Europe: Investing in youth

©Reuters/Albert Gea

Young, skilled, well-educated, well-travelled and yet jobless: these are the characteristics of the so-called “lost generation”. The challenges young people in Europe face today are many, and vary from region to region and from person to person. Many are facing high levels of unemployment; some need to fight for their basic freedoms; others for their right to build up representative youth structures, or face different types of discrimination. There are plenty of indignados out there! 

Unemployment and growing inequality create a feeling of indignation and a profound sense of injustice. Citizens feel they are bearing the brunt of a crisis for which they have no responsibility, and young people feel that they especially have been left behind. The new grassroots protest movements call for global social justice, for a new policy agenda, and new economic and social models that focus not only on growth but also on openness, fairness and inclusion. Our role as established civil society actors is to build on this momentum, provide the link with the decision makers and translate their concerns into concrete suggestions for policy measures. The European Youth Forum aims to tackle exactly these issues and works to empower young people to participate actively in society and improve their own lives, by representing and advocating their needs and interests and those of their organisations. The European Youth Forum has been putting youth employment on top of its agenda. We have been leading the debates on young people’s access to social protection, better quality internships and apprenticeships, more opportunities for them to embark on entrepreneurial activities and the need for youth guarantee policies. More and more of our member organisations are joining the United Nations National Action Plans on Youth Employment so that their activities may contribute to improving the situation of young people in the labour market.

While we are very concerned with the worsening of the crisis and its impact on state budgets in the short term, we are convinced that austerity measures alone are not the answer. More smart investments in education and job creation are fundamental: budget cuts can only make the crisis worse in the long run. This is why we are proposing a European employment plan that can—through an increase in the structural and cohesion funds—support enterprises that want to invest in young people and recruit them. Another important axis of action for us is to reduce the precariousness caused, for example, by low wages and limited access to social security, and to increase security in the transition from education to employment.

Young people are already a very flexible group. Their dependence on internships, temporary contracts and “‘last in, first out’” status means they are often characterised as “labour market outsiders”, without access to the same wage and security levels as “insiders”. The possible solutions differ greatly, but serious political commitment and investment is key! One important measure to tackle the youth unemployment rate and kick start the European economy would be a standardised youth guarantee policy accompanied by adequate financial investment and monitoring that could offer young people a job, training or retraining within four months of inactivity. Such a policy measure would help young people keep in touch with the labour market and update their skills, thus contributing to their employability at a later stage.

If there is only a very limited number of jobs available, training, retraining and education are only solutions of a temporary nature. Fostering entrepreneurship, in other words, job creation, is the answer. Youth entrepreneurship should be part of this guarantee for the young generation: an alternative way for young people to stay active in the labour market, earn income and realise their potential. However, currently, young people in Europe do not see this as a viable option for earning income. Too many obstacles are still in the way. Quality internships and apprenticeships can also be part of the answer, but implementation is a challenge. They must not replace real jobs. However, good-quality internships and apprenticeships greatly contribute to bridging the skills mismatch gap.

This gap between the skills available and those needed in the labour market has also created a growing group of overqualified young people who resort to emigration or to less-skilled jobs. This can be addressed by better career guidance and promoting closer links between the education system and the labour market. However, we should also stress the outcomes of non-formal education and informal learning opportunities offered by youth organisations and youth-led projects. It is thanks to these types of experiences that one can acquire a range of so-called “soft skills” such as languages, self-confidence, public speaking, project management and financial management skills.

We believe that young people need proper investment rather than kind words. They must be a political and financial priority for Europe—they deserve nothing less!


See also: 

OECD (2010), Off to a Good Start? Jobs for Youth, Paris.

United Nations (2007), Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action

©OECD Observer No 290-291, Q1-Q2 2012

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