Youth unemployment low compared to EU average

Figures showing that youth unemployment in Germany is low compared with other European countries were released on International Youth Day, 12 August 2011. The figures, from the Federal Statistical Office, show that 430,000 young people (9.1% of this group) aged between 15 and 24 are out of work. Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling on them to make use of the German vocational training system, but the social partners are divided over how to remedy the problem.


On 11 August 2011, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) released new youth unemployment figures (in German). They showed that in June 2011 the youth unemployment rate in Germany was 9.1%, with 430,000 young people aged between 15 and 24 out of work. This is higher than the average German unemployment rate of 6.1% for those aged 15 to 74 years. The young are also more likely to have flexible employment relationships when they do find work, with 27.3% holding a fixed-term contract in 2010 compared with 7.9% of the total employed population aged 15 to 64 years. These figures exclude those still at school or in (vocational) training.

Nevertheless, the German youth unemployment rate is low compared with the European average of 20.5% or the Spanish rate of 45.7% in June 2011. Among the Member States, only the Netherlands and Austria (at 7.1% and 8.2% respectively) had lower youth unemployment rates during the same month. Destatis explains these findings by reference to the German vocational training system and existing labour market measures, which have cushioned the negative effects of the global economic and financial crisis. Similarly, in a video-podcast issued on 27 August 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), stressed the advantages of the German vocational training system and called on school leavers to exploit the opportunities it offered. However, the social partners do not agree about how youth employment should be dealt with.

Position of social partners

The German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) has criticised the latest developments in youth employment. At the end of August 2011, DGB Chair Michael Sommer warned in a press briefing (in German) of the dangers of global youth unemployment and stressed the need to create jobs and additional educational opportunities. On International Youth Day, DGB Vice President Ingrid Sehrbrock also voiced her concern in another press briefing (in German) about the European youth protests. She claimed that austerity programmes put too much pressure on the general population and were not an appropriate response to young people’s ‘despair at their lack of prospects’.

Ms Sehrbrock also criticised the German youth unemployment rate, saying it was understated due to Germany’s comparatively long compulsory schooling and measures devised to help youngsters with their transition from school to vocational training. The young people in these programmes had no real prospects for their future, she said. Even those in employment were faced with fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and precarious employment conditions.

On 19 August 2011, Barbara Fabian of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) praised in a press statement (in German) the model provided by the German vocational training system. Referring to the summer riots in the UK, Ms Fabian stated that a sound training and good jobs were needed to give British youth prospects for the future. Generally speaking, the European member states had to reform their educational systems with this goal in mind. In her view, the German vocational training system set a fine example in this respect. While German companies had a chance to train and choose their future workforce themselves, the young workers received theoretical and practical training as well as generating their own income. Ms Fabian regretted that this kind of vocational training system, geared to future career opportunities, was not available in most other European countries.

Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)

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