Solving youth unemployment: what Europe can teach Britain
Joint work by social partners to address issues of common concern is not an everyday occurrence in the UK. At a European level however, it is normal for trade union and employers’ organisations to work together on framework agreements of common interest.
One example of an issue that could be tackled through a partnership approach is youth unemployment. The need for urgent action to tackle this scourge has never been more important. A failure to act will not only mean tens of thousands of young unemployed people suffering disadvantage throughout their lives, but society as a whole suffering, as the implications of a “lost generation” will stifle economic growth and have the potential to be socially and politically explosive.
In June this year, the ETUC and Business Europe were the lead players in drawing up a Framework of Action on Youth Employment. On a slightly narrower canvas, I worked earlier this month with a Norwegian employer to produce a report and resolution for the European Economic Area (EEA) Consultative Committee on the Role of Social Partners in the Transition of Young People from Education to the Labour Market.
The EEA brings together trade union and employer representatives from the European Economic and Social Committee and EFTA – Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Working on joint projects with employers inevitably involves compromises, but it’s also encouraging to identify so much common ground, including the need:
- to stimulate sustainable growth to create more and better jobs;
- for solidarity based solutions involving all social partners to give young people real prospects;
- for member states to implement the EU’s Youth Guarantee;
- for the relevant authorities to ensure quality and inclusiveness in education and training;
- to reduce early school leaving;
- to increase the supply of quality apprenticeships and traineeships;
- to recognise the need to support young people finding long term job prospects and guaranteeing adequate protection in terms of contracts;
- to provide effective and well resourced career guidance; and
- to integrate the rights of young people as fully fledged citizens into consultation and social dialogue giving them secure prospects during their transition to working life.
One of the presentations at the EEA Committee was on the Finnish Youth Guarantee, which means that every young person under 25 and recent graduates under 30 will be offered a job, a work trial or a study place within three months after registering as unemployed. It also guarantees, for every person completing basic education, a place in upper secondary school, vocational training, a workshop, rehabilitation or a place in some other form of study. Those countries with the lowest levels of youth unemployment and NEETS (young people neither in education or training) – Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland – have comprehensive and impressive apprenticeship schemes and training guarantees for young people.
The OECD Action Plan for Youth, published in May, also identified a range of actions for Governments, and recognised the seriousness of the crisis in youth unemployment. The need to invest in young people was also recognised in the report Now for the Long Term produced last week by the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations. One of its key recommendations is the need for countries to investment in younger generations through conditional cash transfers and job guarantees. The report also recognised that economic growth, of itself, won’t ensure that young people share in its benefits without a fairer distribution of income.
In the UK however, the Government has refused to implement the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee, has implemented a Youth Contract which is poorly funded and had little impact on youth unemployment, has abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance, massively increased university tuition fees, reduced benefits to under 25 year olds, and cut funding for careers advice and youth services.
The UK message to young people could be summarised as “learn, earn – or burn.”
Having once set the lead internationally on apprenticeships, training and education, the UK is now significantly slipping behind other countries in these areas.