On Wednesday, 5 December 2012, after four years of crisis and numerous reports on their nightmarish impact on Europe’s young people, the European Commission is going to present a set of measures to drive down youth unemployment.
While the crisis has not exactly been a picnic for anyone, young people are among the hardest hit. A whole generation of young Europeans is struggling to find access to the labour market. Member States have seen skyrocketing unemployment rates, with youth unemployment on average twice as high as among the total working age population. In Greece and Spain more than half of the people aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed. But this is not a problem of the peripheral countries. 15 EU countries have youth unemployment rates above 22 per cent.
Building on best practice examples from Austria and Finland, the proposal will include policy guidelines for the successful implementation of Youth Guarantees schemes. Thus, the Youth Employment Package aims to ensure that every young person receives a quality offer of employment, education or training within four months of leaving school.
Key measures to achieve this objective include:
- making significantly greater use of the European Social Fund (ESF) allowing a large number of young people to receive EU grants to study, train or volunteer abroad;
- further developing the EURES job portal which matches job-seekers with vacancies across borders, making it easier for young people to find jobs in another EU country;
- building stronger partnerships between political authorities, business and trade unions at EU, national, regional and local levels.
While these efforts are laudable and it can never be wrong to up-skill the labour force, it would be naïve to assume the problem can be solved by pumping money into study, train or volunteer abroad programmes. Ultimately, these programmes only perform cosmetic surgery on the statistics, which tend to look much better once a large proportion of young unemployed are back in school or doing yet another un(der)paid internship ‘to gain work experience’. While training will usually build valuable bridges into the labour market in a well-functioning economy, it is doubtful this will have the desired effect in the crisis-stricken EU.
In most cases, young Europeans are not unable to find employment because they are lacking in employability. Greek and Spanish youths are not in danger of social exclusion and poverty because they did not work hard enough in school or failed to acquire the necessary skills to get a job. They are unemployed because there is a tremendous lack of employment opportunities – all over Europe. Increasing mobility and improved matching of job-seekers and opportunities may help on the margin, but at the heart of any Youth Employment Package should be creating employment!
In my view, this cannot be solved through government intervention alone, no matter at which level. Businesses need to be encouraged and incentivised to take more responsibility for this ‘(almost) lost generation’, for the employees they will need in the future when the economy picks up again!