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Motivation key to get marginalised youths into education

| Text: Marie Preisler

Measures aimed at helping young people into jobs and education should support the youths’ own inner motivation. To do that you need to realise that young, marginalised people are very different from each other, says a Danish youth researcher and author of a new book on motivation.

All young people today know how important an education is, yet a considerable number still have no education or job. As a result, all the Nordic countries have various measures and projects aimed at getting young people with no education into training. In order to succeed, the projects and various measures should work with the youths’ inner motivation and keep in mind that all marginalised youths face very different challenges, says Noemi Katznelson, Associate Professor and head of the Centre for Youth Research at Aalborg University Copenhagen. She is one of Denmark’s leading experts in marginalised youths. 

“The young person’s own motivation is crucial for whether they succeed in getting an education, and today’s youths know very well how important an education is. All young people have a high degree of outer motivation for getting an education. But many marginalised youths lack an inner motivation, and it is necessary to support this kind of motivation,” says Noemi Katznelson.

She is involved in a range of research projects studying the obstacles and solutions to getting marginalised youths into education and jobs. She is also the co-author of several books on young people’s motivation and learning, and was invited to speak at a Nordic conference on the fight against youth unemployment on 25 March 2015, hosted by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

Here Noemi Katznelson proposed that the Nordic countries make working with young people’s inner motivation a central part of any future measures aimed at helping marginalised youths getting an education.

“You can get far by making young people study, but motivation is young people’s driving force. It has been proven that young people’s motivation is very important, and there is a need to work with the quality of that motivation.”

A critical eye on the term motivation

She recommends a critical examination of the term motivation. Many think of motivation as an individual skill. As a result, previous youth measures have focused mainly on finding out which kind of education and jobs young people are motivated by. We need to get away from that kind of thinking, says Noemi Katznelson. Motivation is more like a sum of experiences. Knowledge and relevance can be motivating, for instance, when a young person sees that maths skills are the key for moving forward. Relations can also be motivating. Some young people might be motivated to take part in an educational programme if they meet nice people in that programme.

“Motivation is a complex entity, and it is important that experts in the field work with different aspects of this with different youths.”

Five profiles of marginalised youths

Measures aimed at getting marginalised youths into education and jobs must not treat all young people as one homogenous group. They are very different and this should be mirrored by the way you work with the youths’ motivation, says Noemi Katznelson. She illustrated to the conference the large differences between marginalised youths by presenting five profiles:

I just can’t stand the pressure:  A new group of marginalised youths who have professional skills but are psychologically vulnerable and feel the expectations placed on them are so big that they perhaps drop out of several youth training schemes. They only see limitations inside themselves. 

I am not used to studying:  Has been an unskilled worker and must overcome obstacles when it comes to further training.

I am used to manage by myself:  Has absent parents, perhaps with abuse, and manages on their own from day to day. Perhaps sleeps over with friends and is a competent problem solver in the short run but lacks educational aim.

I just want to be normal:  Has perhaps been admitted to psychiatric care and has a deep longing for normality and dreams about education and work with no basis in reality. This leads to failure and divisions.

Tattoo artist or lumberjack?:  Very unclear about education and identity. Challenged by the fact that an education is more than just a gateway to work. It is also the answer to the search for an identity and meaning. 

She sees three tendencies which are creating increased polarisation among youths. Measures and projects aimed at reducing youth unemployment must understand these and confront them in order to succeed:

  • Most youths get more backing from home than before, and youths who lack this backing are finding it even harder to manage.
  • Increased vulnerability because of increased individualisation and an explosion in expectations among youths where being perfect becomes the norm.
  • Young people live like youths for longer than before, and it becomes even more difficult to see young people who are not managing the demands of adult life and they become marginalised as a result.



FACTS about the Bishop

Youth researcher Noemi Katznelson’s recommendations for tailoring youth measures:

Make sure you have a high degree of specialised knowledge in order to handle the group’s complexity

Create horizontal cooperation between different measures and professionals working with the young people

Create vertical cooperation between measures so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel

There should be a link between the social sector and education

Create an overview over the field — this allows for the systematic sharing of knowledge and knowledge development, coordination etc.

No young people should be left to their own devices for longer periods of time

Create different criteria for success to suit different youths. For some an education, for others work for a limited time under special conditions, alternative education opportunities etc. 

Young people who are ready to study can gain from preparatory courses leading up to the education in question, with teaching, practical work and mentors.


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