government’s Strategy The Government’s strategy for reducing NEET in preparation for 2013 is based on embedding through the system: • Careful tracking – to identify early those young people who are NEET, or who are at risk of becoming NEET • Personalised guidance and support – to make sure young people know how to access education, training or employment and to enable them to overcome barriers to participation • Provision of a full range of courses to meet demand – to engage young people through sufficient provision at every level and in every style of learning The UK government is clearly aware of how serious the NEET problem is and is taking several urgent steps in search of a solution. To date however the government’s interventions have only produced very limited success. This is because each young person requires a quality experience delivered by highly skilled staff that assists the young person to gain control of their lives. Such interventions are very difficult to deliver at scale and require all staff to apply a proven methodology. This paper addresses this very issue. A Quality Experience? For a young person to enter a training programme as a NEET and leave motivated, determined, confident and future focused they must have a life changing experience. This experience must not only change their perception of their world but more importantly their perception of themselves. There are numerous professionals involved in education including teachers, lecturers, trainers and tutors but the most suited discipline dedicated to changing a young person’s perception of themselves is that of a youth worker. That’s not to say that they are the only people who can do this or that they are all masters of the art but it is the discipline which is most focused on improving a young persons self perception. Having the skills however is not the same as having a plan. Far too many youth workers struggle to engage NEETs not because they don’t have the skills, the
confidence or the belief in young people but because they don’t have a methodology suited to working with NEETs. Youth work can be a great support to young people that aren’t engaging in mainstream education, training or are unemployed and may be struggling with issues such as taking drugs, sexuality, gangs, bullying etc but only if the youth worker utilises an effective methodology. A skilled worker with an effective methodology provides a quality experience for a young person. So before we explore such a NEET methodology lets us look at a real example of what happens if we try youth work without a fully considered methodology. When youth work doesn’t work! A friend of mine ‘Greg’ spent the late 80’s learning to be a youth worker in Toxteth in Liverpool. One day Greg had been placed with a ‘youth worker’ who he didn’t particularly rate and the two men were tasked with running a workshop on ‘masculinity’ with a group of ten, 16 to 18 year old lads from the local area. Even 20 years on Greg still cringes as he recalls the session. The lads had all turned up to the old youth centre and sat quietly in a circle, hands deep in their pockets, looking rather bored and waiting to see what this was all about. Greg was sitting with them and unsuccessfully tried to make conversation whilst they waited for the youth worker to arrive. The door flew open and in burst the youth worker with a loud “Right let’s gets started”, this startled everyone a little but Greg welcomed how the change of energy had made the lads take their hands out of their pockets and adjust their postures. “Everyone stand up” said the youth worker. Greg led the way and the lads complied with a few grumbles and exaggerated stretches to ensure the staff appreciated the effort. The youth worker posed his first question “What is it to be a man?” No reply. “Come on, apart from sex organs what is it to be a man”? Still no reply. After several more unsuccessful enquiries the youth worker resorted to giving the answer himself. “A true man is someone who isn’t afraid to be himself, someone who knows the difference between right and wrong and someone who isn’t afraid to show his feelings”. Greg was somewhat surprised by the instructional nature of the youth workers approach. Whilst Greg was relatively new to the job he knew the difference between youth work and teaching and this was clearly missing the mark with these lads. But it was about to get worse. “Really men can show their feelings” the youth worker continued, “They are not afraid to cry, they are not afraid to hug - watch” the youth worker then proceeded to walk around the circle demonstrating his manliness by hugging each of the
desperately uncomfortable lads until he came to one lad who told him “F*!# off you big Q#~~r” and stormed out of the room followed quickly by the rest of the lads hurling abuse. The youth worker turned to Greg and said “That lad is barred from the next session, don’t ever put up with language like that”. There were no more sessions. I tell this tale as it could form the basis of how not to support NEET’s or anyone else for that matter. It sounds like little or no planning had gone into the session and while I am sure the youth worker was well meaning the session had no structure and was destined to fail. By planning your session using the following structure you will have a far better chance of succeeding: A. Build an environment conducive to learning B. Plan your intervention (what are you going to explore?) C. Capture the learning for use after the training These steps must happen in this order. The youth worker above had skipped step one and went straight into an exploration of manliness. The young people were not ready to explore this with him and he went into a disastrous instructor mode. In the following paragraphs I will explain an 8 step methodology by which you will be able to effectively set a conducive environment, make a successful intervention and capture the learning so as to ensure a successful training experience. It does require three essential factors however these are; 1. The steps must be carried out in the order presented. 2. Adequate resources of time and money are allocated. 3. Experienced staff are required to judge how young people are responding and when to move to the next step. A. Building the Environment Step 1: Providing Engaging Activities This is both the first and most important and most difficult step. If you can’t capture the imagination of your target group they will not turn up. If they don’t turn up you, your programme and your organisation are redundant and rightfully so. I have seen many really good programmes fail because they focus on creating the programme. You must crack this first stage! You must give it the time, money, staff and resources to ensure a successful turn out.
Whilst these young people are not engaged in employment or education it would be folly to think that they are interested in society. They are as passionate about things such as sport, films, music, fashion etc as any teenagers. Many of the big brands effectively market their products to this age group to great effect. So step one is to think of NEETs as your customer and present your programme in a way that sounds interesting, exciting and motivational. To do this you need to be able to answer these simple questions: 1. What do we want to say? 2. Who do we want to say it to? 3. How are we going to say it? For example: 1. What - There is an open day at the sports centre. 2. Who - The young people who hang around on the local street corners. 3. How â€“ Local council outreach youth workers and current users will approach the young people on the corners and ensure they know about it. They will ask them of their interests and ensure that they are represented. We will create exciting flyers. We will get interviews on local radio. We will ask local rugby and football clubs if a player can attend. We will have staff go to the corners with circulate free raffle tickets on the day. Etc. etc. In these blue boxes I will highlight some ideas and examples of actual programmes. A common theme to best practice in this area is to give away some free samples! Music Programmes: Interview and record young people on the streets, turn their words into lyrics, set them to music and let the young people hear it. Use Art: Set your current group a project to draw NEETs, tell them they must get the NEETâ€™s permission. This is creating intersection. Use Team Work: (Set a pre-attendance task) any two young people turning up at the centre with a news paper from last week, a foreign stamp and picture of Nelson Mandela will receive two cinema tickets at the end of the day. Use intrigue: Can be used for most programmes e.g. public speaking training, drama, dance. Think about your marketing - If you are aged 16, live in this area and like a challenge then come to our centre on Friday. Participants must arrive by 7 minutes 9pm for the start of a secret programme. PS Bring a flannel.
Step 2: Create the Right Setting Now that young people are flocking to your door it is essential that they instantly get one message loud and clear “They are in the right place”. As people who are engaged in society we can easily forget what an obstacle walking into an unfamiliar reception area can be, what its like walking up to a strange adult and starting a conversation, how ready you are to turn and walk away (which is what many of your hard won young people will do) Remember this may only be the local youth centre, sports centre or church hall but it is the equivalent to you or I walking into the House of Lords for the first time. We want to make sure that our young people negotiate this barrier comfortably So here are some suggestions: • Make sure there are plenty of signs pointing the way to your event. • Have young people as a welcoming party at the door and have one of them walk the participants through to the room. • Don’t have the participants sign in. They may not like writing and that would start with a negative. Your staff can write their name down. • Keep the paper work to an absolute minimum. • Have a nice waiting area for those who arrive early. Some biscuits, drinks, picture quiz’s. Be creative but make sure they feel welcome and relaxed. Treat each one of them like a VIP - to your organisation they are! Don’t be pretentious; you are not trying to be hip, young and trendy! You are trying to create a youth friendly environment. Have music playing Make the place interesting - have photos and magazines lying around of cars, celebrity, technology etc. Talk to attendees but don’t pester them. Allow them to get comfortable in their own time. Step 3: Building Relationships How would you react if a stranger knocked on your door and asked you about you about your relationship to your parents and your self-esteem? What if a close friend asked you the same questions? It’s a youth workers job to ask insightful questions but they must first build the type of relationship which permits such enquires from the perspective of the young person. The youth worker / young person relationship needs time to develop. It needs to build trust, establish boundaries and ensure respect. Too many policy makers don’t recognise the importance of giving this part of the process the time it requires. Even worse is when youth workers themselves don’t understand that this needs time, Greg’s youth worker above is a case in point.
Positive relationships need opportunities for interaction and interaction starts with interest. Some times young people are naturally interested in you and the programme but you must be prepared to lead the way. This means showing interest in the young people, asking them about any badges, tattoos, music they’re listening to, where they live, how they know one another etc. Generating interest in you can be a great way to start positive interaction; I have seen youth workers use the following methods with excellent results; Card tricks Football skills Untangling string One youth worker used to bring his pet snake in! B. The Intervention Step 4: Explore values through dilemmas, challenges and situations Too much youth work doesn’t take the time to ensure young people feel welcome so that they can do something interesting supported by people they trust. Far more youth work organisations however achieves the above 3 steps but stops there! They provide sport, drama, music, travel or some other interesting leisure activity for young people but just when all the conditions have been met to really have an impact on a young life the young person stops being the focus of the work and the activity becomes the cause. Youth activities are very important and young people can benefit greatly from following an interest in such a health environment. It’s just a dam shame that when a young person is in a position to really explore their values they youth worker does not create the dilemmas needed to explore them. For example - What is the most important value honesty or loyalty? Is it best to put your own interests first or that of others? There is no right or wrong answer to this type of question it depends on the situation. So it is the role of the effective youth work programme to ensure young people get lots of practice - competitions, problem solving, tasks, role plays or actual events. The activities are just things we do until real life happens! But whether they are engineered or naturally occurring an effective youth worker must always be looking for the moments when a young person is struggling with their values. That is the window of opportunity for effective intervention. There are many ways to question and help young people question their values here are a few examples: Split the group into two mixed gender teams and ask one team to make a presentation on why males are the superior sex and the other team to do the same for women.
Put ten photos of celebrities on the table and ask the group to order them in terms of who they would make prime minister, give a life saving operation to etc.. Put two five pound notes on the table and ask the group to agree on two people to receive them. They can not be sub divided amongst the whole group. Step 5: Observe EMR and offer guided reflection The effective youth worker is a master of useful enquiry. It’s not enough to ask a series of random questions that don’t lead anywhere. There is a clear goal and that is for the young person to be able to make a clearer choice. One of the most important elements in achieving this goal is to ensure that the young person realises that they have a choice. A key question is therefore “Is this your decision or a reaction to events”. The question would be worded differently but the aim is to enable the young person to realise that they don’t have to react robotically to events; they can use their own mind to make a clear choice. If a young person mindlessly reacts to events they will be vulnerable to peer pressure, be emotionally driven, and be unable to think long term or consider the consequences of their robotic behaviour. Event and reaction is the blight of many young lives. Event – Mind – Reaction (EMR) is the realisation which supports young people to take control and responsibility for their lives. An effective youth worker will therefore explore and question phrases such as “I can’t”, “I must” and “They made me” etc. Some example questions may include:
What do you understand the exercise to be about? Did you hear anything which made you think? What choices did you make? If you were to do this exercise again what would you do differently?
Step 6: Foster self-awareness Once a young person realises that they have a choice about how they react to events they can also be supported to realise that they have a choice about how they judge other people and how they judge themselves. Useful questions include what do you think of x ?, How did you come to this decision? How does this affect your life? Is there an alternative view point? Etc.
It is important not to confuse personal development with therapy; personal development is about exploring what do you think and do now and what do you want to do in the future, it is not aimed at ‘fixing’ past problems. These questions are all about the individuals’ view of themselves:
How are you feeling right now? What did you personally do well or not so well in the last exercise? What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses? How can you make better decisions? How would this change your life?
C. The Learning Step 7: Capture the Learning The above process helps young people to gradually develop their decision making skills but it is important that young people take stock and recognise how they have developed. Keeping a record of their development helps: • Young people need to remember what they have learned, stay motivated and firm up their resilience to the peer pressure outside of the programme. • Staff needs to evaluate their work. • Funding partners need to witness the effect of the programme. Methods include: Programme work books Diary Accreditation (ASDAN, C&G, DofE etc..) Providing cameras and dictaphones to the young people, which can help build a report/ portfolio Murals and graffiti walls can also be useful Step 8: Transfer learning Some people reading this paper may say “so what”? So what if NEET’s can make clearer decisions? That may be a fair comment if it wasn’t for this last step. Transferred learning is the process by which NEET’s can apply the clear thinking they have learned to goal setting in their future. Having re-assed their view of themselves, free from peer pressure and aware of their ability to improve the NEET’s create a personal action plan.
E.g. • What do I want to achieve? • What are my first steps? • Who will support me? • When will I do it? • How will I check on my progress? Completing this plan is a significant step in a young person achieving their full potential. Youth work does not happen in isolation, it has many stakeholders, funders, host organisations, families, community partners etc. A good way of ensuring that the young people utilise their learning in their community is to invite their community in to see the end of the programme, using a variety of tools: Presentation Celebration Put on a show Get the young people to announce their intentions Engage the community so that they offer the young people opportunities Evidence I developed the above methodology during my time at an organisation named Weston Spirit which I co-founded. The organisation utilised this methodology in its work with over 85,000 NEETS with an 82% success rate. “Weston Spirit is consistently able to work effectively with disenfranchised young people” The Audit Commission - NVYO Grant assessment 2002 I also utilised this methodology as Chief Executive of The Young Adult Trust which is the forerunner to a major national programme named National Citizen Service. “The evidence suggests that participation in the Young Adult Course has had an impact on the young people involved. Key areas of impact included an increase in confidence, attitudinal changes and skill development” Reflect and Change - Evaluation of the Young Adult Trust 2006
Diagram The following diagram has been designed to encapsulate this NEET support process.
The Environment The Intervention
4. Explore values through dilemmas, challenges & situations
1. Provide engaging activities
7. Capture learning
5. Observe EMR and offer guided reflection
2. Create the right setting 6. Become self-aware
3. Build relationships The Community
8. Transfer learning
Conclusion This paper is not meant to be a training manual as this kind of work practice and the support of trained people. My hope for this paper is three fold; • To strengthen the work of people who are already supporting NEET’s. • To ensure that the lay person understands that supporting NEET’s is a skilled process which can achieve outstanding results. • To encourage decision makers allocate the time and resource needed to achieve the desired results.
Paul Oginsky CEO of the Personal Development Point Ltd Oct 2008-09-17 Paul Oginsky is the CEO and founder of The Personal Development Point Ltd an organisation which specialises in supporting agencies working with young people. www.personaldevelopmentpoint.com