Official figures released recently show that the number of young people not in education, employment or training has risen to a record high of 1.16 million. One in five 16- to 24-year-olds in England are "NEET". The dramatic growth in economic activity is due to a number of factors including economic and social factors.
The demise of the EMA is clearly a contributory factor to increasing youth unemployment. The EMA rewarded many young adults for enrolling and attending college courses. Clearly this incentive would have helped with transport costs, study materials and general subsistence. But what is done is done. It is unlikely that Government policy will be reversed, so college leadership teams must turn their attention to attracting the disengaged youth into training or further education, to ensure that we do not have a "lost generation".
So how can marketing help to attract these young people who have opted out?
First we need to thoroughly understand who our audience is.
There are three categories identified by the NFER analysis of Youth Cohort Study:
'Open to learning' (41%): these young people are keen to secure a job or further education. Many have level 2 qualifications and still feel somewhat positive towards education. The role of marketing is to give these young people a nudge in the right direction. We need to tempt them through the college gates.
'Undecided' (22%): these young people are confused about what to do next. The 'undecided' are often negative towards school and have the same negative associations with colleges. Marketing has to break down barriers and preconceptions. It must demonstrate that learning at college can be fun and rewarding.
'Sustained' (38%): these young people often come from a family where economic activity is the norm. School often isn't valued by this group, or even the families of this group. Dependence upon the state is a way of life. This is a social problem that marketing alone cannot fix.
Excluding the 38% of sustained NEETs, that leaves us with 719,200 to go after. Attracting them will not be cheap, but society cannot afford to ignore these young people. Rave has undertaken original research with NEETs, and developed successful campaigns for this sector. There are a number of rules for success:
Ignore Your Branding
As a brand purest, it pains me to say that branding should be ignored for this sector. NEETs have rebelled against education, either consciously or implied through their behaviour. Taking to NEETs is the same tone of voice you talk to mainstream students is wrong. You need to step outside your brand guidelines and develop something arresting and attention grabbing. You may even want to consider not using your logo at all.
Immediate Message Delivery
Lower levels of literacy means that messages cannot be sophisticated. They should require no de-coding. Headlines and calls to action should immediately communicate.
Flex Your Product
The mental barriers to enrolling on a one or two year course for a NEET are substantial. It is necessary to offer a taster day or an introductory week to stimulate interest. These short courses should have a serious aspect, but also a fun aspect. The serious piece is required to ensure the campaign self-selects out learners that are likely to be disruptive and the fun part is needed to demonstrate that college is not like school.
Take the College to the Audience
Finding NEETs is a challenge. Data protection issues often limit the ability of Connexions and Job Centre Plus to provide data to colleges for marketing purposes. Colleges need to get out into the community and engage directly. Rave has had success using swarm teams (well trained promotional teams) in shopping centres and high streets promoting to young people.
You may even go as far as running taster days in community centres and youth clubs.
Disenfranchised young people are more likely to believe their peers than a college or an advertising agency. So encouraging advocacy and word of mouth, by using existing and recent college students, is a compelling communication method - and social media is word of mouth on steroids!
Finding and enrolling NEETs isn't easy or cheap, but it is possible for campaigns to be self- funding. And the self-satisfaction and pride you will get from changing the lives of people that mainstream society seems to be forgetting about will know no bounds.
Read other FE News articles by John Wilford: