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Europe’s ‘lost generation’

by on October 22, 2012

More in today’s Guardian on youth unemployment following a report by the EU’s research body Eurofound which will be presented at the EU Presidency Conference this week.

The research looks at the costs to Europe not only in terms of state welfare and lost production but also in relation to disengagement with society. The article in The Guardian presents this under the heading of the ‘lost generation’, that increasingly common phrase used to describe young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs).

As is often the case, the reader comments are just as interetsing as the journalism. I haven’t read them all but a quick glance through suggests that some readers respond to the problematisation of youth unemploymnent by suggesting ‘solutions’ focused on different demographic groups e.g. limits on immigration and mandatory retirement at 60. Another points out that “the guy in the picture [which illustrates the Guardian article] who’s been unemplyed [sic] for a couple of years is wearing a brand new Arsenal shirt worth about 60 quid”.

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One Comment
  1. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    I have read the Guardian’s article and also the readers’ comments with interest. I wonder why ‘foreigners’ and ‘older workers not retiring early’ appear to be blamed for taking up younger people’s jobs…. Is this yet another example of ‘head in the sand’ syndrome perhaps?

    People tend to forget that – to put it bluntly –employers hire skills and experience not (unskilled) people (regardless of their age). There has to be ‘something’ at least potentially promising for someone to be extended a job offer, particularly these days where competition for jobs is incredibly high. Employers do not generally hire candidates just because they are ‘young’. Furthermore, unlike in certain continental European countries (France and Germany come to mind), people in the UK do not enjoy the right to have a job, only employment protection rights once they have a job where a contract of service is present.

    The reality these days is that there are fewer jobs available in the UK (and the EU/EEA), and an increased number of candidates applying for them. Wouldn’t that mean that candidates need to be better prepared and qualified in order to get a job offer? Even then, where appropriate qualifications and experience are present finding an employer can be extremely challenging in the current market environment, but this perhaps may be a different issue I feel than the one the published ‘The Guardian’ article is discussing.

    I do not remember that getting a first job in an office in the early 90s was easy. I went through a lot of interviews (in fact..12…besides taking the usual spelling tests, translation tests, typing tests, etc. before I could be interviewed face to face by a human being) and this was after I collected 3 years experience working in London’s coffee shops, retail, a large department store, and secretarial temping under my belt.

    I took a quick look at what’s available online in terms of entry-level jobs today. I can see a number of positions available at high street coffee retail chains, supermarkets, various retail shops, department stores, etc. There is also the opportunity to work ‘seasonally’ in all of the above as the festive period rapidly approaches.

    Generally, however, the ‘problem’ with those roles is that they do not tend to pay more than being on benefits so – whilst I accept the following may be a sweeping generalisation there is some factuality to it: it is fair to assume that some people that could perhaps be working actually choose to continue to be on benefits rather than to take on a job. On that note, Can EU/EEA Governments continue to afford the welfare benefits bill for people who choose not to work? Surely there is nothing wrong with asking otherwise healthy individuals to take up voluntary positions at least 3 times a week in exchange for unemployment benefits?

    Alternatively, whilst the following may not be a universal solution it may be a step in the right direction: I would love to see the introduction of a 2-year ‘public service’ programme, in partnership with employers, for young people (16-25 years old) who are receiving welfare benefits and made the choice not to be in education, employment, or training (NEETs). This programme will require compulsory attendance at least 3 times/week (if individuals wish to continue receiving benefits). During the scheme participants would be taught a vocational qualification of their choice (selected from the occupational shortage list) and given relevant work experience at a Partner-employer organisation. In the unlikely event that after these 2 years individuals find themselves unable to find a paid full-time position, they should take up voluntary work for at least 3 days/week to continue receiving benefits. At the same time, the remaining two days of the ‘working’ week should be used to continue the search for a full time paid position.

    It may appear a regimented approach, sure, but the current more liberal system where individuals (otherwise healthy) get paid medium and long term unemployment (and other) benefits in exchange for zero effort only appears to be fostering families in which nobody (Grandparents, Parents, Children) has ever set a foot in the workplace. It is simply a disservice to them as human beings, and also to the tax payers (of all ages) that have no choice but to contribute to their support.

    A couple of messages should be clear though: sticking heads in the sand does not work. Blaming others (whether foreigners or older workers not retiring early) may create ‘noise’ and debate but in the medium-long term this is not a robust or a convincing argument. Employers hire skills and experience. If an applicant can’t offer that to employers he/she is unlikely to get a job offer.

    Unless mental or physical disability prevents someone from working (in which case I would be entirely sympathetic to them) no useful skills/education/work experience= no job prospects. No tangible effort made to get out from medium-long term unemployment via an established Government-private sector partnership training scheme (such as the one suggested above) no welfare benefits continuance.

    NEETS should also be aware that already an increasing number of work-based foundation degree schemes, apprenticeships, and training schemes are available to them (however, they still need to fulfil a certain basic admission criteria to be able to participate in them). These opportunities, for the avoidance of doubt, are not open to older workers, even when date of birth is not a pre-requisite in the job application.

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