European Youth Guarantee needs to address labour market changes, experts warn

Group of students sitting on the floor and using modern technology for studying. [Shutterstock]

As the new European Commission vows to reform the European Youth Guarantee to tackle youth unemployment in the EU, EURACTIV looked at how the future initiative should look like according to the experts.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, unemployment hit dramatic numbers in Europe. The situation was particularly challenging for young people. With the aim of supporting them to be integrated into the labour market, the EU launched in 2013 the European Youth Guarantee, including the Youth Unemployment Initiative. 

As the programming period comes to an end, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tasked Nicolas Schmit, in charge of Jobs and Social Rights in her cabinet, to adapt the instrument to the current circumstances. 

“We must do more to give children and young people the care, education and opportunities they need,” von der Leyen wrote in her mission letter to Schmit.  

“This was a very useful tool in times of crisis and it made a contribution to reducing, in many countries, youth unemployment, and accelerated the access to the labour market for many young people,” the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights said late last year, “but I think now we are in a different situation,” he added.

While youth unemployment remains extremely high in some regions in Europe and this needs to be addressed, Schmit pointed out to the skills gap as the main issue young workers face. 

“I think that today, no young person coming up to the labour market should not have a minimum level of digital or computer skills. Access to those skills is something that needs to be as broad as possible,” the Luxemburgish Commissioner pointed out.  

Schmit is expected to unveil his road-map for a Social Europe on Tuesday (14 January) while a new updated Skills Agenda is expected later this year. 

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What the experts say

Social actors, youth organisations and experts agree on the importance of the Youth Guarantee to support young Europeans but also on the need to further improve the instrument in the future. 

“The European Youth Guarantee aims to puts young people at the centre of employment policy-making in a way that trade unions have called for over many years,” Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation told EURACTIV. 

“However, many young people have not seen the positive impact on the ground,” Voet argued. 

Workers organisations “remain supportive” of the instrument and call on the Commission to further improve it “by enforcing the quality criteria, increasing funding and involving trade unions so that young people see a real benefit through quality and well-paid jobs,” Voet defended.

Digital divides, labour market polarisation, technological revolution and the new forms of work have shaped the existing labour market. These are the challenges young people have ahead of themselves and therefore the Youth Guarantee should help them to face, Claire Dhéret, Head of Programme at the European Policy Centre, told EURACTIV.

She stressed the need of “revamping the mechanism” so that the guarantee “also reflects technological changes and ongoing transformations.” This, the researcher insisted, “is imperative,” but so it is “promoting adaptability, self-management, and entrepreneurial skills.”

“Guaranteeing a high-quality offer, monitoring the impact, diversifying the offers and ensuring that they are tailor-made to each individual are some of the objectives that will still require continuous efforts,” Dhéret argued. 

From Dhéret’s view, the involvement of local stakeholders in the design and the implementation of the initiative, to make sure it is place-based, and the coordination with other EU instruments, are key to success. 

Youth organisations such as the European Youth Forum say that the guarantee should have a wider approach and not only promote employment but also foster social inclusion.

“The Youth Guarantee, on its own, cannot be the solution to youth unemployment or social exclusion in Europe. It must, therefore, be part of a broader and more comprehensive approach, tackling the root causes of social and economic exclusion,” the European Youth Forum argues. 

In this sense, they ask for the EU to establish a common definition of the term NEET (young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training), and to collect data that would help to address their specific needs. 

Ever since 2017, the European Youth Guarantee has put a particular focus on this category. 

As the EU negotiates its long term budget, youth organisations urge leaders to sufficiently fund the instrument and in particular, the Youth Employment Initiative.

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In figures

The improvement of the economic situation in Europe, together with the efforts the EU and the national governments made to support youth resulted in 2.4 million fewer young unemployed in the EU and 1.9 million fewer not in employment, education or training since 2013. 

Youth unemployment has dropped from a peak of 24% in 2013 to 14.6% in February 2019, “faster than overall unemployment and faster than the macroeconomic trend would have predicted,” the Commission stated.

The share of NEETs in Europe has decreased as well, falling from 13.2% in 2012 to 10.3% in the third quarter of 2018.

According to the European Commission, more than 5 million people registered in schemes within the Youth Guarantee each year since 2014 and more than 3.5 million took up offers of employment, education, traineeship or apprenticeship thanks to it. 

The Youth Employment Initiative, which awards financial aid for regions with particularly high youth unemployment rates – over 25% – had a €6.4 billion budget for the programming period 2014-2020 which was eventually topped up to €8.8 billion. 

It has as provided direct support to over 2.4 million young people across the EU.

However, a recent report by the European Court of Auditors paints a different picture arguing the scheme has fallen short of expectations and failed to address a still critical issue for Europe.

For the next EU long-term budget, the European Commission has proposed to integrate the Youth Employment Initiative into the European Social Fund Plus, as part of EU’s cohesion policy, which budget accounts for €101.2 billion in the EU executive’s proposal. 

According to the regulation tabled by the Commission, member states with a rate of NEETs  above the EU’s average in 2019 will be required to dedicate at least 10% of their share of the ESF+ to support youth employment.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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