March 2002

From Economic & Social Research Council

Lack of social skills holds young people back

Lack of social skills are a major difficulty for young people as they make the transition to the world of work says new research released during National Science Week which runs 8-17 March 2002. Whereas in the restricted company of their friends social skills may not be a problem, when confronted by the demands of a training programme the cracks begin to show. 'Travelling to another part of the city, meeting new people from different backgrounds, encountering a new work ethic or the culture of self discipline and responsibility are all reasons many of them come off work placements' the study suggests.

The ESRC jointly funded research at the Department of Economics and Education at the University of Newcastle aimed to identify the aids and obstacles to the successful progression to adult life which affect young people between the ages of 16 and 25 living in the North East of England. One of the aims of the study was to put young people at the heart of the research giving them a real voice through a programme of personal interviews.

The objectives of the research were to:
- Identify the aids and obstacles to the successful progression to adult life which affect young people aged between 16 and 25 living in the North East
- To study low achievers and potential drop outs from National Youth Surveys by collecting new data on this group of young people who generally do not respond to surveys and whose absence from the resulting data has unbalanced the conclusions drawn from it
- To identify and assess the impact of local, regional and national structures on the life chances of the young people in the survey

For many adolescents, the route to adult life and work is now through training, and with this has come an extended dependency on family or state. The authors of the report suggest that: 'Where dependency on family fails, the consequences are marginalisation and social exclusion'. The research also showed that many of the marginalised young people who embark on Youth Training Schemes do not have the social skills, financial resources or extended family support required in order to seek and benefit from the help they urgently need.

Instead the research showed that the experience of many young people was to blindly follow instructions and advice they receive from Job Centres and Careers Offices leading in many cases to them undertaking over 1,450 different activities between them. This averages out at almost three activities each with one older respondent reporting twelve different activities.

The research wanted to seek out those young people who traditionally drop out of Youth Cohort studies. 'Drop out rates from previous research has averaged 45% and there is concern that this drop out is not random but is more prevalent amongst the lowest attainers and the disaffected. One important aim of this research was to provide data from an appropriate sample to directly compensate for survey drop out and to resample typical non respondents to get less biased conclusions' says Professor Dolton one of the authors of the research.

'The main conclusion from this research is not that individual motivation can overcome structural barriers but that those barriers produce realistically bleak scenarios of what is possible in conditions of social disadvantage. The tendency to 'blame the victim' when there is a lack of structural opportunities is a hot topic for debate and yet many current policies ignore the very different values placed on individual 'learners' in 'the economy of student worth' says Nick Meagher, project manager.

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright 2004

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