Securing Europe’s Future

It may seem an obvious statement but Europe’s future depends on its youth. A fifth of the EU´s total population – close to 100 million – are below 30 but despite the fact that Europe´s future prosperity to a large extent lies in the hands of its young people, Europe is not giving its youth the opportunities that it needs.

A quick look at the statistics will show that being young does not make it easy to find a job. Youth unemployment in the 27 EU member states is at a staggering 20,2% – twice as high as the overall unemployment rate.

In some countries it is far worse. In Spain the youth unemployment rate is as high as 41.5 %, in Slovakia it has reached 34,4 % and in Estonia 37, 2 % of young people under 25 are unemployed. And even more depressingly, it is not getting any better. In the last year, youth unemployment has not dropped. In other words, we need to do something.

The economic crisis caused a sudden and dramatic increase in unemployment in general and particularly for young people. Young people were among those being hit first and hardest by the crisis and many of them are now stuck in the line at the job centres.

However, it is not only in times when there is general high unemployment rates such as the current situation that young people are severely hit. In general young people are more vulnerable than other labour-market groups, including in times of high employment. This high-sensitivity tends to decline progressively with age, an asymmetrical pattern that needs to be addressed and given special attention.

Gaining access to the labour-market is difficult for young people for several reasons. A vicious circle is often created, consisting of a lack of work and training experience on the part of young people combined with employers’ reluctance to recruit inexperienced young workers and to invest in their training. Young workers experience general structural barriers such as lack of experience, discriminatory legislation etc. In addition, limited networking experience and only a few or no contacts in the labour-market makes it difficult to find a job and keep it.

Education and lack of qualifications is often mentioned as the main barrier for young people when looking for a job. We know from statistics and studies that little or no education makes it very difficult to integrate into the labour-market. Young people with low level skills are more likely to end up in temporary jobs than those who are better skilled. Lack of qualifications combined with very young school leaving ages mean that this group is poorly equipped to get a secure foothold at the labour-market.

We need to learn more about this. Why do many young people leave school early and how can we encourage them to evolve their skills in another way? One way is to reinforce the school-to-work transition in order to give young people a stronger foothold on the labour-market and move up the career ladder. This inclusion must happen by strengthening trainee, internship and apprenticeship status.

What can EU do?

There is a lot to gain if we improve the inclusion of young people into the labour-force. We need to find a long term solution that not only provides more jobs for youth but also more stable and safer jobs. Furthermore, the EU needs to unite and find a common strategy with goals that can secure a long term solution.

In a report adopted by the European Parliament in July this year, and of which I was the draftswoman, a number of suggestions on how to tackle youth unemployment was proposed. It seems that the work of the Parliament has already had an impact.

The Commission has included a number of the Parliament’s suggestions in it’s flagship initiative “Youth on The Move”, the new EU strategy on how to equip Europe´s youth for the future. This includes a European Youth Guarantee, a guarantee which means that young people must not be unemployed for more than four months before being offered a job or education. Like the Parliament, the Commission also calls for a European Quality Framework for Traineeships, a measure which is highly needed. Many traineeships are of very poor quality and in the last couple of years we have seen many examples of traineeships replacing ordinary jobs.

Other measures in the Youth on the Move initiative include a call for more and better apprenticeships (the Commission sets a goal of creating 800 000 more apprenticeships by the end of 2012) and EU funding for young entrepreneurs.

Overall it is an interesting and promising initiative aimed at educating and training young people so they are better equipped for the European labour market.

Though employment and educational policies mainly are a national competency and the EU has a rather limited competency in this field, the Commission insists that the EU also has a role to play. The situation for young people will obviously depend on the overall economic policies but this initiative is a good first step.

What is lacking in the initiative is a greener approach to job creation. An “Advanced Renewable Strategy” could create 2.5 million new jobs and a green agenda throughout EU would contribute to exiting the crisis. Hopefully this will be the focus of one of the upcoming flagship initiatives that the Commission plans to launch in the near future.

What is needed now is that governments all over Europe take action. Member States must make it a political priority to fight youth unemployment. This includes developing strategies that deals with the problem on a concrete level, giving them opportunities to educate themselves and smoothing the transition from education to the labour market. If we do not take this serious we risk losing a generation.

Futher details:

The final Turunen-report (available in all official EU languages):

The Commission Communication “Youth on the Move” initiative