The purpose of this dissertation was to identify barriers to the employment of NEETs in construction, and to consider alternatives that may help address this. As the research for this dissertation was being undertaken a contact within the CITB forwarded a copy of unpublished research recently undertaken into NEET engagement. It addressed a number of similar areas to this dissertation but was received too late to be incorporated in the literature review, instead it will be referred to during this conclusion.
A number of factors were identified indicating someone at risk of becoming a NEET (Buzzeo et al. 2016; Maguire, 2015; MacDonald and Shildrick, 2011 and others), all potentially presenting barriers to employment. These factors were addressed in the primary research with responses identifying most as being supportable within the industry, and as such not necessarily barriers to employment. Some factors, ill health, behavioural and drug/alcohol dependency did raise concerns, and could present as barriers. Given the importance of health and safety within the industry, and potential negative impacts these factors may present, these views are understandable. That said, comments suggested that, depending on severity, even these factors may be supportable in certain circumstances.
Based on the author’s previous experience in supporting NEETs into construction, it was assumed that the industry was reticent to employ them but this would suggest that being NEET is not in itself a barrier. It should be noted that a majority of responses come from larger organisations with the resources to support.
Analysis of the research has identified other issues that present as barriers. It should be noted each could potentially act as barriers that prevent NEETs accessing opportunities and employers recruiting from this cohort. The identified issues fall into four broad groupings:
The term NEET was identified as pigeonholing young people with a broad spectrum of issues, each requiring specialised support. It was noted that this term fails to quantify the actual issues that obstruct NEETs engagement with education, employment or training. Instead it implies that they are in this situation because of something they are NOT doing. Presenting someone solely as NEET results in a lack of clarity regarding the type(s) of support necessary to ensure a successful transition from NEET to employed. If support provided is unsuitable the outcome may be a negative experience for both the young person and the employer, dissuading the employer from considering future applicants from this group, and the young person in considering the industry.
The negative connotations associated with the term, identified in both the literature review and comments in the research (page 38), indicated that perceptions of this group could represent a barrier. Employers may be discouraged from engaging due to perceived negative attitudes and behaviours. A respondent detailed a poor experience with one young person as a reason to not engage. A limitation with the use of online surveys is that it is not possible to further explore statements. It would have been interesting to discover if the same negative attitude would be applied to over 25’s if an employer received a similar experience from an older employee.
The issues with the term NEET are not something that construction itself can address, and its impact is not limited to construction alone. It is an accepted term and any revision would require approval from a wide range of government and non-government organisations. That said, construction could look to educate itself. A group from across the industry could undertake research and produce advice and guidance which could help in better understanding this cohort and the support required.
Ultimately this may only be resolved by replacing the term, identifying one with less negative connotations. Any new term must provide clarity, allowing for a better understanding of the issues presented, which in turn would enhance support. As has been identified, a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer.
The recruitment methods construction utilises, and entry requirements were highlighted in the literature review and respondents’ comments as posing barriers for both NEETs and employers. The literature review detailed why apprenticeships may not be suitable for some NEETs, positing financial implications and academic requirements as barriers preventing NEETs pursuing opportunities. In addition, the off-the-job training requirements for these roles may dissuade those with a negative experience in mainstream education, addressed in the comments (Page 33).
Word-of-mouth recruitment, highlighted in the literature review and some comments, is common within the industry and was identified in the CITB research (CITB, 2019b) as being especially important to microbusinesses, stating it was felt young people recruited through this method had a better understanding of the role. This presents an obvious barrier, a young person has no contact with the industry will not gain sight of these opportunities, those roles instead going to friends or family, or, as suggested, skilled personnel taking on less skilled roles in order to maintain employment. As with the barriers posed by apprenticeships, employers face the potential barrier in recruiting NEETs due to a lack of applicants.
Employer expectations were identified as barriers to NEET employment in respondent comments and the literature review. These include soft and employability skills which employers often say is all they look for in a new recruit. A NEET’s circumstances could make these difficult to develop or evidence. An interrupted education, or a lack of previous work experience, may result in a NEET failing to gain the qualifications employers would accept as evidence of their expectations, or being able to provide examples of how they have met them through previous roles. This means NEETs will struggle to get through the application stage and as such be unlikely to gain an interview where they may be able to demonstrate their aptitude for the role in other ways.
The myths that surround the employment of young people in the industry, often quoted when employers are challenged on their recruitment of young people, were highlighted by some respondents. These responses covered both the awareness they are myths, as well as stating them as fact. The literature review identified sources of information, HSE (2019a), Build UK (2016), to counter these myths. The fact that they are still quoted indicates clarity around these issues is required to ensure employers are aware of the reality. This is especially pertinent to SMEs, where the research indicated a lower level of engagement with this group.
If the construction industry wishes to engage new entrants from this group, it needs to consider these practices. The research has identified the recruitment practices detailed pose major barriers to engagement with NEETs. This identifies an area for further research, what, where, and why specific recruitment practices are used, and identifying alternatives which open the industry to those currently facing barriers in accessing it.
An area frequently cited though the survey, and supported by the differences in responses to questions when filtered, are those SMEs face, as opposed to larger employers, in the recruitment and support of NEETs. Responses to questions and comments indicated that SMEs are less likely to have resources readily available to provide support for NEET employees, yet they form the bulk of construction employers. The primary research indicated that 92% of large employers, but only 58% of SMEs, employed apprentices, with 96% of large employers claiming they also employed under-24’s in non-apprenticeship roles, for SMEs this figure was just 42%. In addition, 70% of large employers stated that they had employees from a NEET background, this fell to 37% when only SMEs were considered. This could be an indicator of the difficulties SMEs face in employing from this cohort due to lack of support resources (Tables 10, 11 and 13).
The CITB research (CITB, 2019b) recommended the possible use of grants or funding to help mitigate impact on employers, and suggested that employers would welcome measures that simplified engagement and recruitment. This offers a second area for further research, what can be provided to assist SMEs in employing NEETs and where should this come from?
The final area identified as a major barrier for both employers and NEETs is the perception and promotion of the industry. The lack of quality IAG on the industry available to NEETs, was raised in the literature review and research comments. As stated, the industry is often seen as a 4D industry, and as such may not be attractive to many. People working within the industry will see it differently but if those providing IAG do not understand what it can offer this is likely to be the picture they paint.
It was identified that the main sources of guidance for young people were either family or school, and as detailed these are sources many NEETs may not have access to. A care leaver, homeless individual, and in some cases ex-offenders, may have no contact with family, indicating they will not have access to family support. The lack of a family network also produces a barrier to word-of-mouth recruitment. In addition, someone with a negative educational experience, potentially having not competed their formal education, may not have access to schools’ career guidance.
Information is available, the CITB Go Construct website provides guidance on the industry, but with a focus on apprenticeships and qualifications, as previously discussed these present barriers for many NEETs. There are many other websites providing information of careers but few focusing exclusively on construction. Unless an individual is specifically looking for a role in the industry, just 3% according to the YouGov research (YouGov, 2015), the lack of quality IAG produces a barrier to identifying opportunities. A major barrier for employers wishing to recruit NEETs, as already stated, is a lack of applicants.
A surprisingly high 87% of those responding to the survey felt the industry does not promote itself to young people (Page 31), also considered in the CITB research (CITB, 2019b) which produced a lower 51%. The reason for the difference is not apparent though the CITB research had a larger, and broader range of respondents, over half of the responses to this survey coming from large employers. This is a clear barrier to employers; if the industry is not being promoted then, unless a young person already has connections, they are unlikely to be aware of opportunities in the sector.
This identifies a third area for further research, if industry is aware of its failure to promote why has nothing been done to address, and whose responsibility should this be? This could also investigate how the image of industry is perceived among young people, consider the backgrounds of those taking up opportunities, and those who are not, and look to identify reasons why this is. It would need to quantify potential negative perceptions NEETs and their influencers have of the industry, and identify how they can promote the reality. Waters (2016) suggested a campaign similar to that used to promote the armed forces, could offer an alternative view of the industry. In addition, promotion of the new technologies coming into the industry that may utilise alternative skills young people have gained through leisure activities may help to attract young people from all areas, not just NEETs.
The alternative options presented were based on the author’s previous experience and were used to begin discussions on what alternatives would be acceptable. The general response was highly favourable suggesting industry is open to new ideas (Table 14). Comments proposed that many of the barriers identified, recruitment practices and SMEs’ lack of resources, could be addressed by the alternatives proposed.
Taking the most favoured options a possible full engagement programme would provide:
This would suggest that a collaborative approach, one involving employers, NEET support organisations, and national and local government or other funding bodies, would be beneficial. The CITB report (CITB, 2019b) also confirmed that partnerships would be welcomed in addressing NEET engagement.
The main concern raised in relation to the alterative options was in relation to cost and where funding would be sourced, with some suggesting these were expensive options. Central government was the most popular option for funding (Table 15), but it was also noted that, as the factors indicating risk of becoming NEET cover a broad spectrum, and many face multiple factors. funding may be provided from a number of sources. The bureaucracy attached to many funding schemes was identified as a potential barrier, especially for SMEs who may not have the staff to take this on. This would be further complicated if the funding comes from multiple sources. Government funding also carries the risk that changes in government or policy result in its withdrawal at a future date.
Further research is needed to clarify what types of programme, or combination of, are achievable and acceptable to industry to enhance the employment opportunities for NEETs. In addition, this should investigate the social return on investment that the alternatives could deliver, identifying who would gain the most financially. A reduction in benefits and the income tax paid by a NEET moving into employment would benefit central government, who therefore should be encouraged to fund.
As was identified, the UK construction industry consists of over 300,000 companies a vast majority of which are SMEs (Statista, 2019), and is risk averse and resistant to change (Farmer, 2016; Egan 1998). Industry should explore the option of building regional networks, especially of SMEs, who could work together in supporting NEETs into the sector, sharing responsibility and thus sharing risk. Ideally these would utilise existing regional networks, CIOB, FMB, CITB or Local Enterprise Partnerships as opposed to developing new.
Four areas for future research have been identified:
Any future research needs to consider the fragmented makeup of the industry as detailed above when exploring these areas and it is unlikely to find a solution that suit all, as with NEETs, a one size fits all approach is, most likely, not an option.
This dissertation began with a review of the current skills crisis and it is clear that this can only be addressed by attracting entrants from outside the usual market. NEETs, while not solving the issue, may provide a group that may help address the shortfall.