The number of 18-year-olds slipping through the education, training and employment net will rise at least 50,000 by the end of the century unless the Government tackles the causes of disaffection, an official report this week predicts.
Nearly 230,000 18 to 20-year-olds have failed to make the transition from school to work and are in danger of becoming the next generation of long-term unemployed, according to a survey commissioned by the training and enterprise councils.
Failure to deal with the problem will be "catastrophic," says the report. Without appropriate action, the number will rise to 285,000 by the year 2000. The Government's National Targets for Education and Training to improve the country's competitiveness will not be met.
Details were leaked to The TES last week. The report shows that the age group represents 5 per cent of the workforce but 12 per cent of unemployed people and 19 per cent of the long-term unemployed. It estimates the cost to society in benefits payments and crime at Pounds 350 million as well as a higher incidence of drug abuse and homelessness.
The report categorises disaffected young adults as unable, unwilling, unaware, or unsupported. Many of their problems stem from a lack of basic skills - more than half have problems with literacy and numeracy.
Radical initiatives are needed to overcome lack of training and motivation and to get young people back into the job market. The report recommends a "multi-agency approach" - TECs, colleges and private training providers - to tackle the lack of confidence, competence and experience among school leavers. Otherwise, there is a danger of "forcing a significant percentage of tomorrow's potential workforce into a role of bystander".
Researchers found widespread suspicion of youth training schemes among young people who said they felt exploited or had not received proper training. Disenchantment with education was traced back to early experiences of school.
"If that experience is bad or indifferent, it will take much effort to change it later on," the report's authors say. "A considerable number of those young people we met during this research had elected to remove themselves from the education system because it was not giving them what they wanted."
Current training schemes lack credibility or sufficient cash incentives to attend - Employment Training was referred to as "Extra Tenner", a reference to the boost in benefits for ET participants. National vocational qualifications were also criticised, respondents said they were undervalued by employers and did nothing to enhance job prospects.
Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into post-16 education and training will call for a shake-up of youth training, making it more attractive. This is welcomed by the TEC leaders but seen as long-term remedy. They want more immediate help.
North London TEC, which instigated the research for the TEC national council, has introduced a range of schemes aimed at counteracting disaffection among teenagers and young adults. These include after-school homework centres, individual mentoring, and a customised training initiative which helped 600 people find jobs last year.
The TEC supports an information technology training course for jobless young adults and is piloting a scheme to bridge the so-called benefit trap by paying long-term unemployed people who take part-time jobs at an extra Pounds 50 a week.
But the report found such initiatives were few and far between and says more locally-focused projects are needed to address the problem.
"This is a very damning report," said the TEC's chief executive Mike Nixon. "Youth training has had a very bad press and some of it has been deserved. But we have got to find other ways to help people who don't go to college.
"It is very important for the TEC movement to be in the vanguard of this. If people feel that they have wasted their time at school then they start to drift around. Not only do they lack basic skills but they lack work habits and attitudes. If they are not picked up then we will have a welfare problem until they are 65."