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

Chapter 9: Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

Chapter 2: Youth unemployment in the EU


164.  We understand the need for a consistent definition of youth unemployment to allow for cross-country comparisons, aggregation of figures at the European level, and to provide clarity for all those involved in policy-making in the area of youth unemployment. The International Labour Organisation's definition provides this, notwithstanding its complexity. However, it is limited in its usefulness, particularly when trying to understand the issues for those who are simultaneously in the labour market and in the education system. The European Commission and Member State governments should take care to recognise the diversity of the different situations which underlie the headline figures, and ensure that policy is founded on an accurate and nuanced assessment of the issues (paragraph  22).

165.  Although we understand the significant issues which confront many of the young people characterised as NEET, we find the term ambiguous and at times unhelpful, because of the broad scope of young people it encompasses (paragraph 23).

166.  The youth unemployment crisis has affected graduates and young people who are highly skilled, less skilled and those who struggle most to access the labour market. We recognise that some young people within these groups are disproportionately impacted by the youth unemployment crisis, including those from some ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, young parents and those coming from the care system. The issues that affect the access of different types of young people to the labour market are varied and policy responses must take account of this and ensure that young people in need of help are not excluded from the labour market, education or training systems (paragraph 24).


167.  The current high levels of youth unemployment in the EU are not solely a consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. Rather, the cause of the unemployment crisis differs between Member States. For some Member States, it is due more to underlying structural issues in the youth labour market that have been accentuated by the financial crisis. The EU and individual Member States will need to employ both long-term and short-term solutions to address the youth unemployment crisis (paragraph 32).


168.  We are particularly concerned about 16-18 year old NEET young people in the UK, who risk becoming invisible to the authorities through their lack of access to the benefits system and absence of other means of engagement. We encourage the UK Government to use EU funds in a way which helps identify problems and solutions within this group. We believe this would represent clear added value to existing national provision (paragraph 35).

Chapter 3: EU measures to address youth unemployment


169.  We acknowledge that responsibility for dealing with youth unemployment rests primarily with Member States, and the key measures to address the issue should be introduced at national level. However, we believe it is both important and appropriate that the EU continues to have a role in providing funding and other forms of support to reduce youth unemployment. There are benefits from Member States coordinating responses to the youth unemployment situation, through the sharing of good practice (see Chapter 7) and the use of EU funds for specific tasks which complement action at national level, such as kick-starting structural changes (paragraph 43).


170.  EU funds are limited in comparison with the scale of the crisis and with the amount that Member States have already pledged to address youth unemployment. EU funding should not be used to subsidise national approaches, but should be put towards establishing new initiatives and trying new methods, including those that have been successfully pioneered in other countries or regions worldwide. Where useful, it should be used to facilitate longer-term project cycles (paragraph 48).

171.  It is right that the Youth Employment Initiative targets EU regions that are experiencing the highest levels of unemployment. Given the finite resources available and the importance of the resources attaining maximum impact, we recommend that the UK Government focus the funding available from the Youth Employment Initiative wholly on the five areas identified in the UK. The Government should use the European Social Fund and government spending to target those areas, such as Outer London, that are experiencing high unemployment but are not eligible to receive funding from the Youth Employment Initiative. (paragraph 49).


172.  We recommend that there should be a move away from evaluating European Social Fund schemes based on the cost and number of participants. The European Commission should instead move towards an evaluation of programmes that looks at their impact on the youth job market in real terms, over a long period of time and prioritises understanding how and why actions are successful, not just whether they are. The European Commission should report to Member States on these evaluations at least every five years (paragraph 52).


173.  The majority of the evidence we received suggests that the Youth Guarantee is a very useful initiative, which responds to the need for early intervention with young people to prevent them becoming unemployed in the long-term, which can have scarring effects. Implementation of the Youth Guarantee would help to address the current particularly high levels of youth unemployment, but should be accompanied by other measures that seek to remove the underlying structural problems related to the youth labour market in Member States such as the UK (paragraph 57).

174.  Having regard to the success of Youth Guarantees in other Member States, we believe that the successful implementation of a Youth Guarantee could provide Member States with a clear benchmark to work towards in terms of avoiding long-term youth unemployment (paragraph 58).


175.  EU proposals to address youth unemployment strike a good balance between setting out an EU strategy to reduce unemployment (based on the good practice of different Member States) and allowing individual Member States to tailor EU funding and proposals to specific national circumstances (paragraph 60).

Chapter 4: Use of EU funding and initiatives in the UK


176.  We regret the UK Government's delay in submitting their plan setting out how they will spend the Youth Employment Initiative funds. We are also disappointed with the Government's lack of support for the European Commission's Recommendation for these funds to be used to set up a Youth Guarantee. We recommend that the Youth Employment Initiative funds should be used to pilot a Youth Guarantee scheme in the five areas expected to benefit from the Youth Employment Initiative (paragraph 66).


177.  We are not convinced by the UK Government's argument that the Youth Contract meets the aims of a Youth Guarantee. The Youth Contract has as its focus the financial bolstering of the demand side (for example, via wage incentives for employers) in order to create work experience opportunities for young people. The Youth Guarantee is focused on individuals and commits to finding them a suitable placement within four months. This in turn differs from the Work Programme, which focuses on finding sustainable job opportunities for those referred to it (paragraph 70).

178.  We recommend that the UK Government reconsider the decision to use the Youth Employment Initiative funding to bolster existing domestic initiatives, including the Youth Contract. They should instead implement a pilot Youth Guarantee in the five areas which will receive the Youth Employment Initiative funding. The Youth Contract is focused on addressing the longer-term structural issue of a lack of entry-level opportunities in the youth labour market. The Youth Guarantee's focus on stemming the post-2008 increase in youth unemployment would therefore complement rather than duplicate the work of the Youth Contract (paragraph 72).


179.  The funding available at UK level is largely focused on disadvantaged or long-term unemployed young people, rather than other young people who might also be struggling to find appropriate and sustainable work. We agree that the majority of the funding in this area should be focused on those young people who are the hardest-to-reach (paragraph 75).

180.  We note that highly skilled young people who are 'underemployed' can create a blockage to entry-level jobs for other young people. We recommend that the UK Government use some of the European Social Fund to introduce ways of assisting highly skilled young people to access the labour market, for example, through improved careers advice or support for entrepreneurship. This would complement their use of the majority of government and EU funding to target those disadvantaged young people who may be harder-to-reach (paragraph 76).


181.  The current system of managing EU funding in the UK is too centralised and over-reliant on very large-scale, standardised contracts. We believe that this has resulted in provision which is insufficiently tailored to local needs and which makes ineffective use of local civil society organisations, local authority experience and specialist knowledge, particularly in relation to services for harder-to-reach young people. It also prevents proper engagement with young people and local businesses. We therefore welcome the UK Government's commitment to introduce greater localisation into the allocation of funding and their undertaking to give additional freedoms and flexibilities to Local Enterprise Partnerships. We urge the Government to ensure that this local approach is carried through to the finalised programme guidance and recommend that they consider full devolution of responsibilities, including programme management and delivery, to those local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships who see a need for it in their area (paragraph 83).

182.  We recommend that the UK Government and local authorities produce written guidance to help Local Enterprise Partnerships and other relevant bodies to build quickly an understanding of what has previously been successful in the area of provision for young unemployed people. This should be based on robust evaluation and experience and should be disseminated widely (paragraph 84).

183.  We recommend that local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships use the seven year cycle connected with EU funds to complement national measures, which are often two or three years in duration, by funding longer-term projects. These would provide sustainable solutions for young people and businesses that need more targeted support, and help overcome the current situation where provision is short-term and continually changing. The UK Government should ensure that the terms of their agreement with local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships enables them to use the funds in this way (paragraph 85).

Chapter 5: Using EU funds to prepare young people for work


184.  The successful provision of support to young people to prepare them for work demands a holistic approach centred around the individual. Key issues specific to each individual, such as their access to transport, the need for a safe and welcoming environment at home and in the workplace, criminal records, learning difficulties and other personal considerations, need to be taken into account (paragraph 89).


185.  In recent years a number of factors, including an increase in the number of small businesses with limited resources, have resulted in a move towards the expectation that young people should be 'work-ready', rather than being trained 'on the job'. We welcome the focus in the European Regional Development Fund Regulations on supporting SMEs so that they can take on apprentices (paragraph 95).

186.  We welcome the efforts made at EU level to address the skills mismatch, via the introduction of the EU Skills Panorama. We recognise that the skills mismatch is a particular problem in the UK, resulting in particularly high unemployment rates amongst low-skilled young unemployed people. We therefore recommend that the UK Government integrate the EU Skills Panorama into careers services provided at a national level, through schools, job centres and online resources (paragraph 102).

187.  We agree with the European Council that a greater focus on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills is necessary, particularly as the ICT sector is currently experiencing a skills shortage. However, we caution against an over-concentration in this area, at the expense of other emerging sectors. The UK Government could use the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund to support enhanced provision of both basic and higher level ICT training and skills training in general for young people in schools and businesses (paragraph 103).

188.  There are a variety of sources of careers advice which need to be coordinated. The UK Government should continue to use the European Social Fund to support the National Careers Service and extend its face-to-face element beyond the 12 centres currently offered. They should also encourage use of the European Social Fund to improve labour market knowledge at earlier stages in young people's progression through education and training. One way of doing this would be by continuing to make support available to NEET young people. The National Careers Service should act as a 'one stop shop' to refer young people to the different sources of careers advice (paragraph 110).

189.  We also recommend that the UK Government use the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund to enable businesses to connect with schools in order to provide careers advice. This could be facilitated through business representation in Local Enterprise Partnerships (paragraph 111).

Chapter 6: The job market for youth in the EU


190.  We consider that greater flexibility in the labour market, such as zero-hours contracts, can provide opportunities for young people to gain work experience and help to reduce high levels of youth unemployment. Concerns about the exploitation of workers and unfair working practices should be mitigated by the proper implementation of existing EU and national legislation to protect workers' rights, such as minimum wage levels (paragraph 115).


191.  We conclude that the development of a variety of career pathways, including apprenticeships, traineeships and internships, is important in reducing youth unemployment in Europe. However, we are concerned about the proliferation of schemes being identified as apprenticeships but whose quality and applicability to the labour market is questionable. We believe that it is important to ensure that internships enable young people to access the labour market, and are not offered as a substitute for employment. We therefore endorse the European Commission's attempts to create a common understanding of what constitutes either an apprenticeship or traineeship in the EU. We recommend that, as much as possible, the UK Government should develop their future policies in this area in line with EU definitions (paragraph 123).


192.  In the current difficult economic and employment climate, we believe that the free movement of workers in the EU is particularly important. The use of these rights can contribute to reducing youth unemployment in the EU (paragraph 129).


193.  We recommend that schools, higher education institutions and youth groups, as well as Government and EU institutions, provide more information and encouragement to young people about the opportunities and support available to them to seek employment elsewhere in the EU (paragraph 133).

194.  We recommend that the European Commission should make youth entrepreneurship a more explicit focus for the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund (paragraph 136).

Chapter 7: Evidence of good practice


195.  There are many examples of good practice available at local, national and EU levels. We acknowledge the efforts that the European Commission has made in facilitating the sharing of these examples through publications and through the organisation of meetings and conferences for relevant stakeholders to compare experiences (paragraph 144).

196.  Implementing good practice successfully is a challenge because of the different social and economic factors at play in different regions. We believe there is scope for the European Commission and Member States to use EU funds to conduct more detailed analysis about how good practice can be used to improve the performance of measures that seek to address youth unemployment (paragraph 145).


197.  We welcome the increased cooperation between employers and trade unions at UK and EU level to reduce youth unemployment. We recommend that the UK Government learn from the good practice in other Member States, where social partners (trade unions and employers' organisations) work more closely with the government and with each other (paragraph 150).

Chapter 8: Voices of young people


198.  We welcome the efforts made by the European Commission to consult young people and their representatives in the development of EU policies to reduce youth unemployment. We recommend that the European Commission continues this work into the future (paragraph 155).


199.  We recommend that the UK Government requires Local Enterprise Partnerships to consult with and involve youth groups in developing policies that affect young people, such as measures to address youth unemployment (paragraph 160).


200.  We are convinced 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 and made a difference. We therefore encourage the European Commission and UK Government to enhance their efforts in this respect and to evaluate and publicise specific examples of where the involvement of young people has had an influence (paragraph 163).

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