Integrating young people into the labour market

The entry of young people into the labour market is becoming more complex and extended in time. Many young individuals are only partially integrated in the labour market through semi-formal, temporary or part-time work situations, while they would prefer to be fully integrated. A recent study has proposed the creation of more jobs, incentives to hire young people on permanent contracts and support for young entrepreneurs, among a series of recommendations.

In 2006, the General Directorate of Studies, Statistics and Planning (Direcção-Geral de Estudos, Estatística e Planeamento, DGEEP) published the results of a study aiming to assess the situation of Portuguese young people in the labour market. The research took into account the objectives set out in the European Employment Strategy and the national training and employment policies resulting therefrom.

This qualitative study was based on a sample of 32 young men and women already integrated in the labour market, among whom in-depth group interviews were conducted. The main criteria in selecting the interviewees were the diversity of qualification profiles and of job situations. A focus group interview was carried out with each of the following profiles: highly educated young people, with a degree, at least; young people with medium or average education, corresponding to occupational training or complete secondary education; and young people with low education – compulsory education, at most.

Integration process

According to the DGEEP study, the process of integration in the labour market tends to extend in time, not being simply a transition between being non-active and being active. The transition cannot be characterised either as a random movement between jobs, unemployment periods and training. Instead, the integration tends to be more complex and not dominated by clear situations of total integration or of non-participation. Most of the young individuals surveyed are partially integrated in the labour market through semi-formal, temporary or part-time work situations. The young people cited the difficulty of moving from a situation of precarious or informal work to a formal and long-term employment relationship.

The individuals interviewed clearly distinguished between an ideal of job mobility – characterised by working on projects and experiencing a sense of self-fulfilment – and the prevalent form of mobility associated with employers’ lack of responsibility that generates job insecurity and hinders future projects. A clear distinction between two types of job also emerges. On the one hand, a privileged group of employed people exists, who may be characterised as creative and highly qualified. For this category, job mobility and informal employment contracts are effectively converted into a progressive improvement of career prospects, as well as enabling them to rise in social and professional terms. On the other hand, for a general group of employed individuals, job mobility between temporary and precarious occupations does not reflect any progressive career development.

Labour relations

Young people entering the labour market now commonly experience precariousness of employment. The duration of temporary contract situations has been increasing and, in many cases, does not guarantee social security cover when unemployed. According to the DGEEP study, incentives to hire young individuals could be effective; however, in general so far, this strategy has not achieved the desired results. Therefore, in the area of labour relations, the recommendations include the following:

  • to continue promoting the creation of jobs, including financial incentives to hire young people on open-ended employment contracts;
  • to ensure better monitoring of the misuse of fixed-term employment contracts in relation to young people;
  • to implement mechanisms which guarantee the social protection of young workers in their irregular career paths between employment, unemployment and self-employment during the initial phase of labour market entry. As noted, this initial phase has extended in length in recent years.

Fostering entrepreneurship

The study also sought to compare the self-employment rate of young people in Portugal with that of other countries in the 15 EU Member States before 2004 (EU15). The proportion of self-employed young people in Portugal stood at 2.2% of total employment in 2002, which was much lower than the overall national self-employment figure of 24.3%, according to the Eurostat Labour Force Survey. Nevertheless, within the EU15, Portugal reported the highest proportion of self-employment among young people aged between 15 and 24 years, compared with an average figure of 1.2% in the EU15.

However, the number of employers among self-employed young people was low and situations of self-employment without employees were more common; in many cases, the latter corresponds to situations of false self-employment or ‘economically dependent work’ (see EIRO comparative study on this issue).

Overall, the DGEEP study made the following recommendations:

  • to renew the national action plan for employment (Plano Nacional de Emprego) objective that was in the previous plan from 2004 regarding the introduction of training components promoting entrepreneurship in the educational system curricula;
  • to promote self-employment among young people as a possible solution to their future professional career, and to create opportunities of frequent contact between young people and the business environment;
  • to channel support to young entrepreneurs not only in the initial phase of the entrepreneurial project but also – and even more so – in the later phase of project development;
  • to develop specific financial credit lines supporting young entrepreneurship, namely innovative projects.


Guerreiro, M.D. and Pegado, E. (coord.), Os Jovens e o Mercado de Trabalho: Caracterização e Estrangulamentos à Integração Efectiva na Vida Activa e a Eficácia das Políticas, [Young people and the labour market: Profile of and barriers to effective integration in the labour market, and the effectiveness of policies], Cogitum Collection, No. 18, Lisbon, DGEEP, February 2006.

Jorge Cabrita, CESIS – Centro de Estudos para a Intervenção Social

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