Mobile young people create the European labour market of tomorrow

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. Written by Emanuel Alfranseder

Emanuel Alfranseder represents the Erasmus Student Network in the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe

Emanuel Alfranseder represents the Erasmus Student Network in the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe

There are simply too many young people out of work, out of education and out of any kind of training (they call them NEETs). Solving this existential crisis of the young is one of the most pressing challenges of today. We are losing a generation that is arguably the most well-educated generation in history. If you look around in Europe, the burden is not equally shared. Young Germans suffer much less than young Spaniards or young Greeks. There are not enough jobs in Spain, Greece and other European countries in dire economic conditions. I say, young people should go where the jobs are – because there are jobs in Europe. This is not to say that an increasing number of young people aren’t moving; they have in fact been starting to move where the jobs are. However, the numbers are too small to make a real difference. The reason is that most young people simply are not prepared to move abroad for work. This has to change and we need to prepare young people better to be able to be more mobile labour market participants.

There are many ways to argue why a more flexible labour market is beneficial for Europe’s economy. The faster human resources are re-allocated and do not lie idle and unproductive, the better for economic output and employment. This argument is true for any economic area. For the EU and in particular for the members sharing a common currency, a flexible labour market is an essential cornerstone of a strong economy. The Euro has many advantages, but one big disadvantage, that has become increasingly visible, is the lack of flexibility of monetary policy and the resultant one-size-fits-all policy. This one-size-fits-all monetary policy contributes to the major imbalances that we see today: Some economies are strong and vital whereas others are in continued recession with unacceptably high (youth) unemployment rates. If workers are very flexible and quickly move from economically weak to strong countries, these imbalances tend to disappear.

I don´t want to argue that everyone should move abroad for work. Many see their lives in their home countries and it cannot be a solution to force everyone to leave their native country. This is not needed either. The point is that there are a lot of young people who are willing to leave, at least temporarily, and look for work elsewhere. However, they are often not prepared for leaving. First comes often the psychological barrier. People who have never experienced living abroad are much less likely to take a leap of faith and overcome the initial fear and insecurity. The second issue is in many cases the lack of language skills. English is the lingua franca of today and it opens many doors all around Europe. Proficiency in English has to have a much higher priority than it has in some places in Europe today. English is surely not enough, but I believe that we need to start from the English skills of young people. Once young people have mastered to gain proficiency in English, learning additional languages becomes easier.

One solution tackles both the lack of experience abroad and the lack of English and other language skills: Youth mobility. We need to get the young ones moving; the sooner, the longer and more often, the better. The Erasmus programme, mainly known for its student mobility part (the new Erasmus+ programme includes mobility for many others as well), is surely a success story. It has to be continued and further improved. More needs to be done for those not eligible for the programme and those who do not secure a spot in at times competitive selections. Not only mobility during higher education is beneficial. Pupils, apprentices, trainees and young volunteers equally benefit and learn during mobility experiences. A particular focus on young people from less privileged backgrounds and young people with special needs is essential.

A truly European labour market will only become reality if we prepare all young people for it, not just an elite proportion. Mobile young people of today are the mobile workers of tomorrow.

About the author

Emanuel Alfranseder represents the Erasmus Student Network in the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe. He currently studies for his PhD in Economics at Lund University. Born and raised in Germany, he has also lived, studied and worked in Lithuania, Spain, Belgium and Sweden. He is passionate about intercultural dialogue, mobility and education.

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