Tackling youth unemployment together

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

The key to tackling youth unemployment lies in developing broad and strategic partnerships, argues Giuseppe Porcaro.

Giuseppe Porcaro is the secretary-general of the European Youth Forum.

"Young people in Europe are living in a context of ever greater political and social uncertainty. Europe’s weakening economy is disproportionately affecting its youth. Unemployment has reached almost epic proportions across the EU, with one in five young people in the labour market unable to find a job.

Europe’s young people should be one of its most valued assets, catalysts of positive change who can contribute to finding innovative ways to overcome Europe’s challenges. However, the dire economic circumstances they face are marginalising young Europeans and jeopardising their full integration into society. Political cynicism and apathy are on the rise, and the gap between young people and decision-makers is growing, increasing the appeal of extreme political ideologies.

It is shocking that, in the 21st century, the future is this bleak for so many young Europeans. At a time when governments are under growing financial pressure, there is a clear need for the private and non-profit sectors to step forward, providing the guidance and support necessary to tackle this issue and prevent the creation of a “lost generation”.

It is becoming increasingly clear that many young people lack the skills and opportunities to be successful in today’s highly competitive job market . It is currently estimated that four million jobs are vacant in the EU because the unemployed lack the skills required for available positions. Yet, according to Eurofund, 14 million young people are currently not in employment, education or training.   

Faced with this “skills gap”, it is more crucial than ever that the EU and its member states develop employment policies specifically aimed at youth at all levels. Ensuring equal access to quality education, both formal and non-formal, and promoting a smooth transition from education to quality jobs should be as crucial an element of these policies as ensuring decent conditions for young people in the labour market, promoting the creation of new quality jobs, and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.

Promoting  youth skills and employability is evidently a priority for the EU, and European policymakers have taken concrete steps to increase assistance and opportunities for youth.

In December, the European Commission presented a Youth Employment Package aimed at combating youth unemployment. This included a proposal on Youth Guarantees, a concept that every young person should receive a quality offer of employment or training or further education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.

While efforts such as these are laudable, and it is encouraging to see that Ireland has also set addressing youth joblessness as a priority of its EU presidency, the current economic climate has also curtailed the EU’s and national governments’ ability to act. Rhetoric and ambitions are not always accompanied by the matching funds and we are witnessing ever more cuts in grants and funds from public bodies to the NGO sector, which could lead to an even more difficult situation for youth organisations and young Europeans. Moreover, with the EU’s multiannual financial framework currently being negotiated, funding for Europe’s youth could be cut even more drastically.

In this climate it is increasingly clear that no single organisation or institution can go it alone. The key to tackling the problem of youth unemployment lies in developing broad and strategic partnerships with all the key actors that can contribute, whether they are traditional institutional actors or new stakeholders from the private and non-profit sectors.

For example, last week we struck a partnership with Microsoft alongside two other pan-European youth organisations—Telecentre Europe and Junior Achievement – Young Enterprise. This kind of multi-sector collaboration is one of the ways to successfully address the many facets of the youth unemployment problem. With support from industry players like Microsoft, we will be able to leverage our respective strengths and work complimentarily to break the cycle of Europe’s skills gap, foster work-readiness, and encourage European youth to become more active citizens.

By providing training in the technology and skills needed to perform the jobs of today and tomorrow, Telecentre Europe will help young people to successfully transition between education and the labour market. JA-YE will work to increase the employability and entrepreneurial potential of young Europeans, encouraging them to use their technology skills in enterprising ways and helping them to find work through quality traineeships and internships. While we will work to engage young Europeans in the online democratic debate, seeking to encourage deeper participation, especially on public policy matters of direct concern to them.

We should not underestimate the magnitude of the problem currently afflicting Europe’s youth. Young people who face chronic unemployment are likely to suffer from long-term problems in terms of their employability, financial wellbeing, social integration, and even health. And their problems will spill over to be felt by the rest of society. But with concerted action, governments, companies, and NGOs can find the right solutions to lead Europe’s “lost generation” back on the right path."

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