QOTM: Employment Prospects for Young People

By Anna Wilson – Communications Officer for YEM UK

Without delving into the depressing depths that are the employment statistics for European youth, it is safe to say that the scene is a pretty tragic one. Although varying vastly from state to state, the young people of Europe are being disproportionately affected by the consequences of the economic crisis, vicious austerity measures and the failure of their governments to supply them with adequate opportunities.

The lack of market confidence that accompanied the various economic wobbles that Europe (and indeed the world) has experience in recent years has had a disastrous impact on young people. Employers are now less inclined to take risks by employing those with little experience in the field when there are others with 10,20,30 years alreay under their belts. And the prospect of creating new jobs is totally out of the question.

Here, then, we have a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. To get a job, you need experience, but to get experience, you need a job.

But what is being done? And more importantly, what more can be done?

Such rampant youth unemployment is not merely an economic problem. Yes, an absence of economic independence puts strain upon parents and/or welfare systems, but it is also exceedingly psychologically damaging. The feeling of aimlessness or even worthlessness that can be a product of unemployment can have a dire impact on mental health over time, and this is only exacerbated by the crippling university debts that hang over the heads of many. The link between depression and unemployment is no coincidence, ladies and gentlemen.

Youth unemployment also symbolised a failure of democracy. The statistics show that while many are suffering, it is predominantlyyoung people. Youths are clearly being victimised and hence underrepresented by the social and political policies of their governments and the EU, so democracy – the pillar that supports the great union – is beginning to crumble. If democracy does not work for all, it does not work at all.

EU-wide schemes such as Erasmus help to a certain extent because they add to the CV, teach vital skills and increase mobility (the ability to speak another language expands the job market available to you). Whilst being no substitute for industry experience, it certainly fills out some of the gaps in people’s resumes that time has not yet had the chance to provide for. 

Individual member states also have their own policies, like the UK’s decision to raise the school leaving age to 18 and encourage apprenticeships as an alternative for those who would not have otherwise continued their education. Again, these are attempts at rectifying the problem, but are in no way complete solutions.

So what remains to be done? Like most systems, the employment market is highly elitist, so the policies in place will not work for all young people. Internships and work experience placements, for instance, are more often than not unpaid. Thus, only those who can afford it can afford to get the experience to get a job. Here we have another paradox: you have to have money to make money.

One solution is to ensure that all work experience placements are paid sufficiently to ensure equal access to them for people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. EU regulation could ensure that this is the case, as workers’ rights is an area in which it has proved itself to be strong.
The restoration of market confidence could also boost employment levels. Loosening the grip of harsh austerity measures and encouraging further trade and interdependence within the EU could go some way to achieving this. With the Greek financial crisis casting a grim shadow over employers’ outlooks, this will come about as the result of playing the long game, but a slow recovery is better than none at all.

The question of what to do to improve employment prospects for young people is a difficult one, but two things are certain: 1) It is a damaging and dangerous phenomenon that needs to be addressed for the sake of all, and 2) we’re in for the long-haul. There’s no magic cure that will work overnight. It will only be through thorough political, economic and social change that the youth of Europe get the opportunities that they truly deserve.

The best time to start improving the situation was ten years ago. The second best time is now.

By Anna Wilson (Communications Officer of YEM UK)