This paper discusses the findings from a one-year ethnographic study of young people attending Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes in two local authorities in the north of England. The paper locates E2E within the broader context of provision for low-achieving young people and of UK government policy on reducing the proportion of young people who are not in education, employment or training. Although discourses associated with these categories of young people often present them in negative terms, the paper shows that this type of conceptualisation is inadequate to understand the lives of young people on the margins of education and employment. The paper also finds that the success of E2E in improving employability is mixed. The programme helps young people to improve their confidence, basic skills and personal effectiveness, as well as provides opportunities to acquire qualifications. However, employability is also linked to broader social and economic factors. Although E2E can help young people gain employment, particularly in relatively low-skill areas of work, in adverse economic conditions, the programme is unlikely to offer participants a labour market advantage.