Economists have stated that unemployment has a lasting negative effect, particularly on young people. The present research examined the experiences of young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) in Scotland and the impact being NEET has on their identities. Specifically focussing on how these young people gain recognition and construct a positive sense of self.
Three research questions are addressed: (1) how do young people give and receive recognition in their peer group? (2) How do young people engage with the alternative context of an online social networking site in order to give and receive recognition? (3) Are there any disagreements and/or misunderstandings between young people and employers? These questions are examined using three data sets: 16 peer group discussions with a total of 79 young people, 37 Bebo (a social networking site) profiles and questionnaires completed by 33 young people and 29 employers.
Analysis of peer group discussions revealed the ways in which young people give and receive recognition and the recognition they feel they are given and denied from others. This highlights the complex transition into work for these young people and their struggle for recognition. For example, trying to balance avoiding ridicule from peers associated with certain jobs with their desire to find a job which will allow them to buy certain things and participate in adult life. Analysis of Bebo profiles revealed that young people make use of the existing structures of recognition within Bebo but also manipulate the site in order to gain further recognition in ways that could not have been predicted. Bebo offers young people the chance to gain recognition for popularity, sexual attractiveness and physical strength in ways which may not be deemed acceptable in everyday offline life. A comparison of the perspectives of young people and employers revealed a number of misunderstandings which hinder their relationship, for example the importance of qualifications. Analysis across these three data sets, and the social contexts they represent, reveals the tensions young people experience as they move between different structures of recognition.
The main theoretical contribution of this research is a model of recognition in which the self is caught between different structures of recognition. This model provides an insight into what motivates young people to behave differently in different contexts, based on the perceived and actual recognition available. For example, online social networking provides a space for young people to receive recognition for how much alcohol they can drink, however this is not something they would draw attention to in a work environment.
There are two applied contributions: (1) at a practical level, young people would benefit from more work experience placements and positive engagements with employers. (2) Most importantly, alternative structures of recognition are needed which recognise the knowledge and skills that young people do have. Instead of focusing on their weaknesses, we must help them build on their strengths. This would allow all young people to feel valued and more able to create a positive sense of self.