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Ideas Factory Annual Seminar

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This year’s Ideas Factory Annual Seminar focused on ‘Saving a generation: Is the fight against youth unemployment on the right track?’. The discussion was held in the Résidence Palace Salon on Monday 10 January from 17.45 to 20.00 and was followed by a reception. Moderated by Meabh McMahon from the EU Observer, the discussion featured contributions from Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary General, European Youth Forum and Jonathan Hill, Member of Commissioner Vassiliou’s cabinet, European Commission.

Youth unemployment has enormous economic and social implications for Europe. The young are more vulnerable to unemployment, because they lack previous work experience and struggle to enter the labour market. Being excluded from the job market, before getting a chance to enter it, creates the risk that Europe will “lose a generation” and see an increase in inactive and discouraged citizens, unable and unwilling to continue the job hunt. The negative consequences are far-reaching: unemployment creates social and economic pressures on individuals, communities and welfare states.


Implications for the young generation and beyond:

-  The economic context, already difficult, has been dramatically worsening with the crisis. Unemployment is still on the rise and a ‘precarious way’ of being in the market, through temporary or part-time contracts, has been consolidating. Staying out from labour markets or having unstable contracts for long has wider negative impacts e.g. on pensions, person’s self-esteem and on family life.

- Precarious jobs, for example internships, are sometimes associated with a low learning content. We are currently assisting to a double negative development: while internship positions increasingly lose their content added value, very experienced people are more and more applying for them, because of the lack of other jobs. Or on the other hand, many internships are substituting paid jobs without a guarantee for employment thus making highly educated young professionals subjects of an unfair system.

- In the long run, there can be repercussions on the economy as a whole. Youth unemployment is not just a ‘youth problem’, but needs to be looked into at a macro-level, as it is part of a more systemic challenge our economies are facing. If policy-makers fail to recognise that, we risk being faced with even more serious consequences with generations to come.

- Social cohesion is itself at risk within this context. The gap between skilled and unskilled workers is deepening, bringing on the surface the different performances of national education systems and the issues of early school leaving. If, by 2020, 35% of jobs will be high level skills positions, we need to look ahead when elaborating education and social policies.

- Being out of the job market can lead to a complete exit from active population. This is particularly true when public policies do not offer the necessary instruments to find a new position.

- Within a context where people are living and therefore working longer, the issue of long life learning and re-training become more and more relevant. Longer life expectations also have impacts on younger generations, as far as their career path is concerned.

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Possible solutions:

- The focus should be on enabling youth to move from school to working life, finding ways to get unemployed youth to labour markets and providing them with the needed skills.

- Education has a key role to play. National education systems, through a coordinated action of the EU if needed, should promote skills that are needed in the labour markets and encourage social mobility. They should promote and encourage more interest in mathematics, science, technologies and entrepreneurship. A good example of this gap between needs of labour market and offered skills, are the thousands of unfilled IT-related jobs in Europe. 

- But skill training continues also after school. Lifelong learning and re-training should be accepted as the norm also in the work places both by employeres and employees. Volunteer work and non-formal learning should be recognised as important sources of new knowledge and skills, and encouraged. 

- In order to ease the transition from school to work, apprenticeships and cooperation between educational institutions and employers should be encouraged.

- We need to get better at foreseeing mid and long term trends in the labour market. Analysis on the future needs is needed in order to prepare people with the necessary skills.

- Youth should be provided with information about the needed skills and they should be given guidance about entering the labour markets. Teachers, student advisors and job centres can have an important role in this.

- In order to have a real image of the unemployment situation, data collection should be fine-tuned; national statistics are rarely comparable to one another and international organisations’ data refer to different age segments.  

- Solutions such as ‘youth guarantees’ (public loans accessible to students, which have been successfully used in Denmark, for instance) should be explored by governments, for young unemployed people to have instruments to get in the job market.

- School dropouts should not be seen as a lost source of skills and workforce. E.g. mentorship system could help them to find their areas of interests, suggest right vocational training and encourage them to find their place in the labour markets.

- Countries that have low youth unemployment rates should be studied and best practices shared among the EU Member States.

- If national governments play a major role in most of the areas linked to employment issues, the EU should be able to deliver as well, within the EU 2020 Strategy. By modernising education systems and acting on higher education, the European Union can create part of the conditions for success. ‘Youth on the Move’ initiative can play an important part in the solution; however, just decreasing school dropout rates and increasing tertiary education is not enough. The education needs to provide the people with relevant skills for labour markets. The EU skills panorama to be published in 2012, which provides an online overview of the skills needed in Europe, can provide a useful database for students and universities.

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Questions to ponder:

· When it comes to employment, the EU does not currently have many competences to act. Should it have more powers or are such issues better solved at national level? Only 1% of the budget goes on education; should it be 2%?

· Should the EU be given more money and powers to promote education.

· Higher education, mobility and development of skills are keys to today job market. However, these same items are create significant social (national and international) divides, between people who are given the opportunities and people who are not. What are the potential consequences of it? How to prevent it?

· While future labour market is likely to put a great emphasis on high-level skills, we are still confronted with a situation of highly educated people struggling to find a job: what is the problem here? How to act on this?

· Should youth participation in the development of public policies, at national and EU level, be enhanced? What would be the added value? How would this be carried out?

· Temporary jobs versus Permanent positions: does it matter? Is it just a question of economic context or it is also a changing attitude of youth towards more articulated career paths? Are there multiple trades-offs to be taken into consideration?

· Shouldn’t public powers raise youth awareness on the need to already think about their pensions?

· Is there a need to reframe the conditions and features of the ‘right to a job’?

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