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 Nordic researchers want political action on NEETs

Nordic researchers want political action on NEETs

| Text: Line Scheistrøen, photo: Benjamin Suomela/

More and more young people in the Nordics are not in education or employment. Not enough is done to help young people facing extra challenges, argue Nordic researchers.

“Around 100,000 young people are not in employment or education. That is far too many,” said Tonje Brenna, Norway’s Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion at the beginning of February this year.

The minister told the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration NAV: Prioritise this group in the coming year. The government expects more young people to be in work at the end of 2024.

Brenna is not the first, and probably not the last, Norwegian minister of labour to worry about too many young people not being in education on employment. If it is any comfort, she is also not the only minister of labour in the Nordic region who has this challenge in her in-tray.

What she said could as easily have been said by ministers in Finland, Sweden, Iceland or Denmark. All of the Nordic countries have too many young people who are not in education or work. They remain outside what we consider to be “normal”, and they struggle to get inside. 

Outside forever?

There is a name for this category: NEET – not in education, employment or training. The group covers young people aged 15 to 29. 

The EU average of NEETs has stood at 12 per cent in recent years. All of the Nordic countries are below that average. Finland has the largest proportion of NEETS at around 10 per cent, while Iceland, Norway and Sweden stand at around 5 to 6 per cent. 

NEET graph

The Nordic countries are below average, and have been since the year 2000. Source: Nordic Statistics database 

Several studies have shown that NEET youths find it particularly difficult to move on, either to a classroom or to become part of the labour market.

It is not free!

Young people remaining outsiders have considerable consequences, for the individual of course, but also for the rest of society.

For society as a whole, it means less value creation, increased public expenditure and more pressure on the health and legal systems. 

There are many calculations and big numbers. Let us look at one example from Norway, and the calculated loss to society of a 19-year-old remaining excluded from the labour market until they are 62. The lost value creation is an estimated 15.9 million Norwegian kroner (€1.4m). On top of that come expenses in the wake of being on the outside – like benefits. 

The price of exclusion can become high for the individual too. With no income, you can afford little. That impacts how you live and eat, and which activities you can participate in. Exclusion often leads to loneliness as well as poor physical and mental health. 

More people with mental health issues

Let there be no doubt – Norwegian youths are largely doing well. Most handle school and studies well, transitioning smoothly into work and adult life.

But in the last few decades, Nordic and European studies have shown an increase in mental health issues, especially among young girls.

There is no one simple explanation for this increase. One reason is more openness around mental health. Changes in diagnostic practices and support services for young people may also have influenced this trend.  

However, separate youth surveys have shown that an increasing number of young people are experiencing school-related stress and body image pressure. They say they worry and feel depressed. Many describe a lack of control and a life that is difficult to navigate. 

Poor mental health is one of many reasons why many struggle to succeed with education and access to the labour market.

Life satisfaction graph

Nordic youth are mainly happy with life, surveys show. Source: Nordic Statistics database

Yet there are other reasons for exclusion, like having foreign heritage, low levels of education (including among parents), physical handicaps and poor health, poor self-confidence and behavioural problems, poor childhood environments, poor school results and previous periods of unemployment. 

“A challenge with no solution”

It is not like all ministers of labour before Tonje Brenna and her Nordic colleagues have been sat twiddling their thumbs and letting this happen. They, and the current ministers, have put young, excluded people on the agenda. 

The Nordic countries have also instigated a range of measures, some of which have led to good results. Others less so. 

During the 2022 Norwegian Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Work Research Institute (AFI) at the Oslo Metropolitan University was commissioned to gather knowledge on how to successfully include vulnerable youths. With good help from Nordic research colleagues, this resulted in the AFI report “Inclusion of young people in school, work and society – a compilation of knowledge from Nordic research”.

The authors also wrote an opinion piece titled “More and more young people fall outside of education and work. Why do we allow this to happen?”. The piece was signed Anne Leseth, Kjetil Frøyland, Andreea Alecu, Jannike Ballo and Talieh Sadegi.

The researchers argued far too little was being done to help young people who face extra challenges. 

“Despite a range of measures in the Nordic welfare states across several years, exclusion among young people still appears to be a challenge with no solution,” they wrote. 

Some things work!

The report says there are some common denominators for which activities and measures work best. The most effective measures include:

  • Tailored measures and close follow-up
  • Cooperation between schools, health services, employment authorities and employers
  • Being treated as a normal person 
Young students

More and more young people in Nordic countries feel that school is not for them. Photo: Yadid Levy/

“Helping vulnerable youths means investing time, money and humanity. You must work with your own understanding, prejudices and stereotypes and be innovative when it comes to coordinating services. Investing more in this group of young people can potentially produce great returns for the individual and for society as a whole.

“For the young people, this is first and foremost about improved quality of life. For society as a whole, it is about improving public health and a well-functioning labour market,” the researchers wrote in their opinion piece. 

Encouraging politicians to take action

Measures or programmes that are similar to ordinary employment give the best results when it comes to workplace inclusion. “Individual Placement and Support” (IPS) is considered to be a good tool for helping young people who face mental challenges when looking for work. 

The researchers point out that ordinary public employment services, wage subsidies and qualification activities yield more mixed results. Youth guarantees are also not the best tool, according to the researchers, at least not for including young people who are the furthest from the labour market.

"With a coherent Nordic research foundation behind us, it is worth asking how long politicians can dare to refrain from taking necessary action. Young people carry opportunities for a better future within themselves. We need greater recognition of their resources and capacities rather than their problems," write the researchers.  

Finnish youths

checking their mobiles. Finland has the highest proportion of young people not in employment or education out of the Nordic countries.


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