- By Chris Kremidas Courtney
The impact since 2009 of the EU’s economic and financial crisis on the labour market for young people has been deep and unsettling. Youth unemployment has risen so significantly that in some EU countries, particularly in southern Europe, one in five young people are not in employment, education or training.
These levels of youth unemployment are disastrous. That there are so many young people without hope and without prospects is bad enough, but on top of that, there are huge economic and societal costs. Even if the European economy recovers, many young people will not be able to find a good job. Yet it is unacceptable that unemployment should be the first labour market experience of young people when they finish their education or training. Europe needs to mobilise all its forces in to combat youth unemployment.
EU leaders have agreed to set up a Youth Guarantee scheme designed to soften the impact of the crisis. But the high rates of youth unemployment often have deeper roots. They also point to shortcomings and structural weaknesses in such other spheres as public administration, education and labour market institutions. The Youth Guarantee’s promise is that all young women and men under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. But labour market conditions differ around Europe, so fulfilling this promise will require a broad range of measures that must be tailor-made for each country. This implies a significant financial investment by member states that could then be topped up from EU funds. The medium- and long-term benefits of successfully implementing the Youth Guarantee are huge, making these costs the best way to ensure sustainable future growth in Europe.
We must help disfavoured countries build structures that are better equipped to tackle youth unemployment
With last year’s establishment of the European Network of Public Employment Services (PES), we now have a firm basis for co-operation on labour market policies. The aim is to reduce unemployment by increasing employment service efficiency, by fostering exchanges and mutual learning. This will help to improve the functioning of labour markets by better matching jobseekers and employers and by promoting mobility. The PES Network has created a formalised “Benchlearning” system that combines elements of benchmarking and mutual learning.
One of the Network’s major tasks is to enable public employment services in member states to identify optimal strategies for combatting youth unemployment. This is complicated by differences in the level of resources available to national services and by the range of challenges posed by labour markets in the various member states. Sharing experience on successful measures and adapting those measures to fit other national labour markets could be an important first step in developing new solutions to youth unemployment, but this will only be effective if there is a deep understanding of the unique nature of each country’s labour market.
All countries need to prioritise funding for tackling youth unemployment. The EU will top up national spending through the European Social Funding, the European Investment Bank and €6bn included in the Youth Employment Initiative. However, it is vital that public authorities are able to make efficient and effective use of the money. Simply handing out extra cash will not solve the problem. We must help disfavoured countries build structures that are better equipped to tackle youth unemployment.
The Youth Guarantee together with the PES Network will help, but there are a number of issues that must be addressed.
Among the most important is making sure young people get qualifications and skills that meet employers’ demands. This should be done throughout their education and not left until they are already looking for work. To do this, we need to improve educational and training systems to incorporate skills and knowledge that are directly relevant for the labour market. This requires a profound knowledge of national labour market conditions.
Another priority area is the transition from school to employment. We need specialised structures in public administrations to support young people after they finish education. It’s vital they are provided with tailor-made job placements and career counselling covering job opportunities at regional, national and European level. The authorities also need to form a better picture of the generation of young people who are seeking to enter the labour market, so they can respond to specific problems hampering young jobseekers, such as mobility costs or lack of language skills.
Building trust between social partners could help the search for more flexible solutions to integrate young people into the labour market
Improving public employment services should not be done in isolation. We need strong co-operation between the public and the private sector, bringing together employment services, career guidance providers, education and training institutions, employers and trade unions. Given the extraordinary levels of youth unemployment, it’s particularly important to improve the sometimes difficult relationship between employers and unions. Building trust between social partners could help the search for more flexible solutions to integrate young people into the labour market. The future of millions of young people should not be held back by ideological controversies or political negotiations. Beyond the current crisis, major trends such as the digitalisation of the world of work are beginning to shape our labour markets. By building well-functioning and flexible public structures with experts in the field of youth employment, Europe will be able to face these future labour market challenges successfully.
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- By Nona Zicherman
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