Encouraging individuals' adaptability to more flexible patterns of work and learning, and promoting greater self-management of employment security, are central to UK policies aiming to improve employability and social inclusion. Little is known, however, about the responses to these issues of those deemed to have employability problems. This article presents the results of a qualitative phase of research with young people not in work, education or training to determine the extent to which these policy-espoused concepts of adaptability and self-management were reflected in their attitudes and jobsearch activity. The findings indicate generally negative attitudes and avoidance in jobsearch towards working outside a traditional ideal of standard, permanent employment and also towards improving prospects by updating skills. Reasons included a disincentive to enter training or temporary work due to short-term risks to benefit status, but more significant concerns reflected the increasing problem of the ‘churning’ of low-skilled youth between work and welfare. It is argued that inconsistencies between policy dictums about how the unemployed should behave in order to receive benefits and how they should behave in order to become more employable are not conducive to long-term employability and may actually contradict the aims of ‘active’ labour market policies.