Whilst all over Europe, short-time working models are preventing an explosion of unemployment, the number of young people not in work is increasing at dramatic speed. To counteract this development, the EU Commission presented on 1 July 2020 a Youth Employment Support package, which focusses on vocational education and training, as well as a revised Skills Agenda.
In 2013, when the Youth Guarantee was the most comprehensive and ambitious response to the problem of youth unemployment, the latter stood on average at 23.7 % in the EU. In particular in Greece, Spain and Italy – countries, which suffered hugely under the EU’s austerity policy after the financial crisis – the number of young people out of work was a cause for concern. In some countries, the youth unemployment rate would a times reach 50 % and more. Even then, warnings of a “Generation of lost chances” occured. Whilst short-time working models during the Coronavirus crisis have helped preventing an explosion of unemployment across Europe, youth unemployment is increasing at dramatic speed. Not only do younger people more frequently work in sectors, which suffered particularly strongly under the pandemic – such as the catering or the retail sector – many of them are also in precarious employment. Apart from that, job cuts mainly affect those employees, who have not been with a business for long – they are the first to lose their job. The forecast for 2020 is an average increase of youth unemployment in the EU of up to 30.1 %. According to this forecast, about half of the people affected are probably NEETs (“Not in Education, Employment or Training”).
The EU Youth Guarantee…
Based on the initiative “A Bridge to Jobs for the Next Generation”, the Commission wants to increase the number of young people in work, not least by revising and strengthening the Youth Guarantee. The Youth Guarantee, introduced in 2013, provides for all people under 25 to be offered a training vacancy or job within four months. However, given the fact that the EU’s competencies regarding social and employment policy are limited and this was “only” a Recommendation of the Council, both shaping and implementing the Guarantee had been the responsibility of the Member States. Thus, individual countries interpreted it differently. Even if the effectiveness of the key components of the Youth Guarantee could be empirically proven, it fell short of expectations overall. Experts of the Chamber of Labour for example criticised “insufficient funding, a lack of accurate social targeting as well as the highly different quality of offers”.
…shall be strengthened.
During the presentation of the Communication, Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, referred to the experiences from the economic and financial crisis and warned against a “Generation Lockdown”. As early as at the end of May 2020 , Schmit had pointed out that combatting youth unemployment would be a key element of the recovery. He only partly accepted criticism of the Youth Guarantee. The measure had needed time to get into gear and Member States had implemented it differently with varied success; however, it was a successful model in principle. One would take any criticism seriously and had taken it into account when working on the current Communication.
What is to be changed? The age limit shall be increased and in future the measure shall include all people between 15 and 29. Inclusivity shall be improved to avoid discrimination and to better integrate particularly vulnerable groups. The measure shall be in accordance with businesses’ needs and especially take the requirements of the green and digital transformation into consideration. Apart from that, the Commission recommends that the Member States invest of at least 22 billion Euro to meet this challenge. However, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) questions whether young Europeans do indeed not have the right qualifications – or whether the problem is rather the lack of high-quality jobs.
“Qualifications undergo a revolution”
The Commission does not only identify a need for action with regard to young people. The Digital Economy and Society Index , which was published mid-June identified that large parts of the EU population still not have any basic digital skills. Hence, the share of adults with at least basic digital skills shall be increased by 25 % by 2025. This is only one of the targets, which the Commission included in its revised European Skills Agenda. The Agenda, which was introduced together with the Youth Employment Support package on 1 July 2020, provides for twelve measures, which are to contribute to sustainable competition and to more social justice and resilience. For example, these shall promote skills to support the green and digital transformation and increase the number of graduates – in particular female graduates – in the so-called MINT subjects (Mathematics, IT, Natural Science and Technology). In addition, the Commission announced an action plan for digital training for the third quarter; a relevant public consultation will be carried out until 4 September.
The package also contained a Commission Proposal on a Council Recommendation regarding vocational education and training. The national systems in this area shall be modernized and made more attractive and flexible, guided by the challenges of a digital and green economy. From the point of view of the European Chambers of Labour, vocational education and training is essential to meet the changes at the workplace and the wide range of opportunities and risks associated with them.