Youth and work
Youth unemployment and the need to integrate young people in society is a pressing global issue. In Europe, the proportion of young people aged 15 to 24 years is set to decline by a quarter – from 12.6% to 9.7% – between 2005 and 2050, while the 65-years plus group will increase from 16.4% to 29.9%. Yet it is often difficult for young people to get started on the employment ladder. The rate of youth unemployment is 20% or higher in 12 of 26 European countries.
Eurofound’s report on Youth and work acknowledges the increasingly complex role of policymakers in grappling with this issue, due to the ‘great variety of needs and assets’. Moreover, within each country there are regional differences, which necessitates action at a local level, involving all the social actors, particularly the social partners and public authority representatives.
However, youth employment and unemployment rates are highly susceptible to cyclical economic change. By the time policies for individual industries or sectors are designed, economic circumstances have often changed.
Complexity, according to the report, should not be a cause for discouragement. Both the inclusion of young people in society – especially in employment – and the continuing inclusion of the ageing workforce are of crucial importance: ‘This wider context has become an integral part of ensuring workers’ employability, company competitiveness, social cohesion and economic sustainability in Europe.’
Education and skill demand mismatch
While education and training are the most important factors in addressing unemployment among young people, the social partners in most countries confirmed that the educational level, skills composition and work experience of the labour force do not correspond to the requirements of a rapidly changing labour market. In Estonia, for example, the social partners stated that the educational system has not been able to adapt sufficiently to respond to the rapid changes in labour demand.
The report found that the effects of youth employment programmes varied considerably, depending on the objective pursued or the context and method used to evaluate them.
For instance, the UK TUC said one such programme had failed to generate any long-term employment or to achieve equal results for people from different ethnic groups.
The Youth and Work report claims that ‘sometimes policies achieve the opposite outcome to the pursued objective’. In some cases, involvement in such programmes led to young job-seekers’ withdrawing from the labour market.
The report criticises the fact that ‘evaluations and studies tend to highlight the few positive effects that youth employment policies have had in enhancing the employment opportunities of participants’. But it concluded: ‘Nevertheless, these gloomy perspectives and analysis should not overshadow the fact that it is essential to act against youth unemployment, as the first labour market experience is of vital importance for young workers.’
Limited market value of school-acquired skills
The report claims that the market value of the skills acquired in secondary school depreciates quickly if the skills are not put to use. Moreover, a period of unemployment can leave potential employers uncertain of the productivity potential of the job applicant. Experiences of being unemployed may ‘diminish young people’s feelings of attachment to the labour market’. If they spend their time primarily with other young, unemployed people this may eventually ‘reduce the stigma of unemployment and thus also the incentive to work’.”
Download the report