European Youth Forum @ European Business Summit 2014: European Youth Unemployment

 

European Youth Forum

Written by Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum

Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum

Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that youth unemployment is a huge, sometimes seemingly intractable problem that has now menaced this continent’s society for several years. Whilst many other sectors of society are moving out of the economic crisis and unemployment as a whole is falling, young people continue to bear the brunt of the problem. And this is not just worrying for young people’s current situation and quality of life, which is of course a big concern; it is also a real danger for their ability to live autonomous lives, and for their future engagement as active European citizens.

Ahead of the European elections youth unemployment is, rightly so, high on the agenda of all political parties. Yet the dramatic rhetoric, so far has not translated into real action to tackle the problem. Almost one out of four young Europeans is jobless, while some countries these figures are almost at 60 per cent. This situation should prompt European leaders to create a coherent strategy to help youth to find their place on the job market. They should make it happen by working hand in hand with partners from the public and private sectors and civil society. The time to step down from soapboxes and turn promises into concrete results has come. 

Youth employment policies are a smart investment in future economic growth. However, it is essential to correct the current flaws of these policies. The Youth Guarantee, a flagship EU initiative, is an unprecedented opportunity to address youth unemployment across Europe in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. 

However, a recent report published by the European Youth Forum, in which national youth councils examine the implementation of the Youth Guarantee in their country, revealed a lacklustre approach to the implementation of the Youth Guarantee. In many countries the Guarantee has merely served to wrap up old, ineffective employment schemes into a new package. So far the political will and ambition has not been there. National governments need to invest more in this initiative to make a real difference for millions of jobless youth and to speed up a sluggish economic recovery.  

Whilst we firmly believe that the Youth Guarantee has huge potential to bring real improvements to the lives of young people, it has a number of other flaws. The scope of the help that it can offer is too narrow in terms of age range, as it only offers to help those up to the age of 24. However, we know that those over that age threshold also are struggling to find work. And, these days, when many people study into the mid to late twenties, the scheme is neglecting to help a huge segment of the population that are in need. 

The risk with schemes such as the Youth Guarantee, is that they focus solely on getting young people into work. The quality or sustainability of that job is not always taken into account. At the European Youth Forum we do not just want young people to have any type of job. What we advocate for is quality jobs. Young people have always shouldered the burden of the flexibility requirements of the labour market and the crisis has only worsened this. This must end. We do not want national governments to boot part-time, short-term and precarious work, simply in order to make their youth unemployment figures look better!

Another way to lower the “NEET” figures (those not in education employment or training) is to get young people into internships which, of course, can help provide young people with excellent experience and can be a stepping stone into the working world. However these schemes will not yield the right results if jobless youngsters are pushed to accept unpaid internships or irrelevant training just for the sake of filling the quota of youth schemes beneficiaries. 

The European Youth Forum has campaigned for many years on improving the lot of interns. The European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships has established the basic minimum criteria that internship providers should ensure in order to ensure that young people are not exploited in this first experience of the world of work. However, unpaid, poor quality internships, which often make internships a modern form of slave labour, are continuing. The recent Council Recommendation on a Quality Framework for Traineeships is a huge disappointment, addressing neither the lack of payment of interns, nor proposing concrete recommendations to ensure that all young people regardless of social background, have access to quality training. It is vital that private sector employers step up to the plate and provide good quality internships which will not only help young people on their way to a fulfilling work-life but also address the skills mismatch, another issue currently faced on the labour market. 

When it comes to quality jobs for young people, we do not just advocate for this because of the immediate impact on young people’s lives. Months of a fruitless job search can easily shake the confidence of the most persistent applicant. The longer this period lasts, the more likely it is for young people to fall into a vicious circle of job refusals justified solely by the lack of recent professional experience. Research shows that such long term spells of unemployment may turn into a downhill ride towards mental health problems, social exclusion and rising distrust in political institutions: a disengaged and “lost” generation. 

We at the European Youth Forum hope that this milestone year – which will see a new European Parliament – will finally see politicians tackle the most profound problem Europe faces. Tackling youth unemployment cannot be reduced to an agenda item or catchy soundbites delivered on the campaign trail. European leaders, working closely with the business world as well as civil society including youth organisations, need to prove to young people that the European Union is not just an abstract political project and that it can really make a difference to their lives. 

About the Author

Giuseppe Porcaro is the Secretary General of the European Youth Forum. The Youth Forum is the civil society platform striving for Youth Rights, which represents the interests of young people and youth organisations to the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations System.  In this role, he co-ordinates a team of around 30 employees and ensures the co-ordination of the institutional relations between the Youth forum and its partners. Giuseppe worked also for the World Bank as the Youth Specialist in Kosovo between 2006 and 2007. He holds a doctorate in Geography of Development and a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Naples «L’Orientale ». Giuseppe has been active in youth and civil society organisations since an early age, both at local, national and European Level.      

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