Simon Midgley finds one solution in a confidence-boosting course.
Over the past decade, Drive For Youth, a charity dedicated to giving the young unemployed the skills and confidence to find work, has helped to transform the lives of around 2,500 people.
Each year it runs up to nine 22-week courses of personal development and employment-based training for disaffected unemployed people between the ages of 18 and 24.
Groups of 20 to 30 people spend five weeks at the charity's training centre, Celmi, in Snowdonia, where they work in teams of up to 12 exploring their strengths and weaknesses via discussion and outdoor activities.
The latter include mountain treks, camping, abseiling and canoeing. Trainees are encouraged to develop the ability to learn for themselves and to get on with others, a sense of personal responsibility and leadership qualities.
Every team member has to find work experience placements to improve his or her employability. Individual counselling enables trainees to consider career options and decide how they might strive to achieve them.
At the end of the course, each trainee receives a City and Guilds Profile of Achievement and, with luck, may have found a job.
Paul Williams, aged 25, from Manchester, enrolled on a DFY course from October last year to April. After attending seven secondary schools in Greater Manchester, Morecambe and Bradford, he had left school at 16 with eight GCSEs with indifferent grades.
He did a variety of jobs before becoming a barman. "I was a bit of a naughty lad when I was younger," he says. "I had several minor skirmishes with the law. My mum and dad were quite snobbish, quite middle-class. They frowned heavily on what I did. They thought rather than assist me with the trouble I was in, they would just pretend I didn't exist."
He did not settle down to any one job. "It was always, 'Oh God, I have got to go to work. Can I pull a sickie today?' I got myself stuck in a bad rut last year. I was going to raves at the weekend. My quality of life was appalling really. I was living in a shabby bedsit."
Then he attended a Department of Health and Social Security Restart course where someone suggested he try applying to DFY.
"I thought I would go along, have a laugh and meet a few people. And, almost immediately, I realised what I was there for and what they were trying to do for me."
The course forced him to identify his weaknesses. He realised that he had never been able to concentrate, was selfish, irresponsible and intolerant.
As well as acquiring problem-solving skills, he took part in a European working project near Dijon, helping to renovate a small-gauge steam railway line.
"It was fantastic," he says. "We learnt a lot from that. The conditions in which we were working were bitterly cold. Once I came back here it was warm, I did not have to get up at 7am, and things seemed a hell of a lot easier to deal with."
During a three-day trek across the Welsh mountains, he learnt to become tolerant of the foibles of others.
"We were in the middle of nowhere. We had no choice but to develop quite a high tolerance level. There were a few nightmare people with us. You had to show a great deal of patience, which was something I had never done before.
"I did not seem to have any time for anything before DFY. I looked after number one. It has just opened my eyes and made me consider other people's feelings and needs. I would recommend DFY to anyone. If you are willing to learn, what it does for you is amazing."
Today, Paul works for a Manchester manpower agency working as a packer and deliveryman. "I have a good quality of life - a smashing girlfriend, a lovely car, a lovely little girl and a beautiful flat. Everything is going fine at the moment. I have not really got career goals. As long as I am working and I remain motivated and happy in what I am doing, that is all I ask for."
Alan Skinner, aged 21, from Colchester, has just finished a DFY course. He left school with two GCSEs and comes from a broken home.
About 14 months ago, he broke his leg and had to give up his job as a landscape gardener. He lost his house and moved into temporary sheltered accommodation. At the same time, several people close to him died. "I felt really done up and depressed. I felt that everything was against me."
After getting bored with just sitting around, his landlord suggested he apply for a place on a DFY course. "I have learned trust," says Alan. "I was not very trusting, especially with people I had not met. I have also really grown in patience. Now I listen more.
"I am more organised as well, because every day they choose a different team leader and that is good for your responsibility. It gives you a good sense of well-being."
He had been trying without success to get a job as a care assistant for years. The Celmi experience was enough to secure him a work placement and now he has a job at a Colchester home for autistic children and adults with learning disabilities. He has recently moved into a two-bedroom flat and feels he can sort out his life again.
Charles Brown, aged 23, was brought up in Glasgow. After leaving school with no qualifications, he spent three years as a professional footballer with Clydebank Football Club reserves.
However, he spent the subsequent 18 months out of work, watching television and hanging around with his mates.
In August, he completed a DFY course and has now landed a trainee administrator post with Moray Council.
"The course helped me a lot," he says. "I was working with different people, some less fortunate than myself - they had been in prison, they could not read or write. I was helping them, learning to respect others more. It helped me to understand that there is a job there for everybody."
Charles, who has just got his first-grade football coaching certificate, wants to become a professional sports coach. He is about to enrol in evening classes to acquire further coaching qualifications.
"I have already phoned some of my mates in Glasgow and recommended DFY because it really gives you motivation. A lot of people have been unemployed for so long they lack self-motivation."