Tackling Youth Rural NEETs social and economic exclusion

Accessing education and training plays a crucial role in building a future and stays a powerful weapon to counteract the negative effects of poverty and social exclusion of young people.

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 26.

To mark the International Day of Education 24 January 2021, we look at the worrying situation many young people deprived from this fundamental right are struggling to make a living in today’s Europe. The level of education a young person achieves has direct influence on their chances of finding a job and remaining in work.

NEETs which stand for “neither in employment nor in education and training” are young people aged 15-34 years old, unemployed, or inactive, and who are not attending any education or training courses according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition and the European Commission Employment Committee (EMCO).

Alarming Observations

The latest data available from Eurostat for 2019 shows that NEET rates in the EU were 5.6% for youths aged 15-19, 14.5 % for people aged 20–24, 17.2 % for those aged 25–29, and 17.4 % for those aged 30–34.

Since NEETs are not a homogeneous group and knowledge remains limited as well as the surrounding support systems understudies, the COST Action, Rural NEETs’ Youth Network (RNYN), launched in 2019 aims to understand and develop a model of comprehension for rural NEETs’ social exclusion processes.

The Action is taking a collaborative approach to tackle this issue by integrating scientific knowledge from diverse scientific domains. This will foster an expert network between hundreds of researchers from 32 countries and will involve public service representatives, senior advisors from international bodies and NGOs.

Eurostat figures for EU27 in 2019 clearly underline that the proportion of NEETs is higher in rural regions with 15.0%, compare to urban areas with 12.9%. This difference is greater in Southern and Eastern European countries. The highest rate of risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU was recorded among people living in rural areas reaching 27.1 %, followed by 24.3% of people living in cities and 22.3% living in towns and suburbs.

The current COVID-19 context is not helping either to reduce the gap. Youth unemployment is already a major issue in the EU.  Millions of young Europeans are facing job crisis creating a ‘COVID-19 generation’ struggling in their search to work whether they are living in urban cities or in rural areas.

Led by the COST Action Chair, Dr Francisco SIMÕES, the Rural NEETs’ Youth Network (RNYN) has identified important factors that are strongly influencing social exclusion processes. Based on the existing Eurostat figures, the Action underlines the urgency to look at the issue deeply and find a suitable approach to support rural NEETs needs.

The transition from school to the labour market is a complex long-term process, driven by a variety of personal and socio-economic factors, which marginalizes vulnerable rural NEETs and place them in a precarious situation.

The agricultural sector remains large in many Central and Eastern European countries and has been continuously declining. This is limiting job offers in rural areas due to greater difficulty of finding employment outside agriculture and little opportunities to develop work experience.

To tackle the job shortage, young people in rural areas in most EU countries tend to focus on vocational education to a greater extent than urban youth. This is narrowing their opportunities to find a job and to continue their professional training.

The lack or poor interconnection between educational offers and labour market needs are strongly impacting rural NEETs.

“Being more educated is key to prevent youths to become and remain NEET. A stronger educational background will become even more important in the years to come, due to a greater demand of high skilled workers in the digital sector. In rural areas, the Green Deal aims will also increase the need for highly qualified youths in agriculture, tourism and other important economic sectors.”

COST Action Chair, Dr Francisco SIMÕES

ISCTE- Instituto Universitario de Lisboa

Looking ahead

The Action aims at involving a considerable number of young researchers, Early Career Investigators, and integrate Inclusiveness Target Countries especially from southern Europe facing the highest proportions of rural NEETs as the Eurostat figures have shown.

This will help to better understand the factors that lead to the precariousness of young people.

The Actions will create a rural NEETs’ observatory, that will serve as open-access reference storing valuable information, data, tools, and best practices about rural NEETs.

In the long run, this multidisciplinary network aims at developing a sustainable strategy that will guide policy makers and practitioners. The obtained results will be then translated into guidelines that will help in shaping the future European legislation to tackle rural NEETs’ needs.

“Rural NEET Youth Network aspiration is to better understand rural NEETs profile, to better coordinate on-the-ground services and policies with research efforts. These joints efforts will improve these youths’ life conditions as well as rural regions future prospects”, says Dr Francisco SIMÕES, the Action Chair.

Through networking, knowledge exchange this COST action will, for the next decade, facilitate interdisciplinary research focused on mapping the mechanisms underlying rural NEETs’ social exclusion.

Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.


Branching out

The network is organising an online conference on 27 January 2021 on educational issues hosted by Lisbon, ISCTE- Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (Portugal): Education: What’s next? Formal education & training and the transition from school to work in rural areas.

Listen to the COST – Conversations Podcast with Dr Francisco SIMÕES.


The article published in ScienceDirect:

How to increase rural NEETs professional involvement in agriculture?

The roles of youth representations and vocational training packages improvement


Additional information.

View the Action 

View the Network

Eurostat NEETs statistics