Research on young people not in education, employment and training

Between 2016 and 2019, I was involved in a cross national research progress on young people not in education, employment and training (NEETs), along with colleagues from France, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan. Our work focused on the experience of the UK - who are the NEET population, how has this changed over time, and how do people progress into and out off it (if at all)? Our research found:

  • NEET rates fell in the UK through the 1980s and 1990s. They have largely plateaued since 2000 and has also seen rising male inactivity. There is a gender gap, which shrunk during this time, driven largely by decreased incidence of economic inactivity (which we associated with child care responsibilities).
  • Having no qualifications has always been a large risk factor for being NEET - the fact that most people now have some form of qualification has been associated with falling NEET rates. However, higher qualifications beyond that have had limited impact.
  • Mental ill health has a strong association with the risk of being NEET, and the incidence of this has increased dramatically in the 2000s, especially for young men. We have also seen rising NEET risks for those who entered the labour market during the financial crisis
  • In general, being NEET in the UK is a short term status, experienced during the transition from education to stable employment. However, a proportion of individuals cycle frequently in between work and being NEET, while a smaller group are long-term NEETs. Unlike other European countries like Germany, the UK appears to have no vocational pathway leading to stable employment as a route out of being NEET.


  • Holmes, C, Murphy, E, and Mayhew, K, (forthcoming), 'What accounts for changes in the chances of being NEET in the UK?', Journal of Education and Work. An earlier working paper version of this is available here.
  • Holmes, C, Murphy, E and Mayhew, K, (forthcoming) ‘NEETs in England’ in Levels, M, Brzinksy-Fay, C, Jongbloed, J and Holmes, C (eds.), Young people Not in Employment, Education or Training during the Great Recession: Institutional Explanations for Cross-national Differences, London: Routledge.

Research on higher education and skill demand

I am involved in on-going work on the role higher education plays in the development of skills in the UK labour market. UK policymakers see the expansion of higher education as being a key driver of economic growth and the best way to prepare young people for careers in higher paying, high skill jobs. However, reports of graduates being overqualified once they leave university are common place, which is at odds with the human capital based view exposed by policy and suggests a job competition model is more appropriate. My research has found:

  • There is no relationship between countries rates of economic growth and the size of the graduate workforce or the speed of its expansion.
  • Many UK graduates report they have more skills than they need for their existing work. Contradictory approaches to measuring overskilling often equate skill supply with skill demand - if a graduate is doing a job, it must be a graduate job. This overlooks the fact many jobs traditionally employed almost entirely non-graduates, and there is little evidence such jobs have upgraded to require higher skills than that.
  • Around 30% of graduates today work in a small number of occupations which have rapidly changed in terms of the proportion of workers who have degrees, ranging from managers in manufacturing, chartered accountants, nurses and police officers to gardeners, nursery care workers and teaching assistants. Graduate entry into these jobs has sometimes displaced another training route, but more often has simply replaced entry routes at the end of formal schooling


  • Holmes, C, and Mayhew, K, (2016), 'The economics of higher education', Oxford Review of Economic Policy 32(4), pp 475-496. Link
  • Holmes, C, and Mayhew, K, (2016), Alternative pathways into the graduate labour market, London: CIPD. Link
  • Holmes, C, and Mayhew, K, (2015), Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market, London: CIPD. Link
  • Holmes, C, (2013), 'Has the expansion of higher education led to greater economic growth?', National Institute Economic Review 224(1) pp. R29-47. Link.
  • Ten big questions for higher education, SKOPE Issues Paper 31. Link

Research on occupations, earnings and mobility

I am interested in the relationship between the change in the type of occupations people do now as compared to the past, and the implications this has for the distribution of earnings and occupational mobility. In particular, does the decline of routine, middle wage jobs correspond to the rise in earnings inequality and a fall in mobility where careers traditionally passed through these occupations? My research as found:

  • During the 1990s and 2000s, the UK saw a continued decline in middle wage jobs, but little change in overall earnings inequality. Growing occupations fell more heavily in the middle of the distribution than before.
  • This corresponded to a fall in graduate earnings premia across a lot of the distribution (except at the top). There is some evidence that women with high qualifications in highly skilled occupations have been rewarded less well that their male counterparts
  • The decline in routine jobs has an impact on the UK's job mobility. In the 1970s and 1980s, this tended to mean more upward progression. In recent years this has instead meant more shifts outside of employment and less intra-occupational mobility


  • Holmes, C, (2018), ‘The Labour Market: Wage Inequality, Occupations, and Mobility’, in Nolan, B (eds.) Generating Prosperity for Working Families in Affluent Countries, Oxford: OUP.
  • Holmes, C, and Mayhew, K, (2015), 'Have UK earnings distributions really polarised?'. Link . (An earlier version of this paper was presented at an ISER workshop in September 2013. Slides. A shorter summary of this research was presented at the Resolution Foundation event 'Hollowing out - deeper than it sounds'. Slides and video of the presentations can be found here.)
  • Holmes, C, and Mayhew, K, (2014), 'The winners and losers in the hourglass labour market', in Archer, L, Mann, A, and Stanley, J (eds.), Understanding Employer Engagement in Education: theories and evidence, London: Routledge.
  • Holmes, C, (2011), 'The route out of the routine: where do the displaced routine workers go?', SKOPE Research Paper No. 100. Link
I am also involved in work on the implication of future robotisation for skills policy and job quality.


  • Holmes, C, (2016), ‘How Should Education Adapt In the Race Between Education and Technology?’ In Citi GPS, Technology at Work v2.0: The Future Is Not What It Used to Be, London: Citi GPS. Link.