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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Column: This is how to tackle youth unemployment

A European Youth Guarantee would see young people secure an offer of employment, continued education or apprenticeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education, writes Emer Costello.

Emer Costello MEP

IRELAND’S YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT rate is 28.5 per cent. This means that 61,000 young men and women in Ireland are out of work. This is wholly unacceptable.

The implications of joblessness for young people can be devastating for their morale and hopes for the future. However, the long-term social and economic risks are a worry for all of us. Youth unemployment stunts the development, earning potential, and, down the line, pension power of the next generation. It is also a drain on social welfare systems, promotes catastrophic long-term unemployment and fosters emigration.

It is against this backdrop that I have been campaigning for a European Youth Guarantee since becoming Dublin’s MEP.

The Youth Guarantee

The Youth Guarantee is aimed at ensuring that a young person receives a quality offer of employment, continued education, a traineeship, or an apprenticeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education. The scheme is based on best practice models from Nordic and continental countries such as Germany and Austria.

It is founded on a rights-based approach to youth unemployment. By this, I mean that public employment services would be reconfigured to meet the needs of young people, rather than simply directing them to existing services which, in many cases, are failing them.

Last February, European social ministers agreed to initiate the European Youth Guarantee. In June, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, brokered agreement on the EU’s budgetary framework for the next seven years. This includes €6 billion to implement the European Youth Guarantee, to be “front-loaded” in 2014 and 2015, and to be complemented by national “co-financing”. Equally importantly, it was agreed that any unused EU funds in the years ahead will be re-directed towards tackling youth unemployment.

The Government is now preparing Ireland’s plan to implement the European Youth Guarantee, which it will present to EU Social Affairs Commissioner, László Andor by the end of the year. Later this month, a European Youth Guarantee pilot project will start in Ballymun, one of less than 20 such pilot projects across Europe.

Apprenticeships

The European Youth Guarantee offers Ireland a unique opportunity to achieve this. It is imperative that we get it right. One of the areas I believe it could make a positive impact is in the area of apprenticeships.

It is increasingly recognised that countries with strong vocational education and training (VET) systems, such as Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria, tend to have less youth unemployment. High quality apprenticeships and work-based learning are often a stepping stone to permanent employment.

I believe that we need to change our attitudes and approaches to apprenticeships here in Ireland, and emulate best practice in other European countries. Ireland currently operates apprenticeships in five sectors in Ireland – construction, electrical, motor, engineering and printing. The norm in many other European countries is 200-300. At the very least, I believe we should seek to provide quality apprenticeships in the hospitality, childcare, administration and green economy sectors. These are all areas with huge jobs growth potential.

Working conditions

When we seek to promote youth employment, we must also address the issue of poor working conditions for young people. Currently, when young people do find work, it is often low-quality and precarious employment that they enter into. Far too many young people are also in jobs that do not ensure a living wage. We must ensure that more permanent, stable jobs are made available– And we need high, European-wide standards on internships, so that an internship supports the transition from learning to working, and guards against displacement.

In recent months, I have been running conferences to promote the Youth Guarantee throughout Dublin aimed at enabling young people and organisations working with them to find out more about the European Youth Guarantee. The events allow them to have their say on how it should be implemented, so that the European Youth Guarantee makes a real impact on the area’s youth unemployment.

With EU financial assistance in sight, we now need the support and encouragement of employment services, community groups and individuals across the country. By working together in responding to youth unemployment, we are investing in everyone’s future in Ireland.

Emer Costello represents the Dublin Constituency in the European Parliament, where she is a member of the EP’s Employment & Social Affairs Committee. For further information about Emer’s work on the Youth Guarantee, see www.emercostello.ie or contact her directly on @emercostello, emer.costello@europarl.europa.eu or telephone (01) 1 874 6109.

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