President, European Youth Forum, former Secretary General of JEF Europe
On 28th February, the Council of the European Union reached political agreement on a Recommendation to establish Youth Guarantee schemes in EU Member States. These schemes aim to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship, within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
Avoiding a ‘lost generation’
The Recommendation on the Youth Guarantee has come at a time when youth unemployment has become a grave and EU-wide issue. Across Europe, 24% of young people are without a job. In Greece and Spain, over half of young people cannot find employment. The effects of such a crisis are wide-reaching. According to Eurofound, the cost of having so many people out of the labour market stands at 153 billion Euros annually, corresponding to more than 1.2% of GDP in Europe. In agreeing on the Youth Guarantee, Member States recognize that for this situation to improve, young people require special consideration in employment policies, and specific measures to facilitate their access to the labour market.
The Youth Guarantee in practice
How much can the Youth Guarantee do in tackling this epidemic, though? Examining countries that have a youth guarantee in place reveal very clearly its positive potential. Finland introduced a form of the youth guarantee in 1996 that focused on offering personalised employment services to young people. Combined with active labour market measures such as traineeships and support in accessing education and training, the scheme has proved very popular: 83.5% of young jobseekers received a successful intervention within 3 months of registering as unemployed in 2011. In Austria, the tailored public employment services for young people at risk of social exclusion have resulted in Austria having one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe.
The challenges faced
Despite these successes, there are certain difficulties associated with the implementation of the scheme. The Swedish version, in place since 1984, encountered grave challenges during the crisis due to increased demands; this was mirrored in Finland, where, in 2009, there was one youth adviser to every 700 clients. Furthermore, the Danish scheme has proved problematic due to the condition of not being able to receive unemployment benefits without participating in the scheme, resulting in a negative relationship between young people and public employment services.
More is needed
These challenges point clearly to the fact that the 6 billion euros recently committed by the EU to deal with youth unemployment is a start, but it is not enough. From the national level, investment in public employment services in order to make them more youth-friendly is imperative, as is the establishment of strong partnerships with all stakeholders. Early intervention and activation is crucial in order to avoid young people becoming or remaining NEETs (not in employment, education or training) and being at risk of social exclusion and poverty.
Furthermore, the fact that the scheme has had limited impact on entrenched ‘hard to reach’ unemployed youth, points to the importance of involving youth organisations in its implementation. Youth organisations across Europe are adept in providing career-focused training and in developing a culture of entrepreneurship. In their capacity to reach out directly to young people, they must be seen as a vital actor in the effective application and monitoring of the Youth Guarantee.
Clearly, the Youth Guarantee is a very significant step against the ever-worsening crisis of youth unemployment in Europe. Implementing the scheme must not be seen as a cost for national governments; it must be perceived as a necessary and invaluable investment, with long-term advantages, in a generation of young people that all too easily can be forgotten.