Choose Life, Not NEET: No One Gets Left Behind with Clean

Young people who spend long periods not in education, employment and training (NEET), can easily drop through the cracks of society and once off track can find it very hard to rejoin as productive, happy citizens.


Each NEET young person costs society, on average, £56,000 over the course of their lifetime, with a total estimate of £12bn to £32bn lost in public funds to cover the cost of Jobseekers Allowance, lost productivity, the cost of youth crime and imprisonment and the cost of educational underachievement. Source: Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation report


Supporting a young person to move from NEET so they are ready for education, employment or training saves money but more importantly can also save lives. Research by The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index for 2015 shockingly reveals that, “Long-term unemployed young people are more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants. One in three have contemplated suicide, while one in four have self-harmed. Suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks can be felt as a direct result of unemployment.”


Further research by the Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation shows that if people haven’t got on to the first rung of the job ladder by 24, they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives and some will never work. The Princes Trust states that, “Long-term unemployed young people are more than twice as likely as their peers to believe they have nothing to live for.”


Many services are aimed at engaging the most disenfranchised young people, but many services are costly and fail to achieve their outcomes. Some of these young people have a range of complex needs to manage. These include substance misuse, being a teenage parent, youth offending, health issues, family issues or overcoming a trauma or bullying.


We have been running a project to deliver a coaching and mentoring service for young people in the North West since 2013. Coaching and mentoring is recognised in business and in education as a way of supporting individuals and teams to make the most of the opportunities available to them and the skills they already possess. We use the same approach with the NEET population to great effect.


We start from a positive place and assume that all people are resourceful, clever and interesting and have resources hidden to themselves and other people. Our job is to put in the hard work and do the due diligence to engage them and support them to access their resources. What we then find is that we have many vibrant young people who can play valuable roles within our society. They work as a group and the really great thing is that they go on to create a coaching network between themselves to develop confidence and the skills to create a shared understanding of how they came to be where they are right now and to give each other the confidence to move themselves and one another to where they want to be next.


The service we have been providing has now been extended for a further two years so that an additional 190 young people who are NEET can benefit. This ‘Ways to Work’ project will cost £355,000 and is part supported by the UK Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020 and the Youth Employment Initiative.


Action and Impact

Shaun Hotchkiss, who works on the project, reports fantastic success with pre-16 children who have a variety of vulnerabilities including being in care, youth offending or may have special educational needs. From the 137 young people who have received our service in this group, we have seen a significant 87% of them moving into employment, education or training. Since 2013 we have more than doubled our referrals and our success rate has gone up year-on-year. The impact on the individuals is astounding and from a personal perspective it is very rewarding.


Overall, since the start of the project the commissioning body has stated that there is a significant difference in sustainability of outcomes for young people who have completed our courses compared with those NEETs who join a college course or apprenticeship without having done a Training Attention programme. The project has also been a great training ground for those who attend our Systemic Modelling trainings to really put their clean skills to use.


The Approach and Why it Works

Training Attention has a ‘leave no one behind’ policy. We take the view that young people, especially those who are NEET, have untapped invisible resources that are vital in supporting them to re-access employment, education and training.  This can feel strange at the beginning but over time it is very empowering for the individuals and can create  incredible change.


In our recruitment we may knock on someone’s door multiple times and try many ways to access a young person referred to us by the council. Similarly, once they have engaged on the programme we know that some will progress straight to college or employment and others may need two to six months more support.


The young people are trained using exactly the same tools that we use with business clients by using a Clean Language and Systemic Modelling approach. This means engaging the young person in considering what they’d like to have happen, what’s working well, what isn’t working so well and what would work better in the future.


From the very first conversation on the doorstep and for every further step of the way, our coaches are trained to accept whatever the young person or their family member says. And then we ask clean questions, without judgement or assumptions, to extend their thinking.


The approach is an effective one. Having this quality of attention without judgement whilst being pointed towards resources and opportunities, will shift attitudes and behaviour for many young people.


The Training Attention recruiters and frontline facilitators are ILM trained and experienced coaches and we also have a qualified psychotherapist on the team. This makes them more than capable to manage the individual needs of these young people which is important as apart from inviting the young person to join a 12-hour workshop with other young people in NEET, the recruiters also pay attention to the conditions that prevent a young person from accessing education or employment.


Some may not be ready for peer coaching or may need more than peer coaching. In these cases, our coaches will provide one-to-one coaching and where necessary, cooperate with other agencies to support the young person.


Challenges and Barriers

Some of the young people we work with face tremendous barriers. They may have to overcome social anxiety or lack of confidence or they may have to deal with more practical but serious issues.


For example, recently we worked with a young person who was homeless and also suffering bereavement. Trying to organise housing seemed insurmountable but after two-and-a-half hours of phone calls the issue was resolved. Sometimes we need to go above and beyond the contractual obligations to support these young people or they may feel left behind. The approach we take always assumes that they have the capability to do things for themselves. We teach them skills so they don’t need to take on a drama role like becoming a victim, a persecutor or a rescuer which can often happen if someone doesn’t know a different way.


Another difficulty a young person may face is how to sort out documentation for an interview. For example, getting evidence of a home address from the bank attracts a charge of £5, money they might not have. And a lack of evidence could jeopardise their confidence to go to the interview. These young people encounter barriers that may seem so small to us but may feel impossible to them. Our job is to help them through these issues, all the while coaching them to use their own resources wherever possible.


We also encounter challenges when trying to engage young people right at the beginning. For example, a young person may stay up playing on a games console and drinking energy drinks all night, which means they can’t get up or stay awake during the day. We also work with individuals who don’t have the confidence to talk to people due to a trauma or experience like bullying at school.


We try to overcome these situations at the beginning by building trust and working closely at an individual level. We also employ practical solutions like changing the hours we work to weekends and evenings to reach those that can’t get up during the day or talking through bedroom doors for a sustained period to try to build a relationship and gain trust. We have to have determination and not give up.


Lessons Learned and Conclusions

While it is very satisfying to see the change in young people’s lives, as our own success rate continues and the pool of people gets smaller, our job becomes much harder as we try to engage those who are harder to reach and may be very disenfranchised. These young people need support on a much deeper level with more investment in time and more determination. Some of them may have severe recurring mental health issues or difficult home or personal situations, in which case we also need to be careful not to become a replacement for other services. We are learning that we now need to work even more collaboratively and integrate with a far wider range of public services. As we get harder to reach people then the target of who we have to effect in the system has to become wider. As we do this we educate more people in using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling to ensure the trust we have gained with the young people isn’t lost.


The administration associated with this type of work can be arduous but there is great joy in seeing these young people grow in confidence and then go into employment, education or training. And once they have completed the programme they then have significant skills to move away from problems and focus on outcomes, which will help them to be more resilient for the rest of their lives. These are skills that they can share with others in society and in some cases go on to train others to use them.


A great example of this is James Jeffers, one of the young people in the first peer-coaching programme we ran in 2014. After he completed the coaching programme, we recruited James as an apprentice with Training Attention and he now works full-time as coach, recruiting and mentoring the young people who join our programmes. We aim to have a system that encourages other young people that have completed the programme to then go on and volunteer to help with the next cohorts. These young people are able to empathise and help to support others in the same situation.  This is now starting to happen and the effect is magic.


The most important aspect of this type of service is building relationships and trust. It’s also about real boots on the ground engagement, persistence, hard work and respect for these young people. We couldn’t do that without the fantastic relationship we have with the commissioners we work with. It really helps that we are working with people who know the basics of our approach, are able to take feedback and can work collaboratively. This makes a big difference with the success and sustainability of a project of this type.

Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.


This Post is posted by Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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