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Tackling youth unemployment: lessons from Europe Current

employment , Europe , young people , training and skills



While policymakers debate the implications of levels of growth and debt across Europe, the unsung difference between how European countries have fared since the downturn is unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment. Although the proportion of unemployed young people is most alarming in the Mediterranean states, record levels of youth unemployment in the UK contrast sharply with the experiences of other northern European countries such as Germany, where youth unemployment has actually fallen since the economic downturn.

These differences are partly, but not only, a reflection of different levels of economic resilience and overall employment rates. They also reflect systemic differences in how ‘youth friendly’ the labour market is in different countries, and in the institutional support available for young people’s transitions into work. In the UK the headline-grabbing increases since the recession mask deeper, structural problems that have seen young people’s transitions from school to work become longer and riskier since the 1980s. While many European countries have experienced similar seismic shifts in the nature of the economy, the impact on young people’s employment prospects has varied considerably in times of both boom and bust.

In the first stage of this project, an event and briefing paper explored the reasons for variations in youth unemployment across Europe, drawing on a learning trip to Brussels, where a small delegation from IPPR, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and the Trades Union Congress met key European stakeholders, politicians and country experts to explore the different debates, policy approaches and ideas for tackling youth unemployment across the continent. The paper argues that countries with strong ‘transition systems’ are associated with lower levels of youth unemployment and disengagement. Key features of these systems include a range of high-quality pathways into skilled jobs, such as apprenticeships, and early exposure to the workplace through high-quality and regular work placements. This requires reforms to strengthen the quality frameworks for apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications and incentives for employers to provide more high quality work experience and training placements.

The second stage of the research includes large scale quantitative analysis to explore the factors behind different rates of youth unemployment across Europe and five in-depth country case studies that seek to generate understanding of how education, labour market and employment policies interact to help or hinder young people’s entry to the labour market, and the role of different stakeholders – including schools, colleges, employer and employee representatives and welfare-to-work providers – in providing young people with the skills, knowledge and opportunities required to get on in the world of work.

The project is kindly funded by the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO), the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Association of Colleges and Pearson UK.