Youth Employment must be made the EU's number one objective

23 Apr 2012
Leila Kurki

As a result of the financial crisis, the outlook for Europe's labour markets is still bleak, jeopardising employment objectives agreed by the Member States. Youth unemployment was already at a worrying level before the crisis and it has now become one of the most pressing problems in Europe's labour markets. Over five million young people (over 20%) are neither in employment nor education. Research shows that this costs over EUR 100 billion annually.

"Swift and targeted employment and training investment should be undertaken to improve the situation in the Member States," said EESC section president, Ms Leila Kurki, at a meeting of Employment Ministers organised by the Danish EU Presidency on Tuesday 24 April.

"The EU wide employment target (75% employment) has failed to impact on youth unemployment. Setting a specific objective especially for those young people who are neither in work or training is important," said Ms Kurki. The average share of this "NEET" group (Not in Employment, Education or Training) has grown to almost 13% of young people in the EU.

Early school leavers (ESL) are another section of the population who, because of low educational achievement, are at high risk of unemployment. In 2010, the European average was 14.1 %, i.e. still clearly above the European target, which is under 10%.

The Commission has proposed that Member States provide a "youth guarantee" which would ensure that all young people have either a job, a place in further training or are participating in activation measures within four months of leaving compulsory education.

Young people living in countries worst hit by the economic crisis such as Spain and Greece (youth unemployment over 40%) face the most severe problems.

"Countries with especially fraught labour market conditions and which must simultaneously meet restrictive budget targets, should be given easier access to EU funding set aside for measures like the "Youth Guarantee" such as simplification of fund use, up to and including temporary suspension of national co-financing arrangements," said Ms Kurki.

Ms Kurki cautioned against solutions offering young people short term jobs with no future prospects.  Rather than precarious employment and insecure contracts, it was necessary to ensure that temporary or low paid work with poor social security cover did not become the norm and remained an exception appropriate to certain life situations.