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As Europe tackles youth unemployment, is the UK falling behind?

Doing a bad job.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images

A few days ago, Germany and France announced plans to tackle the mass youth unemployment gripping southern Europe with a "New Deal".

Under the plans, 6 bn euros from the European Investment Bank will help encourage job creation at small and medium sized businesses, after the eurozone debt crisis has left many SME’s struggling to borrow money from banks.
The deal will also pay for language courses and fund jobseekers' flights around the continent in search of work.

Nearly one in four young people in the eurozone is out of work – with that figure rising to more than half in Greece and Spain.

The hope is that the “New Deal” will curb the mounting anger that is threatening the eurozone partnership.

We haven’t felt the same levels of frustration in the UK, even though youth unemployment recently reached almost 1 million, with more than half claiming benefits.

But this is not to say that the UK youth doesn’t have the same concerns. A striking issue, for example, is the amount of unemployed new graduates. It’s commonly known that graduates, whether moving on from a postgraduate or undergraduate degree, are expected to apply for unpaid internships, traineeships or minimally funded graduate programmes.

Recently, a friend of mine graduated from a top-5 UK University. The ceremony was held 7 months after the students had handed in their dissertations, and one would expect to hear interesting stories of how the students had ventured into the job market. Unfortunately for my friend and her classmates, this was not the case. Out of 143 students, less than 10 had a paid job. About 30 of them were currently working in unpaid internships, and the remaining majority were already fed up with the brutal job market.  

Since then, the majority of the students are still in unpaid internships or unemployed. Most students are expecting to spend a year at least, working without a salary – as for my friend, she’s on her third unpaid internship.

This story is not unique. Looking around jobsites, the amount of unpaid internships is staggering. And when asking graduates and university career centres alike, it’s clear that many graduates believe this is the only way to get a foothold in the UK job market.

Fair enough, in an economy that is still recovering from the financial crisis, this might be the case. But it’s worth considering what other countries have done to deal with youth unemployment.

With the “New Deal” suggested by some of Europe’s top leaders, countries will be urged to emulate the successful German apprenticeship model, which has given Germany the lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe. As a result, it is expected that thousands of young people from crisis-hit countries will take up apprenticeship places in Germany over the next few years.

In Scandinavian countries the amount of young unemployed people has also been a concern, and long before European leaders decided to intervene.
In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, politicians have long been eager to invest in schemes for young people in order to ensure that they don’t become unemployed for the long-term. The welfare states have long known that unemployed youths could have long-term consequences for the state economy. For example, studies have proven that youths who remain unemployed for more than two years, often remain dependent on the state for a longer amount of time.

Realising this, the Danish government has already invested millions in order to create more apprenticeships and jobs for youths. No doubt about it, this immediate investment will be well worth it in the form of long-term savings on unemployment benefits to young people.

Now, youth unemployment is definitely a far greater concern in some European countries than the UK. But this may not be the case for long. Youth unemployment in the UK is on the rise and the amount of new graduates in unpaid internships is seriously compromising the standard of living for many young people. Others are forced to stay at home for years on end.

Studies have shown that exposure to the job market will provide youths with far greater imperatives to be a continuous part of the working force. Whereas poverty, seclusion and other social factors could seriously damage their social mobility. So one has to wonder why investments in job and apprenticeship schemes are not considered a greater priority by the UK government. After all, today’s youth is tomorrow’s workforce – and thereby, the income that will fund any future political decisions.     

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