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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Urgent EU actions against youth unemployment needed now

The Challenge

Among the world's unemployed, young people have been particularly hard hit. Youth unemployment rates are significantly higher than adult unemployment rates in both developed and developing countries. ...

Among the world's unemployed, young people have been particularly hard hit. Youth unemployment rates are significantly higher than adult unemployment rates in both developed and developing countries. Global protest movements of young people are a manifestation of their lack of job prospects.

  • Tackling the very high youth unemployment is vital for ensuring a sustainable economic and social future of Europe. The great recession caused by the global financial and economic crisis has taken its toll on European youth. The situation has further worsened in particular in the Member States affected by the sovereign debt crisis, with spill-overs also to countries that are not part of the Eurozone. To illustrate this with only one figure: in the large EU economies Italy and Spain one in five young under 30 years old is not in employment, education or training.
  • Employment policies, although largely a national competence in the EU, thus come inevitably stronger to the fore of the EU's economic governance. This year, the highest policy level in the EU – the Heads of States and Governments in the European Council – has initiated a specific initiative for stepping up measures tackling youth unemployment in the Member States with the highest youth unemployment rates.
  • The EU – although in a global perspective a very rich region – has become a worrying problem zone in what is indeed a global problem, the lack of jobs for our youth. We really have to ask ourselves why developed economies with ageing population and youth cohorts of limited size have such difficulties in getting it right for the young. Whether the austerity measures taken to foster fiscal consolidation are indeed well designed to support young people in getting into a job– or as I would suggest are indeed aggravating the situation. "Tackling youth unemployment" is now the imperative, rightly so – what can we do?
  • In reality, we have to overcome a dilemma: we need the quick solutions to help young people here and now, as time is wasted if nothing happens. Unfortunately, the quick fix solutions are often not sustainable and can even make things worse in the longer run. On the other hand we know that the necessary structural reforms in various policy areas (labour, fiscal, education, social…) take time to get agreed and implemented.
  • There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. We need to mobilise many instruments to help young people concretely. However, there is a key success factor in doing so. Efforts must be concerted, otherwise they remain partial. I would see three key success factors for a comprehensive approach.
  • First - a comprehensive policy strategy is needed. This is and remains the primary responsibility of governments to ensure that such a strategy is formulated and put in place.
  • The International Labour Conference adopted this year a comprehensive resolution with guiding principles for a multi-pronged approach on youth employment policies. It covers the focal issues: articulation of economic and employment policies for youth employment, employability and school-to-work transitions, general labour market policies, entrepreneurship and self-employment, and the rights of young people. This resolution is a fundamental piece of guidance for countries worldwide. It puts together the essential elements.
  • In the EU it is the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that provides the strategic framework for integrating youth employment policies into the wider economic policy context. On this basis the Member States have agreed to a common policy framework for youth employment.
  • A clear strategy is indispensable – but of course the acid test is the implementation. This brings me to my second point: there must be a clear vision for delivery to young people, and this must be tangible for them. Young people – and their parents – have a reasonable expectation that they can tap sources of support in case they do not manage the school-to-work transition on their own.
  • In the EU a number of Member States – Finland, Sweden, Austria, Germany – have introduced institutional commitments for ensuring that young people manage the necessary steps on the way to the labour market, once they have finished general education. These commitments take the form of training or youth guarantees. They are based on clear operational objectives – for example to ensure every young person wanting to enter apprenticeship training finds a place in a company or training centre, or more generally to ensure that young unemployed receive an opportunity for a new start when falling into unemployment.
  • Especially on apprenticeship training, Europe can offer a lot of good practice and experience to other countries. Not only in view of improving young people's chances on the labour market and providing them skills relevant to companies' needs and expectations, In particular, it is also a system in which employers engage in long term investments and commitments in their human capital, something desirable in other areas, too.
  • Such guarantees are a clear and positive signal to young people, who are increasingly frustrated and loose motivation in the sight of the current unemployment crisis. There is a strong support among EU Member States for a more widespread take-up of such commitments into national policies. The Commission will soon present a proposal for introducing youth guarantees in the Member States [on a voluntary basis however]. They should ensure that all young people get into employment, training and/or further education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.
  • It is clear that such guarantees will only work if there is indeed something on offer for the young. This brings me to my third point: policy implementation can only be successful with the active contributions of all the parties involved. Governments must join forces with the widest possible range of actors that can make a contribution: social partners, business sector, public and private labour market services, the education sector, civil society organisations. In this way governments also see where the bottlenecks are – for example in the availability of training places – and can action.
  • This is also where new ideas, innovations in the economic and social sphere come into play. The jobs crisis in the EU has made it clear that we need to explore new ways to job creation. This is why we try to foster job creation for young people also through initiatives for example for youth entrepreneurship and social business.

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