Kei Kudo, who heads a nonprofit organization tasked with helping young people find jobs, is concerned over the recent upsurge in so-called NEET youths — young individuals who are not engaged in education, employment, or training.
In an effort to address this problem, Sodateage (Fostering) Net, based in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, will launch Monday what it touts as the nation’s first job-training program targeting NEET youths.
“I think young people don’t want to become salarymen any more,” said Kudo, 27-year-old secretary general of the NPO. “Trying to find new career paths, some become ‘freeters’ (serial part-timers), some want to become artisans, and some choose to do nothing.”
Kudo’s job training program is designed to encourage these people to experience simple part-time jobs at local businesses, including moving heavy items in offices and weeding vegetable fields.
The rise of NEET youths has become a social issue in some European nations since the late 1990s, with these nations having undergone changes in their industrial structure. A similar phenomenon has also been observed in Japan.
Experts estimate that several hundred thousand young people now fall into the NEET category in Japan.
Although the job situation for youths has been severe during the country’s decade-long economic slump, the experts say diminished job opportunities for young people is not the only reason for the increase in NEET youth ranks.
The experts believe the problem might be related to psychological changes on the part of young people, though the specific causes have yet to be determined.
Yuji Genda, an associate professor of labor economics at the University of Tokyo, believes that about 400,000 people aged between 15 and 24 were in this category in 2003, five times the figure in 1997.
Unlike freeters, NEET youths are unwilling to take jobs, he said.
“They are not employed, they don’t go to any schools, and they don’t seek any jobs,” Genda said. “I think that with the slightest of opportunities, any young people can fall into such a state.”
Take the case of Isamu Kondo (not his real name), who was a NEET youth for several years and is currently a part-time worker in his 30s.
After passing a university entrance exam at age 20, Kondo began cutting off contact with family members and friends and withdrew to an apartment that his parents rented for him.
“I didn’t feel like going to the university at that time, so I didn’t. And that state dragged on,” Kondo recalled. “I used to think that I would have graduated from a university and become a salaryman like my father. But I just couldn’t.”
In his mid-20s, however, anxiety about his future grew. After receiving counseling on his problem, Kondo finally took a part-time job at a used book store several years later.
“I thought if my social withdrawal continued any longer, career opportunities for me would have been too restricted,” said Kondo, who now works part-time at Young Job Spot Yokohama, a public career advice center.
Reiko Kosugi, an assistant research director of the government-affiliated Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, said there are four types of NEET youths in Japan: those who withdraw from society, those who enjoy hanging around with friends after dropping out of or graduating from high school, university graduates who cannot make a decision on their career path, and those who had a full-time job but lost confidence in their vocational abilities.
“This (latter) type usually faced difficult situations at the workplace, such as a case in which they were forced to do jobs they were not qualified to do,” she said.
Yet some feel that these young people lack a sense of responsibility as adults and have been spoiled by society.
Sadatsugu Kudo, chairman of Youth Support Center, a nonprofit organization tasked with helping young people who have withdrawn from society, said that because Japanese society has been wealthy, young people feel little pressure to become independent.
Parents “are overprotective of their children,” and NEET people are usually financially supported by their parents, he said. “Now society has got to take responsibility for taking care of them.”
The government has reinforced efforts to support such people.
For example, 16 career advice centers have opened in major cities since March 2003.
Although they primarily target freeters, visitors to the facilities include NEET youths.
Unlike other public employment offices, the centers do not bombard visitors with job opportunities but focus instead on letting them think about their careers and provide basic information, including business customs and details on various jobs.
Young Job Spot Yokohama, operated jointly with nonprofit organization Kusunoki Gakuen, had roughly 7,200 visitors during the 11 months since it opened in July 2003.
Staff at the NPO, many of whom are in their 20s, discover visitors’ needs and tell them what programs are available.
In addition, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering other measures, including setting up boarding facilities where young people can learn how to become more disciplined in their daily lives, become career-conscious and participate in various vocational training programs.
To reduce the number of young people who are not in education or employment, Genda of the University of Tokyo is calling for the introduction of preventive measures at an early age.
He said that every junior high school should provide 14-year-old students with opportunities to work at companies or other locations for at least a week.
“It would give children a chance to communicate with various adults,” he said. “They would also see that what adults are doing is not a big deal and realize that they can do something” as an adult in the future.