Moment of truth for the Youth Guarantee

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Commission has been told to invest much more money and give schemes like the Youth Guarantee more time to take effect. [Shutterstock]

The Youth Guarantee scheme will be relaunched this week and the Commission must  learn from the mistakes of its first run, argue Ludovic Voet and Tea Jarc.

Ludovic Voet is ETUC confederal secretary with responsibility for youth; Tea Jarc is ETUC youth president

After studying fashion at university, Adriana from Portugal struggled to get a job in a competitive industry. She finally got a breakthrough after a traineeship supported by funding from the European Youth Guarantee which led to her being hired permanently.

Likewise, Arturo from Spain had been out of work or training until he found an apprenticeship through the Youth Guarantee and now has a permanent job as a business analyst and auditor.

These are two success stories turned into slick videos by the European Commission to showcase the impact of the scheme which is set to be relaunched on Wednesday.

They are welcome examples of the life changing impact the trade union movement hoped the Youth Guarantee would deliver when we fought for it successfully following the last economic crisis.

But they don’t reflect reality for millions of young people. The crisis supercharged the precarious job  economy in which young people are used as cheap and disposable labour, excluded from social security.

The delivery riders who continued bringing food to our front doors throughout the pandemic don’t even have contracts that would give them the right to sick pay if they contracted the virus, while students counting on seasonal jobs to support themselves will struggle to pay their fees.

The European institutions played their part by pushing austerity policies which cut job security.

However, as youth unemployed peaked at over 50% in Greece and Spain, EU and national leaders were convinced to adopt the Youth Guarantee in 2013 in an effort to control an escalating social crisis.

On paper, the scheme can be genuinely transformative: a quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, or traineeship within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.

Unfortunately, there have been too few Adrianas and Arturos.

Only 64% of participants in Portugal received the offer promised by the scheme during its first year, according to the European Court of Auditors (ECA). In the same time, there was a 9% increase in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

Those missing out or dropping out are usually the most disadvantaged young people furthest from labour market.

The ILO found that in France “disadvantaged youth whose situation of vulnerability did not allow them to make the most of the programme”, adding that “the programme was not able either to break their path of exclusion.”

Even for those who do receive an offer, it too often isn’t of the quality promised.

For a scheme set-up to address youth unemployment, there are far too many poor-quality traineeships, that do not lead to any validation of the skills nor to permanent employment,  and far too few employment opportunities provided.

The view of trade unions is shared by the European Youth Forum who said they are “concerned about the low quality of offers under the Youth Guarantee schemes and consequently, the inability of the Youth Guarantee to contribute to long term and sustainable solutions for young people.”

In some member states, more than 60% of the Youth Guarantee interventions consist of the offer of a traineeship programme.

No wonder when all member states have put in place training schemes but fewer than half have put in place direct employment creation schemes.

This has actually contributed to the job crisis, with employers using trainees rather than full-time, properly paid workers.

The Youth Guarantee was adopted when EU youth unemployment hit a peak of 23.7%.

With that figure expected to reach more than 26% as a result of the current coronavirus crisis, ‘business as usual’ isn’t good enough. The Commission needs to make bold changes that will address the bad practice identified in the past.

To do that will take two things: the increased funding promised in Ursula von der Leyen political guidelines that, crucially, must come with quality criteria on how it is spent.

The last scheme had a budget of €6.4bn to cover the 6.7 million young people expected to be unemployed this year alone. To be effective, experts say the scheme would need a budget of around €50bn. That’s based on the success of the Swedish programme which allocated €6,000 to each participant.

It is also important the Commission establishes a minimum threshold for spending on youth unemployment for member states to ensure countries with low rates of NEETs can’t overlook the problem of long-term unemployment faced by vulnerable groups.

And that money must come with strict and binding criteria that prioritises the quality of offers rather than the current fixation on quantity of offers in order to make unemployment statistics more palatable.

The criteria proposed by ETUC and supported by youth organisations would ensure that the public subsidies contribute to the creation of quality jobs, start to fight back against precarious work, stops the misuse of public money and prevents young people becoming disillusioned with politics.

Trade unions were the driving force behind the establishment of the scheme in 2013 and, as the watchdogs on quality employment, must be more involved in its design and delivery in future.

The Youth Guarantee has not so far delivered on its purpose, actually supporting a surge in precarious work and leaving young people extremely vulnerable to the crisis we find ourselves in.

But with bold reforms that puts the interests of young people ahead of those of the market, the reinforced Youth Guarantee could play a crucial role in securing the future of young people, economic prosperity and indeed Europe itself.

As Ursula von der Leyen said in her inaugural speech: ‘Young people have aspirations, they want to work, they want to have a future – and it is our job to let them achieve this.’

We will find out on Wednesday whether her Commission is more interested in the image or impact of the Youth Guarantee.

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