The 2008 financial and economic crisis is still a vivid memory for many of us. With fewer jobs and opportunities available, a whole generation of young people found themselves facing an uncertain future. Years later, the profound and lasting impact of the large-scale unemployment from the crisis is still visible. With another period of economic instability on the horizon, is Europe doing enough to support its young people?
The European Youth Forum is the platform organisation advocating for youth rights in Europe.
In the next couple of weeks, the Council is expected to adopt a new Recommendation to reinforce the Youth Guarantee, a key EU scheme that supports young people in their school-to-work transition. Reaching around 3.5 million young people every year, the Youth Guarantee aims to provide all young people with a good quality offer of employment, education or training within 4 months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.
The Youth Guarantee is an ambitious initiative that, if fully implemented, can make a huge impact on the lives of many young people in Europe. However, the scheme hasn’t always delivered on its promise. Today, far too many young people continue to be stuck in low paid, insecure forms of work such as temporary employment, zero-hour contracts, and unpaid internships. At times, the Youth Guarantee has even reinforced the trend of precarious work among young people.
The shortcomings of the Youth Guarantee become even more staggering when you consider that in the EU, almost half of all young people are employed on a temporary basis. In Spain, for example, which has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe, data shows that 7 out of 10 young people work on temporary contracts. The low-paid and insecure nature of these jobs make it impossible for young people to plan for their future, to start a family, or to purchase their first home. It has also made it much more likely for them to lose their job during the pandemic. By repeatedly providing young people with low-paid, temporary work offers, the Youth Guarantee doesn’t provide the support for a sustainable transition from school to work that it should.
The Reinforced Youth Guarantee, that EU Member States are looking to adopt, does propose some major changes. For example, it aims to better support young people for the changing world of work, by building a stronger link to the green and digital transitions; it also acknowledges the need to extend the scope of the scheme to cover young people under the age of 30, instead of 25. As the impact of the current crisis deepens, it also crucially aims to enhance the identification and support for more vulnerable young people.
While greatly welcomed, these updates fail to address a key underlying issue: quality. The proposed Reinforcement still does not answer the need for better quality jobs that young people and youth organisations have been calling for. The proposed Recommendation aims to solve this problem by suggesting that the quality of offers should be linked to existing EU policies, such as the Quality Framework for Traineeships and the Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships. However, these simply don’t go far enough.
The European Youth Forum has developed Quality Standards for the Youth Guarantee with recommendations on how the Youth Guarantee can ensure more secure jobs, fair pay and conditions to prevent employers from abusing Youth Guarantee subsidies. Under the Youth Guarantee, quality standards for offers are widely accepted as a needed improvement to the policy. Many have called for their introduction or proposed standards that could be used, including the European Court of Auditors, the European Trade Union Confederation, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Recently, the European Parliament voted in favour of a landmark resolution on the Youth Guarantee that called for binding quality standards and the banning of unpaid internships.
The situation for young people is becoming more and more urgent. Statistics on youth unemployment from Eurostat show that young people are being hard hit by the pandemic, with youth unemployment rising from 14.9% to 17.6% between January and August – an increase three times faster than the overall unemployment rate. Research shows that periods of unemployment during youth leads to scars visible decades later as lower life satisfaction, lower earnings and higher risk of future unemployment.
The adoption and implementation of the new Recommendation on the Youth Guarantee is an important test for the EU and Member States. Failure could lead to a lockdown generation that could hurt young people’s careers and wellbeing, as well as society, for decades to come. To prevent this, it’s essential that the European Commission and national governments take on board the call for quality standards to put quality job creation and support for young people at the centre not only of the Reinforced Youth Guarantee, but of the recovery itself.