Youth unemployment in the EU: a scarred generation? - European Union Committee Contents


Youth unemployment is one of the most urgent problems facing Europe, with the youth unemployment rate more than double that for the whole population. In many Member States this is not a new problem. However, it has been exacerbated by the 2008 economic crisis and affects a broader range of young people than it did before the crisis—from highly skilled university graduates to the most disadvantaged young people. EU leaders and other policy-makers have acknowledged that this high level of youth unemployment could have a devastating impact on Europe's future workforce because of the long-term scarring effects of being unemployed at a young age.

The complex interactions between young people and the worlds of education and work pose challenges to those trying to calculate rates of unemployment and devise policies to address it. The purpose of undertaking this inquiry was to cut through the web of definitions and figures in the area of youth unemployment and to understand how EU resources and initiatives can help Member States address the challenges that young people face in accessing the job market today.

We consider that the responsibility for dealing with youth unemployment rests primarily with Member States, and that the key measures to address the issue should be introduced at national level. However, we also believe that the EU has an important role to play. While EU funding is limited in comparison to the scale of the crisis and to the amount that individual Member States have already pledged to address youth unemployment within their jurisdictions, it can add value by encouraging the exchange of good practice between Member States, by supporting them to address the problem in a coordinated way, and by kick-starting structural changes.

We caution against using the limited amount of EU funding available to subsidise existing national measures. Instead, it should be used to add value to national measures by establishing new initiatives and trying new methods, including those that have been successfully pioneered in other countries or regions worldwide. There should be a combination of support for immediate action to tackle the problems caused by the cyclical economic downturn and for action aimed at addressing long term structural and systemic issues in the European labour market. The European Commission's pursuit of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth under its Europe 2020 strategy provides the appropriate strategic framework. However, there is a need for better evaluation of approaches to youth unemployment across Europe to determine why and how initiatives achieve their results, not just whether they appear to have been successful.

Although the youth unemployment rate in the UK is lower than the EU average, there is no room for complacency—it is considerably higher than pre-2008 levels and is above that of comparable economies in the EU. We believe that changes need to be made to the current system of managing EU funding in England, which is too centralised. We recommend that Local Enterprise Partnerships and their partner local authorities in England are given sufficient control of EU funds in order to identify, plan, manage and deliver local schemes to address youth unemployment, together with businesses and civil society organisations. The benefits of a higher degree of local devolution of responsibilities can be seen in the ways in which the devolved administrations elsewhere in the UK handle European funds.

The European Commission's flagship idea of a Youth Guarantee would require Member States to commit to ensuring people under the age of 25 have a concrete offer for a job, training or further education within four months of becoming unemployed. We believe that the successful implementation of the Youth Guarantee could provide Member States with a clear benchmark to work towards in order to avoid long-term youth unemployment. We also agree with the European Commission's targeting of Youth Employment Initiative funds towards those regions in Europe experiencing the highest levels of unemployment. We recommend that the UK Government reconsider their plans to use the Youth Employment Initiative funds to bolster their existing initiatives. Instead they should implement a pilot Youth Guarantee in the five areas in the UK which will receive the Youth Employment Initiative funding.

There is a growing expectation that young people should be 'work-ready', rather than being trained 'on the job'. Careers advice is an important part of the equation. The Government should use EU funds to ensure that face-to-face careers advice is more readily available and that education and training focuses on developing young people's technological and other skills to meet the demands of the labour market.

Measures to address youth unemployment also need to focus on making structural changes to the job market in Europe. There is a need for a more flexible labour market, where young people are able to work and gain experience in other Member States. However, proper implementation of legislation protecting workers' rights is needed to ensure that greater flexibility in the labour market does not lead to the exploitation of young workers. We welcome the European Commission's focus on increasing the provision of vocational opportunities in the EU job market and consider that apprenticeships and traineeships can help young people into work, provided they are good quality opportunities that are applicable to the labour market. We therefore support the European Commission's Recommendation for a Quality Framework for Traineeships, which goes some way towards creating a common understanding of what constitutes a proper apprenticeship or traineeship.

It is our view that the meaningful consultation of young people in the development and implementation of programmes to reduce youth unemployment is a necessary component for success. We believe there is a danger that consultation processes will lack credibility if those involved cannot see that their input has been taken into account. We acknowledge the efforts that the EU institutions have made in this area and encourage all stakeholders, including the EU institutions and Member States, to enhance their efforts in this respect and to evaluate and publicise specific examples of how and where the involvement of young people has had an influence on policy. Ultimately, the youth unemployment crisis can only be addressed through the combined efforts of the EU institutions, Member States, business and the young people of Europe.

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