With skills on the agenda for 2023, we must continue focusing on the needs of our youth and the challenges of a fast-changing world

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At its December plenary, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) discussed the issues affecting young people in the labour market in the context of the 2022 European Year of Youth and the 2023 European Year of Skills. The Committee advocates for a long-term strategy for youth engagement and recommends that the concept of European Years go beyond mere promotional activities and contribute towards clear plans. The needs of refugees and our Ukrainian neighbours must also be a priority of the European Year of Skills.

In the post-COVID-19 world, there is a new emphasis on the changing needs of the labour market – new forms of work, new skills, the challenge of returning to the workplace, and the potential hybrid environment – with all the opportunities and risks they entail. With the rapid transitions we are facing, learning has become a lifelong process. Young people must be able to rely on education and training as well as inclusive guidance and counselling in order to thrive and have fulfilling careers.

EESC president Christa Schweng opened the debate stating that: Youth-specific, inclusive, and forward-looking policy measures are crucial to ensure that young people are not left behind. This was one of the reasons why 2022 was named the European Year of Youth. For 2023, as part of the European Year of Skills, the EESC will continue focusing on the needs of our youth and the challenges that they are facing in our fast-changing world.

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, explained that: The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic were not distributed evenly in society. The big issue for young people is precariousness; this is a form of discrimination and a big barrier for both their professional and their private lives. Next year will be the European Year of Skills, but youth will remain a key focus. My vision for Europe requires better prospects for young people, which includes taking care of their security and responding to their aspirations for meaningful jobs and a strong and inclusive social life.

Civil society organisations, and in particular youth organisations, must play a leading role in identifying innovative participatory instruments in order to mainstream youth perspectives in policy-making at all levels. In a resolution adopted at this December plenary, the EESC also calls on the EU institutions and national governments to strengthen youth engagement in decision-making processes and encourages the implement of the EU youth test.

During the debate, the EESC president of the coordination group for the European Year of Youth, Katrĩna Leitāne, emphasised the importance of having a concrete and long-lasting legacy for the European Year of Youth and ensuring that young people have a say in decisions affecting their future.

The Committee is also looking ahead to 2023 and has issued an opinion on the European Year of Skills (EYS). The opinion expressed concerns over the overcrowded agenda and priorities of the EYS, which suggest that the Year might be more about high-profile political announcements than long-term systematic development.  

The EESC rapporteur for the opinion, Tatjana Babrauskienė, stresses that all activities carried out within the framework of the EYS 2023 must be aimed at the best possible progress in all fields of education and training, with social and transversal skills among the 'right skills' to be promoted. The Committee is looking forward to engaging positively with the EYS 2023 to produce concrete outcomes and is ready to contribute as a facilitator for networking and debates.

The EESC opinion also encourages the Commission to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers can validate their skills and competences in the EU and be offered up- and re-skilling opportunities in order to be integrated into the labour market. Special consideration must be given to our Ukrainian friends. We want to foster a strong young Ukrainian generation and not create a new "lost generation" in Ukraine, as the Russian regimes hopes to do, concluded Commissioner Schmit.