The coronavirus outbreak is causing major disruptions for those who are outside mainstream educational programs across Europe. While many have managed to turn to distance learning, those not in education, employment or training (NEETs) are even more excluded from support schemes. It is more important than ever to provide them with the skills they need to be an active part of society.
Salvatore Nigro is the CEO of JA Europe since February 2020.
For the past two months, most European countries have (rightfully) closed their schools to try to slow down the spread of the corona virus. Such restrictions are not only causing major disruptions for students’ learning but also aggravating the economic and societal inequalities amongst young people, with the most disadvantaged youth being impacted the most.
As a result, we can expect a higher number of people to be neither in education nor in employment in the short to medium term.
Despite the enormous challenges that have characterized the last weeks, many students, teachers, and other workers in the education sector have shown an enormous amount of resilience and managed to transform their activities. However, this will continue to be a very difficult task unless they receive the support they need.
In this context, it is our role as a non-profit organisation to help mitigate the immediate effect of these measures, focusing on the more vulnerable and disadvantaged groups as to facilitate the continuity of their studies through online platforms. We think specifically about those not in education, employment or training (NEETs), where policies should be put in place in order to ease their entry into the job market and avoid even longer unemployment periods.
Back in 2013, the Youth Guarantee was part of the EU’s response to the 2008 financial crisis that drove thousands out of the economy across Europe. Even if insufficient considering the scale of the problem, the different measures had some impact as “the share of 15- to 24-years-old [NEETs] has fallen from 13.2% in 2012 to 10.3% in 2018”, according to the figures from the European Commission. This does not exclude the fact, however, that it is still up to the Member States to implement the Commission’s targets or that many national markets are now reaching a critical point. And if we were worried about the youth yesterday, how could we not be even more worried today? There is a generation out there that has been hit twice in a decade.
Under normal circumstances, many NEETs in countries with a high unemployment rate (such as Italy or Spain) perform simple tasks that allow them to earn a small sustenance. Now the situation has radically changed. As thousands of Europeans are losing their jobs these days, there is even more pressure on NEETs as they will have to compete with experienced workers that are more likely to get back their positions once the economy starts to recover.
Until then, unemployment is expected to rise particularly among unskilled workers or those who will not have the capacity or the willingness to move along with the system, in contrast to those sectors with a higher capacity of adaptation. In addition, the EU Member States will soon have to deal with a reverse migration of workers from other regions severely hit by the coronavirus outbreak, which may strain the national job markets even further.
With all these factors in mind, the situation for young NEETs is especially tough. They now find themselves in a position where a different attitude and a new skillset are essential to find a job in the post-COVID scenario. But we must look beyond short-term steps, as this is a defining moment to reflect on the transformation that could be achieved when working together to create economic opportunities for our youth.
At JA Europe, we have very concrete ideas to swift people’s mindsets. We impact 4.2 million young people every year in Europe. What if every one of our alumni created ‘only’ three jobs when starting their own company? Make the math. When equipped with the right skills and competences such as creativity, team work, or problem solving, young people can also build a job for themselves and for others, shaping a career that does not necessarily depend on working for somebody else.
Empowering young unemployed people with the necessary tools to be an active part of society is nowadays more important than ever. The project NEETs in Entrepreneurship, financed by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein through the EEA and Norway Grants, represents a perfect example of our actions to fight youth unemployment. Until 2021, 1.600 NEETs in Bulgaria, Italy, Romania and Spain will receive training and support to acquire the skills needed to find a job or to start their own business. In addition, the project aims to prevent another 1,000 young people enrolled in vocational and technical education schools from becoming NEETs by providing them with training and counselling.
In the light of the impact of COVID-19 to youth unemployment and education, we must be more ambitious in our support to the youth – both at the European and at the national level. Therefore, the EU’s proposal for the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) should reflect a much bigger investment in young people, increasing the budget allocated to the Youth Guarantee.
All-in-all, the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to be proactive and change existing stereotypes about NEETs; however, making the best out of this situation is a shared responsibility. Let us make sure we work together to develop and expand digital learning experiences so that we continue to serve the next generations.