Are we really losing a generation?

IMG_6093Raising youth unemployment rates have set off alarms across a number of EU member states. The average unemployment rate of youth in the EU has reached 23% and in some member states close to 60% of all young people looking for a job can’t find one. Newspapers across the continent are speaking of the lost generation.

What measures have been taken at national and EU level to tackle the roots and alleviate the symptoms of that major challenge? To discuss concrete policies and propose innovative solutions to this issue, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in collaboration with the ALDE Party invited European stakeholders and policy makers to an informal debate.

Sir Graham Watson, MEP, president of ALDE Party, named two major areas where efforts should be concentrated in order to improve employment: reform the labour market and improve compatibility between the education system and the labour market. As a model for IMG_9238inspiration on how to improve compatibility between education and work, Dr Sabine Hepperle, Director of the EU Office of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, presented the German dual education system. She pointed out that vocational training in many countries is organized by the central government without close consultation and involvement of private actors such as businesses and chambers of commerce. In her opinion, to improve vocational training, the system should rather be “business-based” than “school-based”, meaning that it should focus on the practical training young people get as part of their apprenticeship within an enterprise. Slaven Klobucar, secretary general of LYMEC, the European Liberal Youth, presented their initiative to develop solutions to fight youth unemployment: the campaign. This campaign aims at influencing European policies geared towards facilitating entrepreneurship. ALDE Party and LYMEC aim at promoting a legal framework and policies that to support entrepreneurs and self-starters in developing new businesses and social enterprises, which are vital to our global competiveness.

At European level, the Commission has launched the Youth Guarantee, under which Member States should put in place measures to ensure that young people up to age 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed. Implementing the Youth Guarantee requires Member States to establish strong partnerships with schools and universities, training providers, employment services, social partners, career guidance providers, to ensure early intervention and action. The speakers welcomed the initiative of the European Commission, however they questioned its ability to tackle the underlying causes of youth unemployment, beyond simply addressing the symptoms.

IMG_6082Youth unemployment is not a problem caused by the financial and economic crisis; it has always been an issue. Although, the crisis has exacerbated the problems caused by rigid labour markets and inadequate education systems, the root causes have persisted for many years. Does this mean that we have been losing our younger generations since ever? Yes, in some way we have, because we have waited until the situation has become catastrophic before acting on the underlying causes. On the other hand, some hope arises when we look at the member states that have been able to carry out reforms and set up flexible policies. Indeed, Austria and Germany currently have a youth unemployment rate of 7,6%. Luckily, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Julie Cantalou