This article explores notions of ‘employability’ in the context of the experiences of those young people who leave the English education system at 16+ with few or no academic credentials. The article contests the conflation of ‘employability skills' with ‘inclusion’ in policy discourse, arguing that the real impact of such programmes is to inculcate attitudes and behaviours consistent with low-pay, low-skill work in already marginalised young people. It draws on empirical evidence from two studies which suggest that what young people really want are real, practical skills which are directly transferable to the world of work and which would fulfil the promise of high-pay, high-skill work in a knowledge economy. The article concludes that in a world where many young people are increasingly marginalised in terms of both education and employment, only an education which provides the skills the young people aspire to and which has real exchange value in the labour marketplace can confer any real advantage to them. Current approaches to employability skills education, far from achieving this, are little more than an exercise in social control resulting in new forms of class and labour (re)production, as already marginalised young people are socialised into particular forms of casual and low-pay, low-skill employment.