A key group of young people is being largely ignored as the government reshapes education and training, according to a study.
Challenges faced by those aged 19 to 25 are at least as great as those of adolescence and post-adolescence, yet this little-studied group falls into the demographic vacuum between government youth and adult policies.
Moreover, their experience of piecemeal institutional responses is profoundly negative.
Karen Evans, who directed the research and is head of the School of Lifelong Learning and International Development at the Institute of Education, said: "The ladder of opportunity, getting as many qualifications as possible as quickly as possible, is not the way that everybody sees things. Many young people have other preoccupations, other life events."
Professor Evans said the research indicated that too much emphasis was placed on identifying the skills this group was assumed to lack, and too little on helping it to overcome the barriers society places in its way.
Young adults trying to make their way in life needed ongoing support up to their mid-20s, made available in connected and non-patronising ways, particularly in environments they experienced as hostile or threatening, she said.
"Much more attention needs to be given to the 50 per cent of young adults for whom the expansion of higher education is not a solution. Those who work with this age range need to appreciate unconventional resourcefulness and help their clients see the point of thinking through who they are and what they want to achieve," Professor Evans said.
The study calls for agencies to offer the 19 to 25 age group:
- The means to deal with obstacles such as locally depressed labour markets
- Strategies to tackle racism and sexism
- Training in their legal rights to be treated equally
- Ways of thinking through what they want to do and achieve in life, rather than relying on chance
- Family support through liaison with agencies that can assist families unable to provide it.
The research is based on a survey of 900 people aged 19 to 25 in Derby, Hanover and Leipzig. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Details: Taking Control: Young Adults Talking About the Future in Education, Training and Work, is published by The National Youth Agency ( www.nya.org.uk ).