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Putting an end to the NEETs phenomenon

The NEETs category encompasses a variety of situations, some of which are temporary, including the unemployed, recent graduates looking for work, those in transition, those who are ill, disabled or have family responsibilities, and marginalized youth.

In 2021, France had 1.4 million young NEETs, more than one in 8 young people, and one in 4 young people in priority neighbourhoods. The share of young NEETs in France (12.8%) is slightly below the EU average of 13.1%.

According to Nathalie Chusseau, an economist and professor at the University of Lille, reducing NEETs implies reducing social inequalities, because the French education system reproduces these inequalities. However, the first difficulty we face in the issue of school dropouts, who are particularly vulnerable, is their identification. The author emphasizes the importance of developing the skills of NEETs to prepare them for economic transitions, while reducing social determinisms, and mentions initiatives such as the “Class of 16-18” and the “Youth Engagement Contract” to support young NEETs towards employment and training. It also addresses the direct costs and economic loss related to NEETs, noting that the direct cost to public finances in France was estimated at €22.2 billion in 2011. According to Nathalie Chusseau, the economic integration of NEETs could contribute to growth of 0.4 percentage points of GDP.

NEETs or dropouts?

In 2021, the share of young people aged 15 to 29 who were neither in employment, education or training (NEET) was 12.8%. The share of NEETs in France is slightly below the European average (13.1%), but this figure hides large disparities since this share varies from 5.5% and 6% respectively in the Netherlands and Sweden to 23.1% in Italy (the highest rate). After increasing by three percentage points during the pandemic, the share of NEETs has gradually resumed its downward trend observed between 2015 and 2019. Thus, in the third quarter of 2022, it was 11.6%, i.e. 0.7 points below its pre-pandemic level (end of 2019). This decline is particularly related to the current good health of the labour market, which greatly reduces the time it takes for graduates to get their first job.

Concretely, in 2021, France has 1.4 million young NEETs, that is to say more than one in eight young people, and one in four young people in the city’s priority neighborhoods. The share of NEETs varies greatly with age: from around 1% at 15 years, it increases sharply until the age of 21 with the first initial training leaves (16.5%), before reaching its highest level at 24 (18.3%). Secondly, on average, 17.4% of young people aged 25 to 29 are NEETs.

NEETs, a heterogeneous population

This category covers a variety of situations, more or less transitory. According to INSEE (2021), 45% of NEETs are unemployed, which corresponds to 5.8% of young people aged 15 to 29. In addition, 24% are inactive and want to work but do not meet the availability or job search criteria that allow them to be considered unemployed, and therefore find themselves on the border between inactivity and unemployment, which is defined as the halo of unemployment. Finally, 31% of them are inactive and say they do not want to work for various reasons (children, disability, health problems, etc.). In concrete terms, among the 1.4 million NEETS, a distinction is made between the traditionally unemployed, young people with a recent higher education diploma who are looking for a job (16% of NEETs according to the INJEP study in 2020), young people in transition looking for an ideal job, those who are temporarily devoting themselves to other activities, young people who are sick, disabled or have family responsibilities, and marginalized youth. Also according to the INJEP (2020), 43% of NEETs have been looking for a job for less than a year, and 21% for more than a year. In addition, a survey conducted by the IFOP polling institute and carried out in December 2021 among 1,100 young people aged 15 to 24 who have dropped out of school indicates that 34% of the NEETS surveyed have dropped out of classes or training during their school career (48% did so in high school compared to 19% in middle school and 29% in higher education). In fact, it is the situation of young dropouts that seems to be the most worrying. As a reminder, every year, nearly 80,000 young people leave the initial training system without having obtained a qualification equivalent to the baccalaureate or a vocational diploma. Among them, there are 60,000 minors.

Graduation is a determining factor

Educational attainment appears to be a determining factor in the situation of NEETs. Thus, according to the INJEP (2020), those without a diploma who are far from employment represent 20% of NEETs. These include the most vulnerable NEETs: 70% have no qualifications and 77% have never worked. However, it appears that the vast majority of these NEETs are actively looking for work (70%), and 54% of them have been looking for more than a year. Thus, being without a diploma puts young people in unemployment and precariousness. It is also in this category of those without a diploma who are far from employment that we find the most NEETs limited in their autonomy by a health problem (27%).

Similarly, among mothers who are far from the labour market, who represent 14% of NEETs, 78% do not have a bachelor’s degree (45% do not have a diploma, and 23% have a CAP or BEP).

In total, 29% of NEETs have no diploma and 26% have a CAP or BEP. For more than half of young NEETs, access to skills training is a major issue, and it is one of the levers used by the public authorities to reduce this phenomenon.

Considerable cost and loss of revenue

It is necessary to distinguish between the direct costs of NEETs to public finances and the loss of growth for this pool of young people out of work if they were inserted into the labour market. The direct cost of NEETs is considerable. In 2011, counting all NEETs, the total cost of the economic and social non-inclusion of these young people was estimated at €22.2 billion for the French state, which represented 1.11% of French GDP (Eurofound, 2012). At European level, the total cost was €153 billion, or more than 1.2% of European GDP. To this direct cost must be added the loss of income from the non-economic and social integration of these young people, since they are first and foremost young people who could contribute to the development of economic and social activity. According to a note by the Cercle des économistes (2021), the economic integration of NEETs would allow a growth gain of about 0.4 points of GDP, which is far from negligible.

Developing the skills… To cope with transitions

In a world undergoing radical transformations, solving the NEETs phenomenon is crucial to the future of our country. Indeed:

  • The digital revolution and artificial intelligence (AI) will significantly change the structure of jobs: 39% of employees have a high risk of automation, and according to Goldman Sachs, AI would destroy 300 million jobs worldwide, including 25% in Europe;
  • The energy transition and decarbonisation commitments by 2050 are a source of destruction and job creation;
  • The demographic transition will increase the need for the care and care of the dependency of the elderly, which is expected to increase from 30% in 2015 to 47% in 2050.

These transitions will destroy some jobs and create new ones, and this means that the population needs to be adequately trained. For young NEETs, these transformations are an opportunity to open up their career prospects and pass on professional skills. In addition, there are a significant number of sectors under pressure (construction, care and health, hotels and restaurants, home help, the pharmaceutical industry, road transport,…) for which companies are struggling to recruit staff. The training and economic and social integration of NEETs is therefore absolutely necessary to meet the skills needs of companies, in the jobs of the future, as well as in jobs in shortage.

… While reducing social determinisms

Moreover, these transitions are taking place in a context where the French education system is poorly functioning: it reproduces social inequalities at school, France being one of the OECD countries where children’s social origin weighs most heavily in school results (PISA 2012, 2015, 2018 surveys). A major finding of PISA is that the correlation between socio-economic background and school performance is much stronger in France than in most other OECD countries. According to PISA 2012, 22.5% of the variation in students’ performance in mathematics is explained by their socio-economic background (there are only 7 out of 65 countries where the percentage is above 20%: Bulgaria, Chile, Hungary, Peru, the Slovak Republic, Uruguay and France). In 2015, the PISA results are similar: socio-economic background explains in France more than 20% of the science performance obtained by 15-year-old students (compared to only 13% for the OECD average). Only Hungary and Luxembourg are also above 20%. Finally, according to the latest PISA survey (PISA 2018), social determinism still appears to be as marked as ever: socio-economic status in France predicts 21% of the variation in students’ performance in mathematics (14% on average in the OECD), and 20% of the variation in science (13% on average). There is also a gap of 107 points between pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to an average of 88 points, although this gap has remained stable since 2009 (110 points). In addition, the written level of the richest 10% of pupils is equivalent to an advance of about 4 school years compared to the poorest 10% of pupils.

Finally, the structure of the NEETs population according to the father’s socio-professional category reveals that 43% have a manual father and 12% an employed father (INJEP 2020).

In the light of these factors, it is clear that the phenomenon of NEETs can only be reduced in the long term by first reducing social determinisms in order to promote access to qualifications for young people from modest backgrounds.

… By means of individualised and targeted support

As we have seen, the category of NEETs is particularly heterogeneous. However, among these young people, school dropouts who leave the education system without any qualifications are particularly vulnerable. However, the first difficulty we face when dealing with the issue of dropouts is their identification.

From this point of view, great progress has been made with the obligation to train until the age of 18 introduced at the start of the 2020 school year, so that no young minor is left in a situation where he or she is neither in education, training nor in employment. This training obligation makes it possible to identify and bring young people at risk of exclusion to a support and training pathway. The scheme concerns around 60,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 18.

For example, secondary education institutions (public, private or agricultural secondary schools or high schools) and each apprenticeship training centre provide the contact details of their former pupils or apprentices who are no longer enrolled in a training course. This is a clear improvement on the previous situation. Based on this training obligation, a new system has been set up as part of the “1 Youth 1 Solution” Plan: the “Promo 16-18”. The deployment of the “Promo 16-18” is entrusted to the National Agency for Adult Vocational Training (AFPA). The aim is to offer young people the opportunity to carry out a professional and social integration project, with the support of a consortium of actors from the fields of social support, education, training, business, sport, art, culture and scientific mediation. This integration programme is deployed in AFPA centres in which young people can be accommodated, on the prescription of local missions.

In concrete terms, the “Promo 16-18” is based on 13 weeks of individualized support that allows (i) to introduce young people to the professions and opportunities in their region or elsewhere (in particular emerging or short-term professions), (ii) develop soft skills (confidence, self-esteem, ambition, ability to act on one’s career, etc.), (iii) to build a life and a professional project, and (iv) validate their skills and experience through “open badges” (core and transversal skills, digital skills). At the end of its mobilization in the “Promo 16-18” and at the end of the young person’s course, the AFPA, in conjunction with the local referent mission, must prepare the young person’s exit in order to avoid any break in the course. Thus, at the end of the course, several solutions for professional and social integration exist.

For example, one year after the implementation of the “Promo 16-18”, AFPA supported 7,000 young people aged 16 to 18 who had dropped out of school. Of these, 70 per cent are boys with an average age of 17, 90 per cent of whom had no qualifications. At the end of their course, 35% of them were able to access employment on fixed-term contracts or work-study contracts, and 30% returned to school or entered training. Two-thirds were therefore able to access employment, skills training or pre-apprenticeship schemes. The others continued in a reinforced support system such as the Youth Guarantee (now the Youth Engagement Contract), the 2nd Chance School or the Employment Integration Establishment (EPIDE). The training and guidance sectors are those sectors that employ the first levels of qualification (commerce, personal services, construction, entertainment, hotels and restaurants).

The Youth Engagement Contract (YEC) is a continuation of the “1Jeune1Solution” Plan set up in July 2020. It is aimed at young people aged between 16 and 25 (or 29 years of age if they have been recognised as disabled workers), who are not students, are not in training and have difficulties in accessing sustainable employment. In force since 1 March 2022, the EYC offers these young people individual and intensive support, in a demanding setting, with the aim of entering employment more quickly and sustainably. It replaces the Youth Guarantee and is implemented by Pôle emploi and local missions. The aim is to build a fully personalised programme for young people that can last from 6 to 12 months (or even 18 months in certain situations) depending on their profile, with the aim of helping them define their professional project and find a job. A dedicated counsellor follows the young person throughout their journey and until they reach a sustainable job.

The young person benefits from an intensive program of 15 to 20 hours per week consisting of different types of activities. They receive an allowance of up to €528 per month depending on their means and on condition that they meet their commitments. The effectiveness of the EYC was evaluated one year after its implementation by the IGAS (General Inspectorate of Social Affairs). 301,725 young people joined the EYC at the end of January 2023, which is close to what had been announced (300000 at the end of December).

There is a significant over-representation of young people without a diploma in the scheme, which is consistent with the stylised facts and objectives of the EYC. However, national scoreboards indicate that 40% of beneficiaries do not meet the threshold of 15 hours of activities per week, and 20% are below 5 hours. Weekly maintenance seems to be carried out in less than half of the cases.

However, given the great diversity of local practices, these national aggregates do not seem appropriate. The exit monitoring dashboard is not adequate: it is necessary to monitor the employment rate by cohort entering the EYC, as is the case for beneficiaries registered with Pôle Emploi. Overall, there is a need for cohort follow-up with (i) the employment rate, (ii) the composition of the public, (ii) the use of internships in companies and (iv) the use of more structuring solutions. The evaluation of the impact of the scheme therefore seems premature, even if it covers the target audience in terms of volume.

Economically and socially integrating young NEETs

To meet this objective, it is necessary to:

  • Continue the development of second-chance schools, EPIDE and production schools, particularly in territories where the number of NEETs is the highest, and where reindustrialization projects are implemented.
  • Establish a cohort follow-up of young people engaged in the Youth Engagement Contract and within the “Class of 16-18” to improve the effectiveness of the schemes by offering additional or more targeted support, and by strengthening the involvement of beneficiaries.
  • Strengthen the partnerships of AFPA, local missions, EPIDEs, and second-chance schools to develop the skills of these young people and meet the needs in sectors under pressure.
  • Strengthen the partnership between the “Class of 16-18” and voluntary military service, which targets an audience of 18 to 25 years old with similar characteristics.
  • Extend the Youth Engagement Contract to associative activities to help NEETs gain experience and the keys to the job market.


  • Chusseau N., Verdugo G., Mahfouz S. (2021), Réussir l’inclusion économique des NEETS, Note pour Le Cercle des économistes sous la direction Jean-Hervé Lorenzi, Paris, 29 November.
  • IGAS (2023), Interim evaluation of the support of young people within the framework of the youth engagement contract, report 2022-071R, March.
  • INJEP (2020, The “NEETs”, Heterogeneous Resources and Living Conditions, Analyses and Syntheses Collection
  • INSEE (2021), Young people neither in employment, nor in education, nor in training: up to 21 years old, fewer women than men, Insee Focus No 229, 26 March.
  • Eurofound (2012), NEETs – Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe.

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