NEETS are not working by choice—but a ‘perfect storm’ is creating a pool of highly trained and willing workers who are the ‘new unemployables’ 



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Becoming a NEET—“not in employment, education, or training”—is among the hottest career options for Gen Z right now.

According to the International Labour Organization, about a fifth of people between ages 15 and 24 worldwide in 2023 are currently NEETs. 

In Spain alone, over half a million 15 to 24-year-olds are neither studying nor working. Meanwhile in the U.K., almost 3 million Gen Zers are now classed as economically inactive—with 384,000 youngsters joining the “workless” class since the COVID pandemic.

But while some Gen Zers are avoiding the 9-to-5 grind to protect their wellbeing or because adulthood milestones like buying a home feel so out of reach that they may as well not even try, a significant chunk of young NEETS are well-qualified and want to work, but just can’t land a job—and may never.

That’s at least, according to a recent report by Korn Ferry which warns a “perfect storm” of AI and recession-proofing, paired with talent hoarding, is to blame for the new wave of “unemployables.”

‘Wait and watch’ strategy to blame for youth unemployment

During the pandemic, firms hit pause on their hiring to brace for a recession that ultimately never really arrived.

According to the report, “some jobs were combined, while others were eliminated altogether.” For new entrants to the job market, it means that there were fewer jobs to apply for—and that’s not changing any time soon.

Although inflation is cooling, the report highlights that bosses aren’t reinstating those trimmed roles because they’re waiting to see how AI impacts workloads.

“They’re hesitant about committing to full-time roles,” Adam Prager, co-leader of the North America professional services practice at Korn Ferry explains, adding that employers expect AI to make their workers more efficient. 

Essentially businesses right now are clinging to the talent they have and expecting them to make do with less, rather than hire new staffers that they may have to let go later down the line.

“Some of this is due to the fact that many firms still remember pandemic layoffs, and are weary of more brand damage,” the report adds.

Getting a job is no walk in the park for Gen Z

Gen Z students know how tough the labor market is right now—and those who are managing to get a foot in the door of employment are having to resort to extremely unusual methods.

After hearing crickets from over 100 job applications, Ayala Ossowski, used the 20 hours a week she was already working at a pizza shop in suburban Washington to try to get poached by DC’s elite. 

“The market is so saturated with such incredible talent that it takes some creativity in order to stand out from the crowd,” she told Fortune.

The Gen Z grad wore a baseball cap emblazoned with her university logo on the front to every shift and launched into an elevator pitch any time a customer asked about it. 

After a month of pitching herself while serving pizza, Ossowski landed her first internship and now works at Cisco.

Likewise, after graduating in 2019 from the University of Bonn—one of Germany’s top universities—Egyptian-born Basant Shenouda spent six months sliding into recruiters’ DMs and applying for jobs online.

When Shenouda realized that traditional job-hunting methods weren’t cutting it, she told Fortune that she used LinkedIn to see which conferences recruiters were posting about and then volunteered to work at those events, armed with a stack of résumés to show them in her break. 

It worked—she landed an internship at LinkedIn, where she is still working three years later.

Meanwhile, Lohanny Santos, a 26-year-old with 2 degrees from Brooklyn went viral after crying on TikTok that she had been knocking door-to-door at several local cafes with her resume and no one would hire her. 

And the candid video paid off: Within days of posting, Santos’ follower count tripled and brand partnership opportunities were coming her way.

In the aftermath, she told Fortune: “I feel like it only has just begun for me.” 

Are you a young grad who can’t land a job or a recruiter who keeps having to turn down Gen Z candidates? Fortune wants to hear your story. Get in touch: Orianna.Royle@fortune.com



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