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The Effectiveness-Lab

NEETs: Not in Education, Employment, or Training – Series 1 of 2

NEETs refers to young people who are ‘Not in Employment, Education, or Training‘. NEETs is a phenomenon the developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries are increasingly facing. NEETs’ pause for countries significant social and political risk – no country would like to have large sections of its youth out of a productive activity, be it education, training, or employment. NEETs’ have a tendency to get attracted to social unrest and rebellion.

The NEETs challenge in Africa Credit: global
The NEETs challenge in Africa
Credit: global

NEETs in perspective:

If a youth is not at school, work, or in training, they will be termed unemployed. Yes, there are all sorts of unemployment that economists have defined for us, but we won’t get into that today – the Effectiveness Lab shall for purposes of this blog consider unemployment a generic concept i.e. being out of work. So in effect, NEETs = unemployment with or without the requisite education and training

The Global perspective:

The global youth unemployment rate, which had decreased from 12.7 percent in 2009 to 12.3 percent in 2011, increased again to 12.4 percent in 2012 and had continued to grow to 12.6 percent in 2013. This is 1.1 percentage points above the pre-crisis level in 2007 (11.5 percent). By 2018 the global youth unemployment rate is projected to rise to 12.8 percent, with growing regional disparities, as expected improvements in advanced economies will be offset by increases in youth unemployment in other regions, mainly in Asia.

Global youth unemployment is estimated to stand at 73.4 million in 2013, an increase of 3.5 million since 2007 and 0.8 million above the level in 2011. Rising youth unemployment and falling labour force participation contributed to a decrease in the global youth employment-to-population ratio to 42.3 percent in 2013, compared with 44.8 percent in 2007. Part of this decrease is due to rising enrolment in education. The global youth employment-to-population ratio is projected to be 41.4 percent in 2018‘.

The Sub-Saharan perspective:

‘From a Sub-Saharan Africa lens, although the regional youth unemployment rate is lower than in most other regions, it is significantly higher than the adult unemployment rate. Compared with an adult unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in 2012, youth are twice as likely to be unemployed, with an estimated youth unemployment rate of 11.8 percent in 2012. Youth unemployment rates much higher than the regional average are found in South Africa, where over half of young people in the labour force were unemployed in the first three-quarters of 2012, and in Namibia (58.9 percent in 2008), Réunion (58.6 percent in 2011) and Lesotho (34.4 percent in 2008; ILO, 2011a and 2013b). On current trends, the youth unemployment rate is projected to remain close to 11.7 percent in the coming years.

Similarly to South Asia, the relatively low regional youth unemployment rate in Sub- Saharan Africa is linked to the high levels of poverty. The region has by far the highest rate of working poverty, estimated at 40.1 percent in 2012 at the US$1.25 per day level, and working is a necessity for many young people. At the US$2 per day level, the working poverty rate rises to 64 percent; only South Asia has a working poverty rate at comparable levels (although the working poverty rate at the US$1.25 per day level is significantly lower in South Asia). However, even though high levels of working poverty persist in Sub-Saharan Africa, the shares of working poor at $1.25 and $2 per day have dropped in the past 15 years from peaks of almost 59 and 77 per cent respectively in 1994 to their lowest level yet in 2012 (ILO, 2011a).

Given the high poverty levels and high share of vulnerable employment, youth employment in Sub-Saharan Africa is as much a qualitative as a quantitative problem (ILO, 2013a). Wage and salaried workers account for almost half of employment at the global level (48.4 per cent in 2012), but this proportion is only 21.4 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared with 63.8 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 49.4 percent in East Asia. Many youths start their working life as unpaid family workers, one of the two categories of vulnerable employment, and at some point become own-account workers, the other category.

Reality check for the NEETs phenomenon in Sub-Saharan Africa:

NEETs is a western phenomenon that has to be selectively applied to an African context.  NEETs applies more to the circumstance’s of the urbanite African; it lacks fit with the rural agrarian communities like my village Nakabugu in Uganda:

  • Education: African youth in rural communities, learn every day, albeit using informal means. We cannot, therefore, allege that they are not in education at any one time. Sadly, the case for such informal education is becoming stronger, given the diabolical nature of ‘Education for All’ programme implementation in certain parts of Africa. The latter has led many in my village to question the value of going to acquire such sub-standard education. As an educated person myself, I am at pains to accept the status-quo; but I also  understand that botched implementation of government policy is a major contributing factor
  • Training: As they become of age, the youths undergo hands-on training under the tutelage of the Elders. This is the equivalent of modern vocational training. I can give a poignant example from my village: there are hundreds of youth that have mastered the art of bricklaying; however, this has been passed on in many cases by parents or fellow youth that would have come of age in the craft. Many have become semi-professional masons that are well-respected in their community; and this, without setting foot in technical colleges. We are not insinuating at all that vocational skills should be acquired informally, but that in the absence of suitable alternatives, the African solution has still proven viable.  Western definition of NEETs and the at times ‘cut and paste’ policy development in Africa, should consider such semi-professionals, and even more so those a tier below, in training
  • Employment: African employment, both in urban and rural communities tends to be informal. There are millions employed in the informal sector that aren’t counted in employment by figures like ILO’s above.

My takeaway: NEETs is a brilliant concept especially in regards to defining a section of youth, that can become a liability to any country, rich or poor. However in Africa, at least in Nakabugu Luuka district where I come from, NEETs in a western constricted jacket approach, simply becomes another phenomena on the internet.

There ought to be recognition that data as read from ILO above misses the true African NEETs context – and ILO acknowledges that, albeit indirectly. Effective Policymaking for global as well as national NEETs has to consider the informal nature of Africa’s NEETs. For example, vocational training and employment creation strategies for youth in Nakabugu Luuka District may take a ‘micro-training and multi-location approach’ as opposed to sending youth to formal vocational training colleges. The latter addresses the fact that the youth in Nakabugu are already in employment (be it informal) and would not want to abandon for extended periods, their only source of livelihood. You may even find that the so-called vocational training colleges may not change their fortunes after all – i.e. they are blueprints from the more elite NEETs framework

All the above said our bigger worry at the Effectiveness Lab is a generation of NEETs post-youth – we shall call this ‘second-generation NEETs’. What about them? Look out for the second blog in this series – next week


4 responses to “NEETs: Not in Education, Employment, or Training – Series 1 of 2”

  1. Apollo, I completely agree with you that the ‘cut and paste’ policy adaptation is NOT effective.

    When the new Constitution was adopted in Kenya in August 2010, significant changes to Government-institutions in Kenya were introduced, including radical changes to existing education policies. The Government established a number of commissions and task forces to guide Government on the implementation of the new Constitutional requirements. A 35-member task force, were asked to assess the implications of the new Constitution on education and determine the content to be taught in schools. This task force largely consisted of European expatriates. The unit, under the chairmanship of Prof. Douglas Odhiambo, recommended that the 2-6-6-3 education system be introduced. The proposed new system, 2-6-6-3, would see pupils spend two years in early childhood development education, six years in primary, another six years in secondary and three years in university.

    Needless to say, the teachers unanimously opposed the task forces proposal to scrap the 8-4-4-education system. They argued that the proposed 2-6-6-3 system, which required Sh340 billion per year to implement, would be too costly and impractical. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), said that current 8-4-4 system needed to be reinforced and not replaced with the proposed 2-6-6-3 arrangement. One of the issues that they raised was that the new system had adopted some irrelevant policies from European countries, in particular, they singled out the altering of the school calendar to start in September, saying: “Kenya does not need a summer holiday, we are not Europeans.” (I attended that meeting, at the time I lived in SA)

    There’s no doubt that Kenya’s curriculum must be reviewed to help students to rise to current challenges and meet the requirements of Vision 2030. The 8-4-4 system has failed in some measure to produce all rounded individuals for the workforce required for a rapidly developing economy, however the approach that the task force took was a total sham! Sadly after a year long job, their proposal were thrown right back in their faces.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.


    1. Christine thanks for reading the blog on NEETs – a culture of blind-copying, the lack of rigour in policy review processes, as well as belief that Africa’s destiny will be determined by what has worked else where and more so in the western world, is at the core of our stagnation

      Perhaps accepting our Africanness and building on age old traditions may serve us better – politicians have let us down for so so long; I hope that civil society, although infiltrated by the lack of rigour itself, will do a better job than politicians – civil society has to be our last resort!


      1. Accepting our Africanness and being willing to take responsibility for our destiny. Our conditioning has created a situation in which we prefer to be ‘victims’. As a victim there is no need for responsibility. It is easier to ‘cut and paste’ ideas, policies even life styles, because ultimately we can blame the person who dared to make a decision. Our culture which is largely collective allows for people to lead lives without ever taking responsibility for anything. As you rightly say, consequently we in Africa stagnate! In my opinion the only way to freedom is to take responsibility. Responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly. Civil society have to take responsibility!

        Liked by 1 person

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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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