For the last twenty years the European Union (EU) has used just one recipe in its efforts to reduce the phenomenon of youth unemployment. Its aim is to improve the ‘employability’ of 15-24 year-olds, 22% of whom are without work (one out of two in both Greece and Spain). A report from the Brussels-based Centre de recherche et d’information socio-politiques (CRISP) points up the contradictions between EU economic policy, focussed on controlling States’ budgetary imbalances, and the programmes to reduce unemployment that call for high levels of investment.
To reduce youth unemployment, which had worsened considerably in the wake of the 2008 crisis, the EU Council adopted, in April 2013, a recommendation according to which all member states are encouraged to introduce a ‘youth guarantee’. The formula thus advocated consists in ensuring that young people ‘receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education’.
This recommendation remains faithful to the tradition of the policy to reduce youth unemployment conducted by the EU over the last twenty years. The key element of this policy is ‘activation’ of the unemployed. According to the EU, unemployment is attributable principally to the mismatch between the skill levels of the unemployed young people and the needs of the labour market. As such, the need is to adapt young people in a manner that suits them for the labour market.
‘The Youth Guarantee, with the argument that the difficulties encountered by young people in their search for work are attributable to their lack of employability, that it is they who are ill-adapted to the labour market, that they are thus at fault and, by extension, guilty of their failure to find work, tends to place the responsibility for unemployment upon the young people themselves’, writes Sitto Can, author of the report. She supports her analysis with reference to the OECD expressed recognition that, during a period of recession, the problem is lack of work rather than a mismatch between those seeking work and the jobs available.
While it may indeed be the case that there exist two million vacant jobs in the EU that could be taken up if the young jobless candidates had a higher skills level, the author points out that the number of young Europeans currently without work has soared to at least five million. Her conclusion, accordingly, is that it will not be possible to bring down unemployment in the absence of simultaneous action to boost economic recovery and thereby increase the numbers of jobs available.
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Margherita Bussi and Leonard Geyer
Daniele Di Nunzio (Istituto di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali - IRES)