Youth Unemployment: How the EU tries to cure the symptoms

No education. No employment. No training. This is the situation that 7,5 million young people in the European Union are facing. They are the so-called NEETs. Countless walks to the job center, countless applications and countless rejections are on their daily agenda. They are the 21,4% of unemployed under 25 year-olds in the EU28.

We all know about this situation. And the European Union itself also knows that its children are unemployed. It has been a decade-long process which became much worse after the finance crisis in 2008. Although the low point of the crisis is over, the amount of unemployed young Europeans has reached a maximum: more than 50% of young people in Spain and Greece are unemployed, many other EU states are also close to this number, according to statistics from november 2014. Countries that were hit the hardest by the crisis also have the biggest amounts of NEETs. Germany, in contrast, only has a rate of 7,4% unemployed young people.

NEET: Not in Education, Employment, or Training

We all know the facts. But the reasons for the dramatic numbers are not that clear. „Wrong structures“ is what can be read everywhere – but not what that means. One problem is that the young people aren’t given enough jobs. More older people remain in their jobs and women with children also often maintain their jobs nowadays. They have more working experience than all the unemployed under 25s and are therefore preferred by the employers.

Another problem is that employers claim that they don’t find young people who are educated sufficiently. Also part-time jobs or short-term contracts are a real problem and don’t motivate young people to invest in a university or a vocational program which costs a lot in some EU countries. This is a vicious circle and results in the big amounts of unemployed young EU citizens.

These are the trouble areas. Now the European Commission has set a new plan to improve them and to reduce youth unemployment. Part of it is the Youth Guarantee which already exists since 2013. Within four months after the end of education or after having lost their job, young Europeans should be given a new job or traineeship – which hasn’t really shown results in the last year. In addition, quality frameworks for traineeships and an alliance for apprenticeships shall ensure that there are EU standard agreements regarding learning content and working conditions.

Money can’t fix the problem

These programs cost the EU countries billions of Euros which are taken from the European Social Fund – and also from national budgets, which might be a hard thing to do for countries that are already in debt. But the biggest problem is that the EU only wants to cure the symptoms but isn’t able to fix the main problems in the countries themselves.

What definitely must be improved is that companies employ more young people. Firstly, education providers have to work closer with employers and ask for their needs so that the young people can be educated properly. Also informing students about possibilities what they can do after education must be done more effectively, like for example in Germany. Internships as a part of school education, early visits at job centers and lots of job fairs are part of that.

Minimum wage is necessary

Furthermore it should be duty of all companies with more than ten employees in the problem countries to employ or train someone under 25 and special rewarding for those that employ and educate many young people. To motivate the NEETs, a minimum wage should be set in the whole EU, also for internships.  And the simple solution to the short contract problem is to forbid employers to give people under the age of 30 fixed-term contracts.

These are only few things the EU could do, but they would change a lot. As long as the countries with the high number of NEETs don’t provide this, lots of young people are leaving their country to find a job somewhere else, for example Germany. Immigrating to find work is a positive development in general and german companies already profit from that. By organizing special education programs, young EU citizens are getting a good education in countries which are economically stronger at the moment. Also language courses are part of it, which will help them to become internationally successful in the future. Furthermore, the EU-program „EURES“ offers millions of jobs EU-wide to open up new possibilities for young people who are willing to move. This is a step that the EU has to make more public because being able to work wherever they want is a privilege of EU citizens that is worldwide very rare.

What most of the young working immigrants hope for is that they can return to their home country in a few years when the economy has improved. Then they can use their newly learned skills in their own countries and then the immigration really brings profit. Maybe young Germans will even go to Spain or Greece to work there and there would be a real European network. If the EU can improve the working possibilities for young people, and if these grab their chance, a really strong European Union will grow. This would also be desirable for being a good trading partner and the advantages that the recently discussed free trading agreement TTIP provides will then increase a lot.

By Pauline Schnor

Picture credits: European Commission, cover shot of Eurostat Statistical Book „Youth in Europe

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