Chronicles of a jobless generation

The global youth unemployment rate for 2012 shows an entire generation mummified by a lack of prospects. Phenomenon defined as “youth paradox”; a blooming generation - more educated than ever – but with 75 million unemployed young people scouring the labour market. Employment is not only the main source of financial independence but it is also a crucial constituent of personal identity and social participation. What happens then when 12.7% of the future adult labour force is unemployed?

Soldiers put down their weapons and they start rebuilding in a period marked by unprecedented overall growth rates for the European economy; we are talking about post-World War II, the Marshall Plan and the economic boom. A stairway to economic heaven, a golden age. The labour market was a revolving door, a turnover of workers that consented to find a new job easily without the fear of remaining unemployed for an undetermined period of time. The social scenario drastically changed in the 90s after the economic crisis due to those overheated stock exchanges.

In contemporary society the global youth unemployment rate for 2012 remains stuck at crisis peak levels and is not expected to decrease until at least 2016, says the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012’ report. The youth unemployment crisis continues in both developed and developing economies with the firsts -including the European Union- hit more violently by the economic recession and its aftermath. According to the report the change in both the unemployment rate and the number of unemployment youth from 2008 to 2011 were largest in this region.

Youth unemployment challenges

Demography and social trends do not play in favour of a decrease in terms of youth unemployment rates. The increase in life expectancy thus a lengthening of the professional life, does not match an equal increase in wealth; jobs are always less than those seeking employment. In Europe the labor market seems rigid, an impenetrable body, where there is little space for the newcomers. The result is that young people face difficulties in building a career structure and a path towards self-subsistence.

“The youth unemployment crisis can be beaten but only if job creation for young people becomes a key priority in policy-making and private sector investment picks up significantly”, said Executive Director of the ILO Employment Sector, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs.

“This includes measures such as offering tax and other incentives to enterprises who hire young people, efforts to reduce the skills mismatch among youth, entrepreneurship programmes that integrate skills training, mentoring and access to capital, and the improvement of social protection for the young”, he added.

ILO’s report shows that in developed economies young people are increasingly employed in ‘ephemeral’ professional activities; low-productivity, temporary, part-time jobs. It can seem like something of a marginal problem as often the young in developed economies can count on their parents, they can stay longer in education, they do not have a family to support, but isn’t the acquisition of independence a fundamental aspect of one’s life? Makes us think about the contradictions and inequalities inherent in our world with phenomenon such as child labour where children are actually denied education and working becomes a matter of survival.

The global youth unemployment rate would even be higher if we count those who - often afflicted by the absence of opportunities - give up or postpone looking for a job. The frustration of the youth lays in the apparent absence of choice and opportunities. Being the right to work a crucial condition of one’s social identity, the rising global unemployment rate has repercussions not only in economical terms but also with regard to psychological and relational dynamics.

A worrying data in the report shows that young people in the EU who are neither in employment nor in education training (NEET), have risen by 1.9% from its pre-crisis level of 10.9%, and exceeded 15% in Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Romania and Spain. Many young people find themselves in a quicksand; aware of the knowledge - but maybe not fully aware of their competences- it is difficult to know from where to start and where to look for work.

Access to the labour market

“Current high youth unemployment is partly a reflection of overall employment and growth problems. The immediate concern is to ensure young people have the opportunity to do something worthwhile until the economy picks up. An example is the (now defunct) Future Jobs Fund in the UK and the recent call by the European Parliament for a ‘Youth Guarantee’, both of which would offer a high quality work or training placement to young people unemployed for a certain amount of time,” Tess Lanning research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), told MO*.

According to Lennang, in some countries structural youth unemployment problems predate the current economic downturn, “it’s often said that this is linked to highly regulated labour markets, for example in France and Spain, but the UK also has a longer term youth unemployment problem and it’s one of the most ‘flexible’ labour markets in the OECD. This is partly related to the types of jobs available to young people – in particular young people are more likely to work in temporary and casual jobs, which offer few opportunities for training or progression – but also to the attitudes of employers, who have become less willing to hire young people”.

“The key is to link a more active industrial strategy to boost growth and employment, with a particular focus on increasing employment in skilled sectors, with efforts to ensure young people get the jobs. The European countries with the lowest rates of youth unemployment (Germany, Austria and the Netherlands) all have strong vocational education and training programmes, such as apprenticeships, which provide strong pathways into skilled work. Other countries should try to boost the availability of high quality specialist vocational education and training programmes with a particular focus on meeting the skills shortages generated by new investment,” Lanning added.

The constructive alliance between vocational education and training programmes has been proposed by businesses associations as well. BUSINESSEUROPE in a recent report titled ‘Creating Opportunities for Youth: how to improve the quality and image of apprenticeships’, highlights a dual learning system; the principle is to alternate between learning in school and learning and working in a company. “Dual systems are an important way to give young people easier access to the labour market and interesting career opportunities over a working life. At the same time, it contributes to lower youth unemployment, higher employment participation rates and economic growth in Europe,” BUSINESSEUROPE affirmed.

On 23-25 May, ILO organizes the Youth Employment Forum to address the challenges young people face in the labour market gathering young men and women who will share their experiences and views on the current employment situation, discussing a possible way out of this limbo. Since the birth of the human race, those with more experience take care of the newborn, but it is important to make a virtue of necessity and now the priority is to restore mutual trust while taking into consideration the needs of every social group. One thing is for sure: the future cannot be discussed in absence of those who will contribute to its creation.

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