Prevention of marginalisation among young people focuses on individuals, with structural issues overlooked

The prevention of social exclusion and marginalisation among young people is based on employer needs, casting on the sidelines broader societal problems that engender marginalisation.

Katariina Mertanen investigates in her doctoral thesis youth policies aimed at preventing exclusion and marginalisation as well the education and training targeted at young people.

“The expectations and assumptions directed at young people are contradictory. On the one hand, they are considered free and courageous hopes for the future, on the other they are seen as immature, inadequate, impulsive and even dangerous,” Mertanen says.

Employability receives too much attention in youth policy

The discussion on exclusion and marginalisation invariably indicates young people as the source of the problem. Both on the EU level and in Finland, attempts to prevent youth marginalisation are made by making the behaviour of young people increasingly employable. References are made to young people at risk of being marginalised, meaning those who are outside professional life and education, at whom measures are targeted to make them eligible for the job market as quickly as possible.

According to Katariina Mertanen, the concept of ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET) used to describe in politics the risk of exclusion and marginalisation for young people obscures the societal and structural mechanisms associated with marginalisation, which may promote inequality to a substantial degree.

Mertanen works in the CoSupport research project funded by the Academy of Finland, which refers to excluding and marginalising instead of exclusion and marginalisation.

“If economic indicators alone are used to measure exclusion and marginalisation, no consideration is given to societal structures and structures that increase inequality, such as poverty, racism and other marginalisation targeted at young people, which regenerate marginalisation.”

Employability reduced to the knowledge, skills and attitudes of individuals

Skills associated with finding employment refer not only to the knowledge needed in professional life. In addition to such knowledge, the focus in educating young people is on coaching them in appropriate behaviour, attitudes, character traits and emotions. Mertanen calls this therapisation.

Therapisation means that societal mechanisms that increase inequality are perceived to originate in the psychological traits of individuals. According to the doctoral thesis, this, in turn, results in youth unemployment and educational deficiencies being resolved primarily by altering and guiding individual behaviour. Instead of changing the behaviour of young individuals, attention should be paid to the factors that cause marginalisation and inequality. Applying a broader understanding of society and structures in education and other support systems would reduce the currently prevailing enormous pressure and demands of self-responsibility directed at young people.

Katariina Mertanen defended her doctoral thesis entitled ‘Not a Single One Left Behind. Governing the ‘youth problem’ in youth policies and youth policy implementations’  on 26 November at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki.