Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
by Eleni Anayiotou (CY)
Case study & introduction
With 2022 being named the ‘European Year of the Youth’ light was shed on a range of issues concerning young Europeans. According to a Euronews report from April 2022, the youth has been one of the ‘hardest hit groups of the pandemic’, particularly concerning their involvement in the workforce. NEETs, defined as ‘Young people neither in employment nor in education and training’, are multiplying across European States as a result of both COVID-19 and the recent war in Ukraine; various accounts from the youth itself, show that they see no hope in the future.
Youth unemployment rates have been escalating throughout Europe. With the numbers of unemployed youth reaching a staggering 1.3 billion in 2020, the issue becomes more imminent than ever. But youth unemployment is not merely a short-term problem: if these high rates of unemployment prevail, serious ramifications will be evident in the future. In particular, the youth’s lack of job experience will be reflected in national economies, and in the broader European sphere. The youth needs to be immersed into the job market to gain experience and confidence in order to efficiently transition into the next workforce, as well as to become productive and engaged citizens. Hence, tackling this issue at hand is significant for the promotion of both national and pan-European socio-economic stability.
Youth unemployment can have a range of negative consequences, both for the citizens themselves and national economies. The average EU youth unemployment rate rose up to 13.0 % in 2022, but with significant variations across Member States. What however underlies this issue and what should be tackled in order to resolve it?
From the youth’s perspective, there are a range of barriers that restrict their access to the workforce. Firstly, the youth’s limited access to capital leads to their incapacitation within the market. Capital would make the youth financially independent, increasing both their confidence as well as their accessibility to resources and education to introduce them into the labour market. Often, NEETs that lack the financial resources are forced in a vicious cycle of unemployment as they do not have the appropriate support to either apply for further education or prepare to enter the workforce.
Another prominent issue connected to youth unemployment is the lack of opportunities, entrepreneurship and life skills education. These shortages are interconnected, leading to a persistently vicious cycle. Specifically, the limits of education in preparing individuals for the labour market, subsequently lead to a disempowered young community with limited opportunities.
Other barriers are more nuanced, such as NEETs’ socio-economic background. Southern European countries have the highest rates of youth unemployment, the most prominent examples being Greece with 31.4% (2022) and Spain with 29.4% (2022). This phenomenon is generally linked to a lower average standard of living compared to northern Member States. The socio-economic backgrounds of the youth vary on a national scale as well; often, students from state schools have less opportunities, because the educational systems lack the infrastructure to properly inform them or prepare them for the labour market.
Within the labour market the issue of unfavourable working conditions also persists. Young people are often victims of unfair treatment and disproportionate salaries, as they are treated unjustly in comparison with older people. For example, 7 out of 10 Irish people aged 18-24 are contemplating moving abroad in search of better job opportunities, and many ‘remain trapped’ due to financial barriers.
Key stakeholders and measures in place
Addressing the issue of youth unemployment encompasses a range of approaches, and the EU has different competences in addressing different aspects of the issue. For example, the EU has shared competence on issues of employment and social affairs, giving it authority over policies that tackle unemployment amongst the youth. On the other hand, it only has supporting competence in education, hence limiting the extent of its involvement.
The European Commission holds power to initiate policy-making and executive power in the EU. It is an essential stakeholder that can allow for the creation of initiatives and the promotion of actions that develop sustainable, prosperous and strong economies across Member States, with its set priority towards ‘an economy that works for people’. Both the European Social Fund as well as the Youth Employment Initiatives, which are mentioned below, are under the auspiece of the European Commission.
The European Social Fund (ESF+) is the main instrument of the EU that is involved with employment, with a rigorous focus on the European Pillar of Social Rights; it ensures that better and fairer job opportunities are made available to EU citizens. Through its 2021-27 budget amounting to almost EUR 99.3 billion, the ESF+ financially supports local, regional and national employment-related projects throughout the EU. Recently, there have been many initiatives by the ESF+ to support young unemployed Ukrainian refugees. Through the Shared Management Strand, Member States can coordinate with the Commission to decide on where to allocate employment funds. This bottom-up approach is particularly beneficial for Member States who have a rigorous agenda to improve youth unemployment that needs financial support.
The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) is one of the main financial resources that focuses specifically on supporting youngEuropeans that live in areas where unemployment rates surpass 25%. The YEI supports NEETs through the funding and provision of apprenticeships, traineeships, job placements, as well as further education leading to a qualification. For the 2021-27 programming period, Member States are asked to invest an appropriate amount of their aforementioned ESF+ resources, to support actions and make structural reforms to decrease unemployment amongst the youth and provide educational and training opportunities.
Supported by YEI, The Reinforced Youth Guarantee is a commitment by all Member States to ensure that all young individuals below the age of 30 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship, or traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.
The European Network of Employment Services (EURES) is a cooperation network, where European citizens can search and apply for jobs anywhere in Europe. The network works towards ensuring that linguistic, bureaucratic, legal and cultural barriers are minimised for citizens seeking work. It recently launched an emergency initiative that supports people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The Proposal for a Council Recommendation on adequate minimum income ensuring active inclusion (September 2022) set out a plan for Member States, that attempts to modernise minimum income schemes while simultaneously attempting to integrate those who can work, including NEETs, in the labour market. The Proposal will be discussed by the Commission in due course. ALMA is a cross-border mobility initiative supported under the ESF+, which provides a supervised stay abroad for a period of 2 to 6 months in another EU Member State, along with a cohesive training project, to young NEETs.
Thank you for taking the time to read the Topic Overview! Now, to get acquainted with the topic, go back to the ‘Key Challenges’ section. What are the issues associated with youth unemployment? (Hint: They are in bold!).
Choose two of them, and use any format or note-taking method you like (e.g. spider-diagram, mapping, bullet points) and brainstorm potential courses of action and solutions to these two specific sub-issues. You may include projects and initiatives that already exist (see ‘Measures in Place’) or you can note down your own ideas. When you are done, make sure you have a digital and/or physical copy to bring with you to the session. Remember to save your sources!
The following resources might help you:
- This video outlines an Erasmus-style work placement initiative.
- This report by the UK Parliament outlines key recommendations.
- This initiative by Peace Child International outlines their training programmes with the aim of making the youth employable.
This report highlights a range of local initiatives that are supported by the YEI (pg 25).