<Disclaimer: This article will be split into 2 parts, because of the sheer length of it>
Youth unemployment is the buzzword of the last month here in Belgium, and it’s easy to see why. The youth unemployment (Just to clarify: by youth unemployment I mean those under 25 years of age) rate keeps rising month after month to almost 18% of all job seekers between 18 and 25, which up to 19,8% higher than before the crisis. The economic crisis really hit the labor market hard (even more so in some regions of the country), and it doesn’t look good for the near future either.
Unemployment is, and always will be, a stain on society but even more so when we’re talking about youth unemployment. Being unemployed weighs heavy on the shoulders of young job seekers. Not only is our budding self-confidence undermined but the cost of this st(r)ain on our modern Western society is just unacceptable.
I have a great example by a young woman, Lauren, who has been struggling to find a job for months now. She appeared on a documentary on national television and keeps a blog (in Dutch) about her progress and struggles, it’s eye-opening. I’ll translate a short excerpt from one of her posts:
“On New Year’s Eve I partied as if my life depended on it. Awakening from this frenzy was painful though; I still don’t have a job, no prospects and the end of my bank account is in sight. Go and live back with mom and dad? They didn’t look forward to that, and neither did I. Well then, I accepted a job in a restaurant. I’ve worked in restaurants for 6 years during my studies and I’m in the exact same spot now as I was 6 years ago when I didn’t know who Noam Chomsky was, how to analyze a 300-word sentence or where to find all the legislation in the European Union. As long as you can carry 3 plates at once …
I have a LinkedIn-profile. A lot of connections. But I can’t add where I work, what I do … who I am. I’m tired of sitting at home, so I go out often. But every time I meet someone new the first question I get asked is ‘What do you do for a living?’. And then I head home. Am I imagining this, or do people find me more interesting when I was still an unpaid intern? Our society defines your identity solely on the basis of your job. Those without a job, aren’t really part of the group. At first, you’re still who you were and what you studied but day after day and little by little you fade away.”
How can you not be moved by this? This is just one of many examples in today’s economic climate. I am sure Lauren will find a job because her case has been brought to everyone’s attention by the media. She received a lot of supportive comments on her blog, and I really do wish her the very best.
Strangely enough, unemployment for ages 50-60 is going down for the first time in years. This is partly due to the fact that these people have experience (something recent graduates sorely lack, but we’ll touch on that later) along with the measures and subsidies the government offers to try to keep older workers out of unemployment. This effect only amplifies the youth unemployment, which was not the desired effect of the measures taken by the government.
I think it’s pretty clear that drastic measures need to be taken if we want to avoid walking on the same path as Greece, Spain and some other countries in the world before us. Luckily, some initiatives are being taken. I’ll sum up some measures that I think are very positive, both on short-term as well as on long-term. I’ll split up these examples into several categories to keep everything organized. I’ll try and formulate some of my own ideas in part 2 as well as come to a short conclusion.
I talked about this in my previous article a little, and my point on this hasn’t changed. Luckily, our minister of education has all the right ideas. He’s been trying to reform secondary school and certain college directions (such as teachers). In essence, he’s trying to synchronize education and a professional life through making changes to education programs and embedding new technology in the classroom (think tablets, smartboards and better infrastructure in general). From my point of view, a crucial element to lowering youth unemployment because freshly graduated students are unprepared for the ‘real world’. I know I was, it was a pretty big culture shock the first few days and I have a better background than most through my education.
The sad part is that I fear most of his ideas will stay just that. It’s extremely hard, it seems, to change or alter anything in the slightest. Some of our laws, customs and systems are set in stone. It’s sad, but that’s the story of our society as it stands today. The second problem is the time limit that our minister is facing. He only has the couple of years in which he has to bring all his, admittedly good, ideas to fruition.
Aside from trying to reform the educational system the government is also taking different, and more concrete steps to lowering youth unemployment. For instance, the government is trying to increase the amount of internships available for young job seekers without a diploma. These internships are unpaid and companies who offer them have no obligation to hire the intern after the traineeship, but they do pave the way to finding a job suitable to their competences.
Governments (national, regional and international) all around the world are taking initiatives, but I often feel like they get stuck in a political tug-o’-war which limits the reaction time to certain (economical) events. The saying ‘too little, too late’ can often be applied here.
High schools, colleges and universities have a huge responsibility to our society and its future. Unfortunately, education is always trying to catch up to the work life. I have a hard time finding concrete examples of schools trying to better sync their programs to prepare students for a professional life. I’m guessing this is because of the very rigid system we have where schools have no independence to change their own curriculum (don’t worry, this is a good thing but not for this purpose).
I know from my own experience, though, that schools are thinking about preparing their students better through extra-curricular activities such as lectures, classes and visits to job fairs and companies. It’s a step in the right direction, but I guess we’ll see how it’ll work out in the long run.
The first example of a great initiative are the ‘Individual professional educations’ (Individuele beroepsopleiding or IBO in Dutch)are one of the better measures taken in recent years. In essence, this is a contract between you and an employer where you will receive an education in the workplace during a few months. If you finish this education successfully, you automatically get a position in the company and you can’t be fired for a certain period of time (determined by law). A professional consultant handles all the administration so you don’t have to worry about anything. In 2012, almost 12000 positions were filled through this measure and we expect this number to climb to 17000 in 2014.
Second example is the very hands-on and individual approach that the employment services (and especially in Flanders) utilize. Every unemployed job seeker has to register with the employment service, this allows them to invite, follow-up on and coach each person in their hunt for a job. If needed, re-orientation and guidance is offered (free of charge)to any who ask for it. You can literally walk into their office and ask to speak to a consultant who will help you on your way to finding a new job by helping you prepare for a job interview, showing you how and where to find suitable job openings. These are just a handful of services the agency offers.
The Belgian employment services do great work, but even with all these great initiatives I do have some complaints about them, but that’s a story for another time.
Do you know of any initiatives that your company, organisation, region or country is taking to tackle (youth) unemployment? Comment below and let me know.
Looking for part 2? Click here.