The contributions in this issue abound in unemployment rates, percentage points and explanations as to why youth unemployment is rife- or under control. Many texts make explicit policy and practical recommendations, often pertaining to education.
Let’s browse through the articles once more to see how youth unemployment is explained and what remedies are proposed. Does a big picture emerge?
Causes and remedies
The following root causes of youth unemployment are brought up by the authors of this issue:
- a skills mismatch: employers do not demand the skills the youth have gained in education as in Slovakia or Greece.
- skills deficits, obsolescence, quality problems in education as in e.g Hungary and Poland
- massification and ensuing “inflation” of higher education: in some countries the higher educated are in higher risk of unemployment (Turkey)
- cultural factors, e.g. social system relying on family and discouraging networking and active citizenship (Greece)
- recession, hitting almost all EU countries in some form
- inflexible job market with “closed” jobs
- flexibility of capitalist economies leading to short-term employment, as in our UK example
- the economic crisis aggravating already existing structural problems in education and labour market
- dual systems (e.g. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Hungary etc.) combining vocational education and apprenticeships
- stronger links between higher education and working life through e.g. work placements and tailored upskilling courses
- individualized education, e.g. skills testing for targeted upskilling (Denmark), more guidance
Active labour market and social policies:
- subsidizing youth-hiring firms
- supporting entrepreneurs
- training schemes
- centrally planned manpower supply, cooperation between educational institutions, ministries and labour market (Singapore)
- early detection of exclusion, guidance, reintegration through e.g. folk high schools
Education redesign, active policy
A need to re-evaluate European education systems emerges clearly from the texts. Education apparently needs to be realigned better to fit the needs of the labour market. Bridges between education and work have to be built in the form of apprenticeships and work placements.
However, as Lorenz Lassnigg writes about the Austrian case, apprenticeships are not a panache for low unemployment figures: active labour market policies are as important.
Youth guarantees on the rise
One practice that is mentioned in passing in the issue might be spreading in Europe in the future. This is the “youth guarantee”. Already in use in, for instance, Finland and Sweden, the guarantee is a commitment from the state to provide employment, training or other support for unemployed youth within a set deadline.
For example in the Finnish case, the state pledges to provide a job, training placement, study opportunity or other support within 3 months to all unemployed youth. The guarantee applies to under 25-year-olds and to all recently graduated under 30-year olds.
In February 2013 the European Commission recommended the youth guarantee for all member states.The Commission is earmarking 6 billion Euro to this end, expecting the member states to co-finance the guarantee.
Committing to a youth guarantee is big political decision for any government, though, as it sets rather clear yardstick for success or failure for employment policy.
What role for non-formal adult education?
The above summary of the issue contents prompts two big questions.
Firstly, is adult education, especially in the form of non-formal, liberal adult education, a largely untapped resource in treating youth unemployment?
Pia Cort writes how folk high schools are used successfully in reintegrating marginalized youth back into education and work. Haris Doukas tells us that Greece, through the Hellenic Qualifications Framework, is validating non-formal learning as part of work-life skills. Still it seems there could be many more instances where adult education centres, study circles, folk high schools and such could play a bigger role in alleviating unemployment.
The other question is also related to non-formal learning. If, as we read, Europe is facing a major realignment of higher education along the lines of labour market needs, will the university’s status as the quintessential seat of learning erode? Will the Humboldtian ideals of free learning and bildung, even slow learning, fade out?
If so, non-formal adult education, where the student learns for learning’s sake, could be the heir apparent of the university. In this scenario, an adult education centre could play a far greater role in the bildung of an individual than any formal seat of higher learning.