The number of young women considered not in education, employment or training (Neet) is 29 per cent higher than it is for young men. Dr Carole Easton considers why this is the case and what it means for the skills agenda.


Young women want to work, but hundreds of thousands are stuck not earning or learning.

Our Scarred for Life? inquiry into females who are not in education, employment or training (Neet) recently presented its initial findings in the Totally Wasted? The Crisis of Young Women’s Worklessness report.

We highlighted the fact that there are 418,000 women aged 18 to 24 compared with 325,000 men.

The number of female Neets has barely changed in a decade and on average they
will also be Neet for longer — three years rather than two.

As well as the key point that young women want to work, our initial findings — based on focus groups, surveys and face to face conversations—– show that the advice, training and support available to young women not leading to any employment or leading to jobs that are too few in number and too poorly paid to be sustainable.

We have discovered a lot about what young women need, but have also heard from training and FE providers about the challenges they face, including financial constraints. But we need to gather more evidence before making detailed recommendations next year.

The right support is vitally important because in many cases young women are being sent down a path that quickly becomes difficult to escape from. They need the right advice in the first place but also the opportunity to change direction if they realise they have made the wrong decision. That’s what is lacking at the moment and that’s why they are stuck.

Many young women are directed towards traditionally female sectors even though their interests and aptitude lie elsewhere.

We commissioned a ComRes poll of 859 Neets which showed that female Neets were three times more likely than male Neets to have been told by careers advisers to think about becoming care workers, nannies, nurses or hairdressers and male Neets are at least six times more likely to be told to think about becoming IT technicians, construction workers or electricians and plumbers.

When I was 18 I decided to study IT. Finding myself in a slightly alien world dominated by men, I decided to move on. That was, I’ll admit, a long time ago, but even now the world of IT is still male-dominated and that’s not about to change — for every one woman doing an apprenticeship in IT there are ten men.

Young women should be part of the equation when it comes to considering skills shortages in
their area

Reflecting that early careers advice, young women are training for jobs traditionally associated with women. The apprenticeship figures show that five sectors account for 61 per cent of all female apprenticeships, while the same proportion of men work in more than ten sectors.

It is little wonder that so many women
end up Neet when they are competing for jobs that simply don’t exist.

A young woman I met in Blackburn had qualified as a hairdresser and become “self-employed” as none of the salons she approached would use her services otherwise. She struggled for months to
make enough money to live on and eventually gave up.

She is not alone. On average, there are five qualified hairdressers for every job in hairdressing. But young women heading down this career path aren’t told how hard it will be for them to make a living in their local area.

The same goes for childcare. So many of the young women I have met around the country have been encouraged to study childcare without being warned, for example, that in areas of deprivation and high unemployment few can afford childcare so there will be no demand for their services.

Locally, young women should be part of the equation when it comes to considering skills shortages in their area. Nationally, it is time to recognise that it doesn’t make economic sense to deny women who want to work the opportunity to do so.