Who is the NEET? There is a straightforward answer to this question. A person that is not in employment, education or training the last 4 weeks before the question.
But who is really the NEET? How this person lives? What is his/her daily routine? What he/she believes? The array of questions is wide and elucidates a simple yet not that obvious fact. Being a NEET is a status, not an identity among many. Self-understandably, every person is the bearer of multiple identities and finds him/herself in multiple situations. The dominant identity then, is just a social construct performed. The single mother can be also a migrant, a sports fan, a university graduate, a NEET so on and so forth. How and why a specific identity or status supersedes the others? There is abundant bibliography discussing the former questions. Yet what is important to ascertain is the social construction of a person’s dominant identity, among many.
Soon after the commencement of the YOUTHShare project the implementation team came across the effects of the aforementioned issue. The research staff of the project, based on the meta-analyses of labour statistics found that the countries in focus, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, presented considerably low employment rates and high NEET rates compared to EU28 average. Especially Greece, the South of Italy and regions of Spain were hampered by youth unemployment for most part of the previous decade and definitely during the previous three years from the surveys.
On the other hand, the Key Account Managers of the branches of the Transnational Employment Centre faced multiple challenges. As with every kind of identity or status, the pertinent proclamation is at the same time the acknowledgement of own predispositions, regardless of the receiving end of the communication. Therefore, the Key Account Managers had initially to address their own perceptions about the NEET. If this was manageable, the reception of this message was much more difficult to be accepted. Besides the negative connotations of being a NEET, different identities or statuses were put forward from the NEETs themselves. Yet, the obvious distinction between employment and unemployment made their approach easier.
What is particularly difficult is the effort to build the relevant awareness for the general public. Covered by numerous other, socially constructed and performed, identities and statuses, such as being single parent, housekeeper, carer, disabled, addicted etc. being NEET, for most of the cases, remains hidden or, at best, contested in the public domain. This discourse is also institutionalised through labour statistics. The category “economically inactive” that is still being used by the Greek Statistical Authority practically incorporates the NEETs without addressing them as such. The simplest way to describe the effects of this phenomenon, is that of visibility. The externally appointed, non-negotiated, dominant identities supress the visibility of particular dimensions of the social relations, and amongst them of the NEET phenomenon. The effects of supressed visibility in the public domain are mainly manifested in public policy formation. Even if the NEET category is known to policy makers, either its urgency or its qualitative characteristics are potentially downplayed.
This finds its most salient application in the case of immigration. In recent years countries in Southern Europe have experienced a peculiar change of position in relation to migration flows; from a traditional origin of migrants, they became destination countries – even if immigrants themselves see them as transit countries. Being the “Other” in those local societies dominates the array of identities available; among which is the employment. Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, irrespective of their legal status, can also be employed, unemployed, economically inactive or NEETs. Yet, they, predominantly, remain the “Others”.
The YOUTHShare Transnational Employment Centre with its branches in Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, in its effort to map the social formation and design an intervention strategy came across such perceptions especially in relation to refugees and asylum seekers. Their quasi-protected status, the ‘cordon sanitaire’ around camps and the general publicity received, tilt their visibility unilaterally in favour of their legal status in the expense of their needs; and amongst them, the need for employment as a viable means to social inclusion. It is not by coincidence that the few public policies designed and implemented for refugees and asylum seekers inclusion in Southern Europe rarely focus on their employment.
Contested identities is not a new phenomenon. The evolution of human society is essentially a history of changing dominant identities. But before becoming dominant, crucial step for an identity is to become discernible. Actual social transformations were succeeded when identities and statuses were “dislocated”; when they were dissociated from the dominant identity. For example, LGBTQ+ identities gained visibility and acknowledgement when they were dissociated from a vague social fringe. For social groups as vulnerable as the refugees, the asylum seekers or the immigrants the dissociation of their employed or unemployed status from their legal status is cardinal. It is exactly that dissociation that will allow their participation in Active Labour Market Policies and consequently their social inclusion. Given that social inclusion, through various indicators, is considered for the change of favourable legal status, one understands the importance of the aforementioned dissociation.
The YOUTHShare project, through various outputs, has pinpointed the need for dissociating the legal status from the employment status for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in policy level. It is under that light that their employment rate and NEET status will receive proper visibility and will be suitably addressed.