New measures to tackle youth unemployment

A new initiative to tackle the steadily increasing numbers of young people out of work was unveiled by the European Commission on 5 December 2012. The youth employment package contains measures to help Member States address what it describes as ‘unacceptable levels of youth unemployment and social exclusion’. The initiative focuses on a Youth Guarantee agreement and a Quality Framework for Traineeships, and aims to ensure all young people are offered a job and training.

Commission’s package includes Youth Guarantee

The European Commission is calling on all Member States to address the problem of youth unemployment, which it says is costing the region billions of euros. On 5 December 2012, the Commission presented a package of measures in its initiative on a Youth Guarantee and a Quality Framework for Traineeships. It wants Member States to ensure all young people are offered work and training.

In its Proposal for a Council Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee (84Kb PDF), the Commission sets out its aims. The guarantee is designed to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. The recommendation calls on Member States to establish partnerships with all stakeholders to implement this guarantee, including the provision of intervention services at an early stage. The Commission has promised support through the European Structural Funds.

In a communication on 5 December 2012, Moving Youth into Employment (274Kb PDF), the Commission said that the costs of implementing the guarantee would be outweighed by the long-term savings made through reducing unemployment, economic inactivity and lost productivity. It believes there will be positive returns on investing in a Youth Guarantee.

The Commission bases its findings on a major Eurofound study on young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) in Europe which estimates that the annual cost of disengagement of young people from the labour market is currently around 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), or €153 billion.

The Commission’s recommendation also proposes that Member States can boost recruitment prospects among young people by reducing non-wage labour costs. It also calls for enhanced mechanisms for supporting young people who have dropped out of activation schemes and no longer access benefits.

A European quality framework on traineeships

To ease the transition from education to work, on 5 December the Commission also launched the second-stage consultation among cross-sectoral social partners at European level on an initiative intended to help young people gain work experience under safe conditions, Towards a Quality Framework on Traineeships (76Kb PDF).

The Commission said the first stage of consultations had revealed a consensus on the useful role of traineeships. But it also pointed to a lack of quality and widespread misuse of such schemes across Europe, and action needed to be taken on these issues. However, social partner views differed on whether an initiative at European level in this field needed to be taken.

In its consultation document, the Commission set out the issues that should be addressed by a European framework. It stated that each traineeship should lead to a written agreement between the trainee and the employer (or the training organisation) covering such aspects as:

  • professional and learning objectives;
  • duration;
  • daily and weekly working time;
  • payment of social security, where applicable, and remuneration or compensation.

The agreement should also set well-defined objectives and offer high-quality learning content to increase the employability of the trainee. A personal supervisor or mentor should be appointed to guide the trainee.

Finally, at the end of a course, the trainee should receive a final evaluation that ensures proper recognition of the traineeship. This document would contain information on matters such as the duration of the course, the educational content, the tasks performed, the knowledge, skills and competences acquired and a performance assessment.

Traineeships should last for a specified period, for example six months, to ensure that they are not being used to replace regular jobs. The Commission also says that the issue of limiting successive traineeships with the same employer should be addressed. Trainees should be covered by social protection, including health insurance and insurance against accidents at the workplace.

The Commission said it was willing to recognise unpaid traineeships. However, if the employer provided compensation or a wage, the amount must be clearly specified in the traineeship agreement.

The cross-sectoral European social partners have already begun negotiations on a framework to address youth employment and talks have been going on since the end of 2012. However, these negotiations were not intended to include the issue of traineeships. If the social partners decide not to negotiate on traineeships, the Commission will put forward its own recommendation on this issue in 2013.

European alliance for apprenticeships

Inspired by Germany and Austria, which have the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe, the Commission also intends to build a European alliance for apprenticeships. This would group the various European initiatives under a common umbrella.

The alliance would promote the benefits and elements of successful apprenticeship schemes and recommend ways in which these could be improved. It would also help develop common dual training curricula for various professions, facilitate recognition of apprenticeships undertaken abroad, and promote an appropriate framework. The Commission also plans to promote national partnerships for developing dual learning.

Commentary

The Commission’s initiatives on the Youth Guarantee can only be welcomed, given the serious situation of youth employment. However, it will be some time before it is implemented. Concrete action is not expected before 2014 in the context of the new financial programme of the European Union. This also applies to the European framework for traineeships.

If the social partners decide to negotiate on the Youth Guarantee and traineeships by the end of January 2013, they will have nine months to reach an agreement. There would probably then be a period of implementation, meaning it will be some time before Europe sees any real results from the initiative.

Frédéric Turlan, IR Share

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