Youth employment is at the heart of EU employment policy. The EU supports Member States in their drive to reduce youth unemployment and increase the youth employment rate in line with the wider EU target under the Europe 2020 strategy of a 75% employment rate for the working age population (20–64 years).
The issue of youth employment is an area of concern for the EU due to current high youth unemployment rates. In 2016, more than 6.3 million young people (aged 15–24 years) were ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEETs) in the EU, of whom more than 4.2 million were unemployed.
Although the youth unemployment rate in the EU has decreased – from more than 23% in 2013 to less than 19% in 2016 – it is still very high, attaining more than 40% in several countries. Long-term youth unemployment is still at a record high. In 2016, the overall employment rate for young people (34%) was still 4 percentage points lower than in 2008.
According to a European Commission factsheet on youth employment, the transition of young people from school to work is characterised by specific challenges, resulting in relatively low employment rates, high unemployment and high rates of young people who are NEETs. The factsheet states that youth unemployment is more sensitive to the business cycle than adult unemployment. Young people, being new entrants with limited work experience, are less likely to find a job, are often employed through temporary and part-time contracts or are pursuing a traineeship, and are more easily dismissed if the economic cycle is weak.
Levels of youth employment are largely influenced by the macroeconomic situation, but they may also have important root causes in the structural characteristics of school-to-work transitions such as:
- unsatisfactory outcomes of education and training systems;
- segmentation of labour markets affecting young people in particular;
- the low capacity of public employment services to provide tailored services to young people and the limited efforts of these services to engage with young people in the most vulnerable situations.
The EU’s flagship employment policy, Youth on the Move, which ran until the end of December 2014, aimed to improve the labour market prospects of young workers. Current EU initiatives include the Youth Guarantee, which is a commitment by all Member States to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
In December 2016, the European Commission proposed in a Communication, Investing in Europe’s Youth, a renewed effort to support young people with better opportunities to access employment, more opportunities through education and training, and enhanced opportunities for solidarity, learning mobility and participation.
Further initiatives include:
- the European Solidarity Corps, which aims to create opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in solidarity related-projects that benefit communities and people around Europe;
- the Quality Framework for Traineeships, which proposes guidelines for traineeships outside formal education to provide high quality learning content and fair working conditions;
- the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, which aims to reduce the disparity between skills supply and demand on the labour market.