Is the EU Youth Guarantee a lot of hot air?

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EU programs to boost youth employment are largely failing because cash-strapped European governments can’t afford to fund them, and because struggling economies aren’t creating enough jobs for young people, say officials and NGOs who are calling for stronger action.

The EU’s Youth Guarantee – which is supposed to help job-seekers under the age of 25 find work or training within four months – hadn’t created any new jobs as of March this year, according to an EU audit.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has approved front-loading €1 billion (US$ 1.1 billion) this year for the EU’s two-year-old Youth Employment Initiative, a concept that couldn’t get off the ground because of a lack of national contributions.

But even this, policymakers caution, is no quick fix. EU-wide, the youth jobless rate still hovers around 20 per cent – 50 per cent or more in countries like Spain and Greece.

While it is “positive the EU is taking measures,” the jobs offered “are not always connected to the job field the person is in,” says Alice Kooij Martinez, Employment and International Youth Policy Officer for the Belgian-Flemish youth organisation Ambrassade. “It’s a handy way for employers to get cheap labour,” she tells Equal Times. “And it doesn’t help that governments are cutting personnel in their employment offices.”

So is the EU’s Youth Guarantee a lot of hot air? “A bit, yes,” says Martinez. ”For some youth it can be pretty frustrating when they want to make the transition to an independent life.”

The €1 billion expedited by the European Parliament for the Youth Employment Initiative aims to help struggling governments by paying their share of the matching funds.

But “it’s no additional billion, rather the money will be made available sooner to the member states,” notes MEP Jutta Steinruck, coordinator on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

“It is a right step, but it shouldn’t hide the fact that according to the calculations of the International Labour Office (ILO), €21 billion is needed to fight youth unemployment,” she tells Equal Times.

The initiative “can only be a building block. Only with a large investment program can Europe fight youth unemployment in the long run,” Steinruck adds.


Youth work

As countries struggle with austerity, so-called youth work – low-wage or volunteer work for NGOs – is seen as another way to build skills through non-formal education and on-the-job training.

Earlier this year, the European Youth Work Convention issued a declaration and launched a campaign to persuade the EU to recognise youth work EU-wide as a job qualification, as some EU countries already have.

“We know that, through youth work, young people learn skills that help to prepare them for the world. Skills such as building relationships, leadership, confidence and working in a team, which are all highly valued by potential employers as key skills that help young people enter the labour market,” writes Johanna Nyman, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, in a commentary in Equal Times.

But she notes, youth work is “not a sticking plaster” for unemployment and social exclusion and even radicalisation. “Leaders and policy makers need to urgently look beyond young people to find the solution. They must look to the wider macroeconomic situation and the creation of jobs.”

For youth groups, which Ambrassade supports, the urgency is to find those youth who’ve fallen through the cracks in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

“They reach out to all youth who are not in jobs, not in training, who’ve completely fallen off the radar,” says Martinez. “It’s complicated to reach them. Their strategy is: finding, minding, binding.”