Public Policies to Address the Problem of NEET Youth


Reducing the rate of economic and social participation of youth poses a challenge for governments and policymakers. In this regard, the social investment approach in the literature provides an important avenue within which new social risks such as rising youth unemployment and increasing early school dropout rates are discussed and the new welfare state approach is suggested. This approach defends the design of social interventions ensuring to upkeep the quality and capability of human capital across generations, make sure welfare states stabilise the labour market and provide citizens with a buffered zone in the labour market where they can fulfil their potential without social and economic
On the other hand, delving more into the Turkish context reveals that certain policies to address challenges of youth exist but without much emphasis on NEET youth and sustainably enhancing their skills, improving labour market conditions and opportunities and addressing gender-based disaggregation among NEET youth. To provide an overview of policies addressing the problems of NEET youth, this report seeks to unpack active labour market policies (ALMPs), social care service provisioning, employment opportunities for and educational attainment of the disabled and civil society participation of youth. Despite the existence of policy efforts to address the problems of NEET, this report argues that these policy efforts have a gendered character leaving females behind in the labour market and should have a diverse approach to address the heterogeneous structure of needs of youth.

Addressing the problem of NEET youth within the policy framework firstly entails a broad discussion on welfare state change toward social investment perspective and then positioning youth in this policy paradigm. The academic debate on analysing welfare state change has been devoted to understanding unresolved challenges resulting from macroeconomic and demographic changes and the emergence of new social risks.⁷⁶ Straddling between retrenchment and recalibration, post-industrial welfare states have encountered the portents of tension between employment-friendly recalibration and labour market competitiveness.⁷⁷ The generosity of welfare states came under pressure with the onset of the 1980s, and new social risks such as precarious employment, human capital depletion due to technological changes, youth and long-term unemployment, increasing levels of early school dropout and rapidly ageing society came to fore.⁷⁸ Amid these challenges, scholars and politicians propounded new approaches to define the transformation of welfare states, among which the idea of “social investment” gained considerable attention in academic and political debates. The social investment approach argues that the sustainability of welfare states lies in a costly but potentially productive social investment strategy relying on “capacitating and compensatory” policy interventions.⁷⁹ Therefore, it is important to raise and upkeep the quality of human capital and capabilities and break the social disadvantages transmitted across generations in this approach. From a lifespan perspective, people from childhood to elderhood shall be supported with “skill enhancement and training services in case of unemployment, health, family and housing support”.⁸⁰ Social interventions are also needed to ensure efficient and optimal allocation of employment, have a “buffer” function with universal minimum income protection and also stabilise the labour market and, therefore, become a buffer zone in case of economic shocks.⁸¹ This intervention logic based on social investment approach is highly related to address public policy endeavours struggling to tackle the NEET problem, improve the stock of youth labour and provide them with sustainable economic conditions where they can fulfil their capacity without structural barriers that this report seeks to address.

Negative consequences of being a NEET may persist later in life, hence, early interventions matter. Addressing the issue of NEET and reducing the number of NEETs pose a great challenge for governments and policymakers both in developed and transition economies. Knowing that NEET is often composed of already disadvantaged youth with low educational attainment, targeted interventions starting from early stages, e.g. when the person is still in education, play an essential role.⁸² There are a variety of interventions, ranging from skills development training to mentoring and cash benefit programmes, addressing NEET youth in different countries. While nation-wide youth policies are crucial, programmes delivered by civil society actors are also of great importance and may lead to positive outcomes.

Reducing the rate of economic and social participation of youth still poses a challenge for governments and policymakers. Evidence abounds in the literature to support the view that education, training and labour market institutions appear to be related to the risk of being NEET.⁸³ As reviewed in the Eurofound (2012) report, prominent discussions revolving around the determinants of NEET focus on the role of labour market institutions (i.e. employment protection legislation, minimum wages and active labour market policy (ALMP)), vocational education programmes and adult unemployment rate.⁸⁴ The report analyses the variation in the share of NEETs aged 15 to 29 years across the EU member states between 1992 and 2009 using the European LFS and various data sources on institutional country characteristics.⁸⁵ On the institutional side, the research provides robust evidence that ALMPs supporting the matching process of youths with the labour market and a dual system of vocational training (i.e. combining classroom-based vocational education with workplace-based training) can foster lowering the NEET rate.⁸⁶ On the supply side from the labour market from a macro-level perspective, Kelly and McGuiness (2013) analyse the extent to which transition to employment among NEETs and prime-aged unemployed changed in Ireland during the economic recession between 2006 and 2011 using the longitudinal data from the Quarterly National Household Survey.⁸⁷ The researchers argue that the transition rate of NEETs and prime-aged unemployed individuals to the labour market decreased due to recession-related external factors such as a rise in the marginal value of education. They suggest the importance of improving the labour market conditions through structural and long-term regulations focusing on investing in human capital and skill-matching and designing the vocational education accordingly.⁸⁸ In this regard, various interventions ranging from mentorship programmes to subsidised employment programmes are being implemented in different settings.⁸⁹

Despite these well-defined conceptual frameworks in the literature, how to contextualise these interventions and, more broadly, youth policies in Turkey to address the problem of NEET youth is an important intellectual challenge. In the literature, social policy discussions related to youth have long been neglected in the country, and there are a few studies particularly focusing on youth to discuss social policies. Yilmaz (2016)’s study, in this regard, provides analytical parsimony that attunes readers to the main characteristics of social policies for young people in Turkey. Referring to seminal discussions related welfare state regime typologies, and particularly to Chevalier’s two-dimension typology of cross-national youth welfare citizenship models, Yilmaz (2016) argues that the Turkish state plays a minor role in providing income support for youth, treats youth not as individual adults and makes youth rely on family income support. Turkey also follows a selective strategy in terms of providing educational and labour market outcomes for youth. The author argues that the higher education attainment is comparatively low in Turkey given that “four out of ten young people pursue higher education” whereas those who graduate from the lower secondary education or complete the 12-year compulsory education either participate in the labour market “from the bottom end” (and this group is mostly male) or stay out of the labour market (and this group is mostly female).⁹⁰ In this regard, Turkey fits with the denied youth citizenship type in Chevalier's typology, leaving youth dependent on their families for income support, vulnerable to labour market conditions (mostly for young men) or staying at home (mostly for young women). To talk of Turkey representing “the denied youth citizenship type” is to denote to the fact that addressing the problems of NEET cannot be simply restricted to individual preferences or a single policy area targeting youth in Turkey. Rather, policy decisions and contexts within which youth live shape their lives and their access to education and employment. The undermentioned policy discussions in this chapter, therefore, seek to address challenges of NEET and youth policies to tackle these challenges in the country for a comprehensive view.

Active labour market policies (ALMPs) also comprise one of the nation-wide policies considered as an important policy tool to tackle youth unemployment. ALMPs are defined as “labour market policy interventions that the welfare state uses to ‘actively’ increase the employment probability of jobseekers and decrease aggregate unemployment” and mainly consist of four types of programmes: i) job search assistance, ii) (labour market) training, iii) private sector employment incentives, and iv) public sector employment.⁹¹ The main features of these programmes mainly include but not limited to job search training, counselling, work practice, basic or life skills training, wage subsidies, self-employment assistance, start-up grants and direct creation and provision of public work. Even though providing empirical evidence on the effectiveness of ALMPs in tackling youth unemployment entails a comprehensive approach considering a diverse set of programmes and country-specific policies, there are seminal studies reviewing evidence on youth-oriented ALMPs across several countries.⁹² European Training Foundation (2014) carrying out the traditional literature survey (i.e. a narrative review) and a quantitative review using a meta-analysis identify systematic patterns of effectiveness by ALMP programme types.⁹³ For instance, wage subsidy programmes are found out as effective in addressing the need of youth to enter the market provided that these subsidies are designed for specific target groups in well-defined contexts (i.e. sector or regions) so that they do not distort the labour market with the large scale of intervention.⁹⁴ Moreover, skill training programmes are found to be “the most popular and most frequently used programme and theoretically also the most promising one due to the human capital formation component”, but the impact of these training programmes is materialised in the long run and programmes “with durations of about four to five months seem to achieve maximum effectiveness”.⁹⁵ Despite the importance of this existing body of evidence to understand the effectiveness of youth-oriented ALMPs, it is important to note that ALMPs cannot solve structural labour market problems and “create jobs, particularly during periods of slack demand” whereas, as pointed out by ILO (2015), ALMPs can “help redress education and labour market failures, while promoting efficient allocation of labour and social justice” and “prevent labour market detachment and prepare youth to take jobs after crises”. ⁹⁶

Delving more into the Turkish context in terms of the implementation of ALMPs and its effectiveness reveals that ALMPs is an important youth
employment measure in the country, but there are still further steps needed to integrate youth to the labour market and improve their skills.
The implementation of ALMPs at the national level dates back to 2004 through the policy reforms mainly informed by the EU and the World Bank, and the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) has played a leading role in carrying out ALMPs in the country.⁹⁷ Under this role of İŞKUR, labour force development courses, entrepreneurship training, the KOSGEB entrepreneurship support program and on-the-job training (traineeship) programs have been implemented to reduce unemployment and improve the labour skill.⁹⁸ In terms of the ALMPs specifically addressing youth, in line with the Tenth Development Plan, policy measures have been developed in the Mid-term Plan as follows⁹⁹:

  • Individuals will be instilled with basic and vocational skills suitable to the demands of the labour market; policies aimed at reduction of youth unemployment, facilitation of integration of young people in the labour market and ensuring appropriateness for working and family life will be implemented, and the active labour policies will be implemented based on the effect analyses made on a regional and sectoral basis.

  • Youth employment and entrepreneurship will be supported under the policy to accelerate the integration of young people in the labour market and to enhance their skills. Loan support, monetary support in blank and income tax exemption for young people finding a job for the first time, establishing a new business, wishing to run their own business and young farmers will be provided.

While ALMPs within the frame of skill training and entrepreneurship were addressed with specific mentions to youth in policy documents, there are not any specific regulations prioritizing and targeting youth, in general, or NEET youth in a direct way. Furthermore, the World Bank report analysing the impact of İŞKUR programmes in 2013 indicates that the overall impact of İŞKUR training on employment is negligible whereas courses are found to have a small but significant effect on the quality of employment.¹⁰⁰ Based on its findings, the report highlights the importance of welldesigned targeting for training and the existence of mismatch between expectations and reality, particularly among youth, that “overestimate future benefits and underestimate future costs of action”.¹⁰¹ Even though the report does not specifically focus on youthoriented ALMPs in Turkey, these findings provide an important overview to guide policy actions to design ALMPs targeting youth and matching their specific needs and expectations to integrate them in the labour market effectively. Furthermore, educational attainment of young women is correlated with higher levels of labour market attachment and increased opportunities for young girls for attaining university degrees may have a positive impact on their future employment opportunities. Active labour market policies targeting specifically youth and women, such as a reduction in employment costs and subsidization of social security benefits, are also welcome options for improving their engagement early on in the labour market, that should be continued and promoted.

As the three-quarters of NEET in Turkey are women, and their labour market disengagement is linked to unpaid household chores and care activities, one important step in addressing this problem, is through making publicly and widely available services that would replace these young women’s domestic chores and give them the option and opportunity to engage more fully in the labour market outside their homes. Related to this finding, it is important to contextualise social care service provisioning in the nexus of female employment and welfare regime in Turkey. As aforementioned before, the Turkish welfare regime has a gendered character meaning that the institutional setting of policies leaves females dependent on the patriarchal family relations and discriminate against women in terms of their access to the labour market.¹⁰² Within this context, “the availability of high-quality, affordable social care services and the alleviation of the constraints on female labour supply” is of paramount importance not only to address the problems of NEET female youth but also to offer inclusive policy solutions at the same time.¹⁰³ In this regard, the seminal study conducted by Ilkkaracan, Kim and Kaya (2015) reveal that additional public investment in the early childhood care and preschool education (ECCPE) sector for Turkey to catch up with the average OECD preschool education enrolment rate would create 719,000 new jobs in ECCPE and other sectors (and 73% of these jobs were estimated to be allocated for women). Comparing the ECCPE sector investment with the construction investment, the authors also argue that this investment in the ECCPE sector would create more decent work than the construction sector in terms of generating new jobs with social security benefits. Furthermore, from the perspective of the demand-side economic rationale for public investment, expansion in the ECCPE sector would provide “decent employment creation, gender equality, and poverty alleviation, as well as fiscal sustainability” and be an important catalyst to increase the labour market participation of women. Therefore, this study opens up a creative avenue where it is possible to discuss that the prioritisation of public investment to the ECCPE sector can be a good example as a policy practice to engage women in the labour market and create inclusive and sustainable growth in the country.

From the policy side, it is also important to note that the gendered character of social care provision offering cash transfers to families to take care of children, the disabled or the elderly consolidates the role of women as caregivers in Turkey.¹⁰⁴ This social care policy “towards the replacement of institutional care by family care” provides substitution of at-home care for labour market participation, and, therefore, encourages women to undertake traditional family activities and keeps women out of the labour force.¹⁰⁵ Furthermore, as discussed by Bugra (2017), “the combination of low wages, long working hours and the inadequate public social care provision does not encourage female labour force participation”.¹⁰⁶ From the demand side in the labour market, there is persistent gender inequality, and women are more likely to be employed in lowpaid jobs and in lower-ranked occupations than men¹⁰⁷, which can also exacerbate a higher proportion of NEET females among youth.

Providing policy incentives specifically focusing on the restricted employment and education prospects of the disabled is also an important step to tackle the NEET problem in Turkey. As Yılmaz (2019) suggests in his explanatory qualitative study that low educational attainment, low level of physical accessibility and accessibility of information are important obstacles for the disabled to participate in the labour market along with other structural discriminations such as workplace discrimination and gender inequalities.¹⁰⁸ Even though a reduced level of income tax is offered to increase the labour market participation of the disabled and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified in 2009, there is a more holistic approach deemed necessary to provide the rights-based legal framework and ensure the transformation of social attitudes towards the disabled in Turkey.¹⁰⁹ In other words, current policy incentives shall be supported by effective antidiscriminatory, inclusive and systematic policy efforts combined with measures to ensure the social integration of the disabled. Furthermore, labour market integration and effective education policies are not mutually exclusive for the disabled as is the case for the whole population. Although the right to access education for the disabled is ensured de jure through the comprehensive legal framework in Turkey¹¹⁰, experiences regarding the education of the disabled indicate the inadequate practicalities for ensuring access to education for this group.¹¹¹ Up-to-date and disaggregated data on disability is scarce in Turkey. The survey on problems and expectations of disabled people was conducted by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy and TUİK in 2010.¹¹² According to this survey, 41.6% of registered disabled people over 6 are illiterate and 18.2% of them are literate but without a diploma. Of these registered individuals over the age of 6, 7.7% of them have a high school degree or above.¹¹³ On top of these striking numbers indicating how the disabled people are at a serious disadvantage in access to education, Sart et. al. (2016) discuss that, even if disabled children are enrolled in school, they face with physical infrastructural problems, material shortages, the shortage of key staff such as counsellors, exclusion and discrimination from teachers, other students or parents.¹¹⁴ For this reason, it is important to incentivise employment and education measures distinctively focusing on the disabled to make sure they are inclusively engaged in labour market and education without institutional and societal challenges that they currently face.

Increasing youth civic participation has been on Turkey’s official policy agenda since 2012 although much of the emphasis on policy documents remains limited to encouraging ‘volunteer activities of youth’. The National Youth and Sports Policy Document dated 2012 and numbered 4242 emphasises targets of increasing young people’s volunteering activities, raising awareness, and supporting their engagement in NGOs.¹¹⁵ While the definition of youth civic engagement in this target had been limited to volunteering activities, we must encounter an explicit pronouncement of `youth` in a policy document.

Alternative models to engage youth that is already being implemented by youth CSOs are worth exploring and can be regarded as useful resources to contribute to the policy discussions. The 11th Development Plan (2019-2023) Youth Working Group Report provides an array of policy suggestions concerning institutional reforms to ensure collaboration between civil society and public institutions and increase the democratic participation of youth and youth volunteering. The ‘participation’ section under the report addresses the necessity of increasing the participation of youth in civil society organisations.¹¹⁶ The report specifically emphasises that youth policies should take into consideration of NEETs separately in gender and regional breakdowns, create a system to monitor NEET youth and improve their access to social and public services. However, the report does not offer a detailed approach to how this system can be designed and what it entails for in terms of the involvement of civil society organisations and designing institutional structures. As for volunteering, the report accepts that new regulations are deemed necessary tosupport youth volunteering and formalise channels to meet the basic needs of youth volunteers such as providing financial support. This point raised in the report is particularly important to legalise and recognise the contribution of youth into society and ultimately increase their engagement but needs to be urgently structured and implemented legally. Engaging civil society organisations in increasing the democratic participation of youth and improving the legal structure to encourage youth participation may help to empower youth and potentially present volunteering models in social and public domains for scale-up.

⁷⁶ See, for instance, Hausermann and Palier, 2008; Hemerijck 2018; Pierson 2001
⁷⁷ Hausermann and Palier, 2008
⁷⁸ Esping-Andersen, Gallie, Hemerijck and Myles, 2002
⁷⁹ Hemerijck, 2018
⁸⁰ Ibid
⁸¹ Ibid.
⁸² Ibid.
⁸³ Bruno, Marelli, & Signorelli, 2014 ; Kelly & McGuinness, 2013 ; Tamesberger & Bacherb, 2014 ; Tamesberger, Leitgöb, & Bacher,
2014 ; Eurofound, 2012
⁸⁴ Eurofound, 2012
⁸⁵ ibid.
⁸⁶ ibid.
⁸⁷ Kelly & McGuinness, 2013
⁸⁸ Kelly & McGuinness, 2013 ; Eurofound, 2012
⁸⁹ Carcillo et al., 2015
⁹⁰ Yilmaz, 2016, pp.10-12
⁹¹ Kluve, 2014
⁹² See, for instance, Kluve, 2014 and Maibom, Rosholm, & Svarer, 2014.
⁹³ Kluve, 2014
⁹⁴ Ibid.
⁹⁵ Ibid.
⁹⁶ Rosas, 2015
⁹⁷ Gökşen, Yükseker, Kuz, & Öker, 2015
⁹⁸ European Commission, 2017
⁹⁹ Ibid.
¹⁰⁰ World Bank, 2013
¹⁰¹ Ibid.
¹⁰² Bugra and Yakut-Cakar, 2010
¹⁰³ Ilkkaracan, Kim and Kaya 2015
¹⁰⁴ Bugra & Yakut-Cakar, 2010; Yilmaz, 2018
⁰⁵ Bugra & Yakut-Cakar, 2010
¹⁰⁶ Bugra, 2017
¹⁰⁷ Gedikli, 2015
¹⁰⁸ Yılmaz, 2019
¹⁰⁹ Ibid.
¹¹⁰ Please see, for instance, the Law No.5378 for Persons with Disabilities (LPD) passed in 2005, the Statutory Decree No.573 on Special Education ratified in 1997 and the Special Education Services Regulation (SESR) revised in 2012.
¹¹¹ Sart, Barış, Sarıışık and Düşkün, 2016
¹¹² This survey was restricted to the target population of 280,014 disabled individuals recorded in the National Disabled People Database.
¹¹³ Ministry of Family and Social Policy and TUIK, 2010
¹¹⁴ Sart, Barış, Sarıışık and Düşkün, 2016
¹¹⁵ Dereci & Ersen, 2017
¹¹⁶ Kalkınma Bakanlığı, 2018

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