Europe's jobless youth: can evolving lifestyle drive flexibility?

#CriticalThinking

Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Helena Helve
Helena Helve

Professor emerita of Youth Research at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, Finland

The effect Europe’s latest economic crisis has had on unemployment is of particular concern to young people, as they are the most vulnerable. The youngest workers are those first hit by unemployment because they have the least experience and are often employed under temporary contracts. That’s why it’s time to rethink the concept of job flexibility, to develop it as a pragmatic solution to evolving youth lifestyles.

It is a travesty that youth unemployment is more than double the overall unemployment rate, standing at nearly 25% across the EU and at over 55% in Spain and Greece. This process is now much more complicated as there are young people who drop out of education or training and are unable to access the labour market. These NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) are typically aged from 15 to 24 years and are often disengaged from both work and education.

Labour markets are structured so that younger generations have to be satisfied with temporary unemployment and short-term low paid employment

There a need in Europe to rethink this transition period and education system by looking at other possibilities, such as the combination of studies with part-time work. It would help those young people who face extended periods of joblessness after school, as many stop seeking employment opportunities and decide to drop out of the labour market altogether. It is at this point they are no longer defined as officially unemployed.

Young people in Europe are fortunately already very mobile, crossing national borders to study, to work or to volunteer and it is fantastic that this is supported by the EU Strategy 2020’s initiatives on youth and employment. ‘Youth on the Move’ and ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ are committed to improving the qualifications and skills of young people in order to accelerate their access to the labour market.

It is of course important to find new political innovations for a more proactive approach, such as the ‘Youth Guarantee’ which ensures that all Europeans under-25 get a good work or educational offer within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed. It must of course be understood in every EU member state that these innovations also have costs, but that these costs are far away from the costs of a “lost generation”.

It must of course be understood in every EU member state that these innovations also have costs, but that these costs are far away from the costs of a “lost generation

For many young people the future is seen as moving from one temporary job to the next. Many of the younger generation are critics of economic growth as they value quality of life more. What if more and more young people move from work centricity to leisure time centricity?

Many young people are now living in virtual worlds, The digital revolution and social media allow them to work anywhere at any time. Youth no longer necessarily means preparation for traditional adulthood, work and family life. Nowadays it seems to become more and more difficult to reach the status of an independent adult as youthful lifestyles are maintained until later and later. This is part of a chain reaction caused by reduced job opportunities by economic conditions.

Impacts of shifts in work are changing the attitudes, values and world views of young people. We have evidence from young people working with short-term employment contracts, or who are temporary unemployed, that they do not often plan long-term. Leisure and hobbies have become important means of building up their identities. Labour markets are structured so that younger generations have to be satisfied with temporary unemployment and short-term low paid employment. Institutionalised society will lose this precarious generation if they are not brought into labour markets. Yet the young people give us the message that they could be happy in the sort of work which us older generations would see as unstable. Therefore, we should have flexible jobs for young people and we should accept their viewpoints regarding temporary jobs.

Facilitating youth employment and ensuring that young people have access to decent work is among the most important issues to support their participation in the society and to become independent citizens. Citizenship participation is a key element to help sustain and legitimise the European democratic system. Europe’s precarious generation is challenging governments, politicians, trade unions, business, the media, education institutions, youth organizations and NGOs into action by asking: “What is our chance of achieving the kind of life that we want”? Perhaps it’s time to listen more closely to them.

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