An in-depth study carried out in Mid Glamorgan reveals up to a quarter of all 16 and 17-year-olds slipped through the education, training and employment net in the past two years.
The region, enduring high unemployment and widespread disadvantage following the pit closures of the 1980s, is the disaffection blackspot of the principality according to the research, commissioned by Mid Glamorgan Training and Enterprise Council. It is also home to the highest proportion of youngsters leaving education with no academic qualifications at all.
The research will add to already substantial concern nationally over growing numbers of young people falling by the wayside. Once out of compulsory education, they prove extremely hard to reach if they neither seek work nor enrol on training schemes.
The Welsh study, carried out by David Istance of the University of Wales, Swansea and Dr Howard Williamson of the University of Wales, Cardiff, maps the progress over two years of a one-in-five sample of school leavers who dropped out of education or training.
The young adults concerned, dubbed "Status Zero" in the Welsh study, are found to have exam results even lower than their former schoolmates who are at least registered as looking for a job. Between a quarter and a third of the Status Zero young people have special training needs, usually because they have learning difficulties or problems with attitude or motivation.
A series of in-depth interviews with 28 young drop outs revealed the vast majority had deeply negative attitudes to youth training, usually as a result of negative experiences.
Many had become rapidly disillusioned after "tasting" youth training, claiming it was of poor quality and offered little prospect of work. They felt training allowances - currently Pounds 29.50 for 16-year-olds and Pounds 35 for 17-year-olds - were far too low.
The young people interviewed wanted work, not training. However, they found that their age coupled with a lack of educational qualifications and work experience excluded them from the employment opportunities available.
All but four of those interviewed admitted to taking drugs to relieve boredom, and the majority were also involved in some form of criminal activity.
Dr Williamson, one of the researchers, said the situation was a legacy of the culture of Mid Glamorgan, where negative attitudes to education and training were endemic. But he acknowledged that a slippage in the value of training allowance in relation to average earnings sapped young people's motivation.