Recession and youth employment, building the future

Amongst the priorities set out for the time span ranging from 2019 to 2024, the Union included a specific plan to drive the European economy towards a more individual and business focus. This plan, especially in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, is now worthy of special attention, as it will serve as the blueprint, or at least as a guide for the distribution and management of the funds of the Next Generation EU.

One of the most relevant economic issues tackled, fundamental for each economy, is the question of youth unemployment, notably at an all-time low (15.4%) at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. To prevent and control a possible rise of this figure, the EU took a series of preventive measures to aid Member States crafting a solid line to maintain a stable flow of youth occupation.

The first step to maintain the pre-pandemic landscape is then a boosting of the successful Youth guarantee (2013) so to render its reach overall more extensive by amplifying the number of people that will benefit from it and boost its connective ability to firms. All States in the Union have committed to the plan provided in a Commission Recommendation dating back to July 2020 agreeing to invest at least 22 billion Euros of the funding they will receive through Next Generation EU in youth employment.

The second, fundamental pillar of the plan to support youth employment, is an attempt to boost apprenticeships so to accrue benefits to both firms and unskilled young people. This goal will potentially be achieved by renewing the European Alliances of Apprenticeships as part of the wider Youth Guarantee project.

Thirdly, the Commission’s plan wishes to give an additional boost to Vocational education and Training (VET) by modernizing it, making it overall more attractive to people entering or already in the workforce and updating it to meet the new digital and green transition.

The Youth Guarantee, in particular, stands at the core of the Council’s strategy. Its main concrete aim is to ensure that people from the age of 15 to 29 have a reliable path to accede to the job market, with a special attention to already disadvantaged categories. The Union plan then aims to achieve, on the widest dimension possible, an individual approach to the problem by catering possible workplaces, apprenticeships and traineeships distinctly in each Member State.

The system then assumes a dual dimension: the Union provides the financial support and policy guidance for the initiative whilst single Member States are responsible for its implementation in their territories, by designing the portal and funding the national employment programmes they deem worthy.

The European Union, in fact, provided 135,5 billion Euros to the Youth Guarantee Program originating both from the European Social Fund Plus, the European Social Fund (as part of Next Generation EU) and the Youth Employment Initiative. In particular, the funds deriving from the ESF+ will be devoted in the mandatory percentage of the 12.5% to youth employment and training measures if the receiving Country has a high rate of youngsters not in employment education or training.

Policy guidance by the Union will be carried out by a special Committee of coordinators, whose members are selected with a one to one ratio from Member States. In particular, all members are responsible for the specific area of Labour or Social policies in their respective country, so to create a direct link between the Commission oversight (carried out through the Committee) and national governments. The progress of the Youth Guarantee will then furtherly be monitored by the Commission through the assessment of the European Semester, indicators developed by EMCO and yearly data collection.

Despite the thorough Union oversight, the main problem of the youth guarantee seems to be the fact that it is heavily policing by Member States and, therefore, often ineffective. Not only are some national portals promoting the initiative badly advertised but, in some cases, there seems to be a critical lack of a wide selection of institutions that would actually provide the variety of jobs and traineeships necessary to counter the problem of youth unemployment.

From the first assessment on the effectiveness of the Youth Guarantee Program after it was initially introduced in 2013, the main problem, besides uneven State implementation, seemed to be linked mainly to an insufficient amount of funding, issue that could now be considered resolved by the outpour of funding in the initiative contingent to the emergence of the Pandemic. Still, achieving an impactful program of this kind seems always to be virtually impossible due to the wide variety of factors that eventually come to impact the job market as a whole, in primis from the macroeconomic point of view.

The second main pillar of the Youth Guarantee will be formed by the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA), a multi stakeholder platform including both national governments, companies and business organisations, training providers, local authorities, research institutes and training providers.

The main aim of the platform is creating an intra-European network of partners so to provide accessible and valid apprenticeships that would eventually ease the transition from education and training to work, which will benefit both the youngster, by allowing them to accrue valuable abilities, and firms who will gain a bigger pool of qualified workers from which to hire from.

With the renewal of the Youth Guarantee the EAfA also updated a renewed list of objectives, aimed mainly at extending the reach of its membership in a more capillary way on the territory of the Union and augmenting engagement both from states, companies and applicants.

The third initiative contributing to the overall plan of the Youth Guarantee is the improvement of Vocational Education and Training (VET). This specific type of training consists of two steps, aimed at boosting performance and capacities in the work environment both before entering the job market, with specific programmes carried out in a school-based environment and after the beginning of working life in each workplace.

VET varies greatly in percentage from country to country, and especially since the Covid-19 pandemic the Commission has deemed necessary to request a Council Recommendation try and achieve an European standard in order to have a workforce, both young and old, uniformly equipped to counter recession and support a quick recovery of the economy.