A holistic approach to youth unemployment

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A successful approach to youth unemployment requires a concerted, long-term effort that joins the forces of the public and private sectors, writes Giuseppe Porcaro.

Giuseppe Porcaro is the secretary general of the European Youth Forum (YFJ).

Despite the renewed political focus on the need to create jobs for young people, accessing the labour market remains a daunting prospect for millions of young Europeans. The latest figures from Eurostat tell the harsh truth that almost one in four young EU citizens is unemployed. This persisting youth unemployment crisis has huge consequences for young people in terms of their quality of life, autonomy and levels of social inclusion, and urgent action is now needed to tackle this problem. As European leaders meet this week in Brussels, they have a unique opportunity to address the different facets of this complex problem by encouraging EU member states to adopt and implement the necessary measures to create and sustain quality jobs for young people in Europe.  

EU institutions and national governments have already taken a number of concrete steps. With the flagship Youth Guarantee scheme, EU member states have committed to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a high-quality offer of a job, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. However, the proposal suffers from several limitations, such as a lack of credible resources and the need to extend the guarantee to people under 30 years old, which the Youth Forum has repeatedly highlighted. Moreover, to strengthen their credibility and effectiveness, this and other schemes, such as the Youth Employment Initiative or the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, need to be rapidly and thoroughly implemented by EU member states.

Youth unemployment is far too complex a problem to be addressed with short-term solutions. If we wish to ensure that the next generation of Europeans is prepared to face the challenges of an ever more competitive labour market, we need to take a holistic approach and deal with all the factors that impact their professional opportunities. In this regard, providing young people with skills that match the needs of the market, and in particular IT skills, should be a priority.

In our upcoming publication, “Quality Jobs for Young People”, the Youth Forum points out that in the next decade the majority of European jobs will require high-level qualifications. Moreover, studies conducted by the European Commission show that digital skills in particular will be an important success factor in years to come. Indeed, when launching the “Opening-up Education” initiative in September this year, Commissioner Neelie Kroes warned that by 2020 up to 90% of jobs in the EU will require digital skills.

Policymakers, educators, parents and pupils must understand that computer literacy and programming are no longer hobbies for “geeks”, but a necessity for those who want to profit from the rapid growth of the digital economy. According to the European Commission, by 2015 Europe could face a shortfall of up to 900,000 ICT professionals, a gap which would be aggravated by a projected decline in computer science graduates. Upgrading the European educational environment to the needs of the 21st century and promoting entrepreneurship among young Europeans are essential to filling this void.

European education systems should be modernised to make sure that young Europeans will be true “digital natives”. In order to make this happen we need not only to open our education systems, but also our minds. We must acknowledge that this mission cannot be accomplished during a single European summit or a high-level meeting of educational experts. A successful approach to this challenge requires a concerted, long-term effort that joins the forces of the public and private sectors.

In this context, the European Youth Forum is cooperating with Microsoft for its first large-scale partnership with the private sector. As the first corporate signatory of the European Charter for Quality Internships and Apprenticeships, Microsoft had already opened the way for other companies to get involved in tackling Europe’s youth employment challenge. Now,  under the auspices of their global YouthSpark initiative, which  is focused on helping to create new education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for the next generation, the Youth Forum is working closely with Microsoft to improve the quality of European internships and provide young Europeans with digital skills and entrepreneurial know how.    

As part of this partnership I was recently invited to New York as one of 20 global YouthSpark Advisors to discuss successful interventions and emerging challenges and help the company think through issues like 21st century skills and employment, computer science, and entrepreneurship and their impact on young people around the world. This experience gave me a fascinating new perspective on the broad range of measures that are being applied internationally to tackle the opportunity divide youth are facing. However, it also confirmed to me the need for Europe’s leaders to pay more attention to young people and do everything possible to help them get the quality jobs they need.

Against the backdrop of dramatic statistics, it is encouraging that policy-makers in Brussels and national capitals across Europe have pledged to tackle youth unemployment and that the issue has become part of the discourse on solutions to the current economic crisis. However, in order to truly reach out to Europe’s disenchanted youth, now is the moment to move from rhetoric to action. The political, human and financial resources necessary to implement the Youth Guarantee and move forward with a European Framework for Quality Traineeships must be mobilized.

Europe stands at an important crossroads with regards to youth employment. Going forward, particularly as we approach the high-level summit that French President François Hollande will host in November, only serious, concerted EU-wide actions will ultimately solve the problem of youth unemployment in Europe. Europe’s leaders must act to provide young people with the opportunity to make a decent life for themselves and their families. They deserve no less.

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