Barriers to employers in recruiting NEETs

The introduction to ‘What do recruiters think about today’s young people?’ (Mann and Huddlestone, 2015.) claimed that young people today are more qualified and have more years of education than previous generations, a view supported by Rüdiger (2012), yet they are four times more likely to be unemployed than older people. At the time of writing youth unemployment stood at 11% (Phelan, 2018) compared to 4.1% overall (ONS, 2018). This would appear to indicate employers are reticent to recruit young people.


A National House Building Council (NHBC) produced report focused on attracting young people, not specifically NEETs, into housebuilding (Marriot and Moore, 2014).  It found that a lack of awareness, or negative perceptions of the industry to be a major barrier for employers in attracting new talent.  They also suggested the industry recruitment practices prevented many from accessing opportunities, proposing that they need to become more ‘younger person friendly’. Waters (2014) considered the views of primary school pupils and had similar findings, a lack of awareness of the opportunities, and construction being seen as unexciting and underpaid, already embedded with this demographic. These perceptions would present a barrier to NEETs if they dissuaded them from applying for future opportunities, and importantly be a barrier to employers if their target audience already held negative views of the industry. 


Many employers appear unaware that the industry has a negative image for young people with only 11% seeing this as a reason for their low interest (Clarke and Hermann, 2007). Indeed, research by YouGov Research (YouGov, 2015) indicated that only 3% of 18-24-year olds, 4% of males and 1% of females, had searched for a construction role. In the same survey 45% felt that the industry was more suited to men, 26% felt construction jobs were insecure, 19% thought construction was an undesirable industry to work in and 14% felt it was poorly paid. This appears to indicate that, even if employers are keen to engage with NEETs, how the industry is viewed, and its unattractiveness, are major barriers in securing new talent.  


Employer expectations may produce a barrier to engagement if they are focused on requirements a NEET may find difficult to meet. Newton et al. (2005) identified a wide range of employer expectations when recruiting. These included perceived benefits of previous work or work experience, an issue for a NEET if they are coming from an unsettled background such as care, have had health or family issues, or are ex-offenders. Previously young people may have been able to gain work experience, and money, through Saturday jobs.  A UKCES report identifed a reduction from 42% to 18% of young people with these (Conlon, Patrignani and Mantovani, 2015). 


Newton et al. (2005) identified qualifications and soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, problem solving and planning, as attributes employers expect in young recruits. As was identified in the previous section, employers often equate qualifications as evidence of soft skills. Fixed expectations create a barrier, even where an employer is open to engaging with NEETs. If they are looking for skills NEETs are unable to evidence their application may be rejected, a barrier to both.


There are a number of myths often quoted as fact within construction in relation to why young people cannot be employed (CITB, 2019a). Health and safety concerns, and additional requirements placed on employers in recruiting young people, were examined by Beers and Greaves (2015). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that this is not the case. Although there may be some work unsuitable for under 18’s, this is an exception, not a rule (HSE, 2019a). Another myth often cited is the need for employers to carry out additional risk assessments specifically for young people. Again, this is dispelled by the HSE, who clarify that, providing existing risk assessments consider factors that relate to a new entrant, such as lack of experience, there is no requirement to carry out additional risk assessments (HSE, 2019b). 


Beers and Graves (2015) also considered the perceived financial impact on a company’s employee liability insurance, with the cost of additional premiums imposed by insurers when a young person is employed. Guidance from the CLC (Build UK, 2016) states there is no need for additional insurance for young people, and, although the insurer should be notified, their employment may only result in small financial adjustments. This is not to suggest employers use these as excuses not engage, many may believe these myths to be true, but they present an obvious barrier to employment. 


Entry level and trade roles within construction are often recruited at short notice, and are frequently short term (Lockyer and Scholarios, 2007). Clarke and Hermann (2007) identified word-of-mouth as a common recruitment practice. This may result that employment opportunities, albeit often short term, may be missed by NEETs without connections within the industry, especially pertinent for a care leaver, or homeless person, without access to extended groups of contacts. This was also identified by Tunstall et al. (2012) and Newton et al. (2005). An additional impact from this form of recruitment is that this it can lead to underutilisation of skills, where a qualified operative takes on a lower skilled role in order to maintain employment (Marley, 2015; UKCES, 2014).  This would appear to indicate that construction’s recruitment practices inadvertently create barriers for employers wishing to engage with NEETs, who may have been suitable for entry roles taken by those working below their skills level, or those unaware of opportunities due to a lack of contacts with the industry.  Rüdiger (2012), in a report for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), looked at how employers can be engaged in tackling youth employment issues. The main reason given by employers for not recruiting was lack of demand in suitable jobs. Again, this may be due to the fact that these suitable roles are going to skilled operatives.


With short notice recruitment employers require operatives who can function on site from the outset and do not have time to train new entrants, even for very junior roles.   A Pye Tait report for the FMB (Pye Tait Consulting, 2015) and Rüdiger (2013) addressed the ‘fear factor’ faced by employers in regards to employing apprentices. This included barriers to hiring, their ability to train and support new entrants, or uncertainty of being able to provide continuous work. All of which could dissuade an employer from employing someone from a NEET background and as such present a barrier for the employer.


Construction is a fragmented industry with over 300,000 construction companies, less than 300 of which are large employers (Statista, 2019), indicating a vast majority of companies are small/medium enterprises (SME), each with their own needs and potentially limited resources. Major construction companies, who possess the resources and supply of work to support new entrants rarely employ at that level, subcontracting to SMEs. It has often been commented that construction is a risk adverse industry (Farmers, 2016) and historically quicker to be affected by financial downturns, taking longer to recover, thus financially cautious. This is true for SMEs who may not possess the resources or finance to be able to support new entrants, especially where there may be additional support requirements (Pye Tait Consulting, 2015). This risk averse attitude presents a barrier to companies who may have suitable roles but err on the side of caution when it comes to recruitment.

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