|Ursula von der Leyen, German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and Anniken Huitfeldt, Norwegian Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion. |
© Kilian Munch / ILO
As of February 2013, the youth unemployment rate in the 27 member states of the EU stood at 23.5 per cent – with rates as high as 58.4 and 55.7 per cent in Greece and Spain, respectively. The only exception was Germany where youth unemployment has declined since 2008.
In 2011, almost 30 per cent of European youth were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Youth unemployment at these record-high levels also threatens social cohesion, putting the European social model at risk, the ministers warned.
Even in countries where youth unemployment was relatively low, there was a need to integrate minorities into the youth labour market: disabled youth, migrant children and unskilled youth.
As one minister put it: “It is more difficult to integrate the unskilled than it was 40 years ago when you could send them to sea but these jobs in shipping do not exist any longer.”
Participants from Southern Europe said that they had enacted important reforms but were still waiting to see the results. Labour ministers feel that the macro economy needs to be tackled first – before labour market reforms can become effective.
Ministers also raised the issue of the costs of youth unemployment both for young people and societies as a whole. They agreed that the cost of funding youth employment schemes like the EC's Youth Employment Package “were much lower than inaction,” as EU Commissioner Lázló Andor put it.
Solutions to the youth jobs crisis
Labour ministers came up with possible solutions to the youth employment crisis – aimed at reducing the growing cohorts of young people being forced to live on the margins of the labour market.
One solution could be increased labour mobility across Europe. A country like Germany, which has labour shortages in some areas, could benefit from the migration of qualified young people from Southern Europe to Germany.
Ministers said that there should be more mobility in Europe. One idea was an Erasmus programme covering not only academic education but also vocational training. This would allow young people with all levels of education to, “become ambassadors of the European model” and make vocational training more attractive.
But not all youth can move to another country.
The meeting also brought up interesting policy proposals to be implemented at the national level: for example, the use of social media to advertise skills’ shortages and to point youth in the “right direction” when searching for a job. Other approaches include coaching systems involving older workers, mentoring young labour market entrants, the creation of jobs in the social economy and subsidies for employers hiring youth.
At an individual level, joblessness at an early stage of a person’s working life and having to work in unstable and low paid jobs, carries the risk of a “scarring effect,” since it can negatively affect long-term earnings’ prospects and job opportunities.
Quality of education and training is key
The quality of education and training was seen as an answer to this problem, as it gives youth valuable skills – allowing them to find a first job. For youth in danger of marginalization, intensive jobs’ counselling and job factories could be a solution.
Ministers also highlighted the need for social dialogue between governments, employers and workers to design and evaluate the quality of youth employment schemes.
It was felt that considerable knowledge gaps exist in this context. The ILO was asked to conduct comparative studies and promote networks to analyse and evaluate national experiences – listening to the “grassroots people” in the labour market and exchanging good practices.
Concluding the meeting, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that the ILO was ready to do the necessary research, promote networking and dialogue and –last but not least – quality education and training programmes that work.
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