Tag Archives: unemployment

Youth unemployment rears its ugly head – Part 2/2

<Disclaimer: This is part 2 of ‘Youth Unemployment Rears Its Ugly Head”. For part 1 click here>

Companies

Corporations and businesses are often portrayed as the boogeyman in this story, and it’s easy to see why. They need the right people for their job openings and are not afraid to turn someone down if they don’t meet the requirements. It’s a case of the bad overshadowing the good.

A lot of companies, such as the one where I work, give people (both young and old) plenty of opportunities and chances to develop their skills or gain more experience. When they hired me a couple of months ago, I was fresh out of school with no experience but they still gave me a chance and it has been great so far. My temporary contract is ending soon and I’m looking at opportunities for me to keep working for them.

That doesn’t take away the fact that a lot of companies can do more though. There is a basis of truth when people say that graduates without experience never get a chance. I believe that manager are starting to realize that they have to offer chances to young adults without experience. The mentality of ‘hiring skills’ is slowly fading away to make room for the ‘hire behavior’-mentality. Yes, hiring people without experience or the exact right set of skills for the job might cost you more but you’ll get so much more in return if you choose to invest in new (and old) human capital. Offering training programs will increase retention and motivate your workers.

Look, there isn’t a collective hive mind in the world of business that can instruct every manager and CEO to look into hiring and training adults, but I believe we could all benefit from having our noses pointed in that direction. Either way, I’m hopeful for the future.

Unemployment man!

Applicants

Of course, there are certain things job seekers can do that help increase their chances on today’s labour market. It would be wrong of me to only point the finger at the society, companies and government. I don’t want to blame anyone or point out faults, it’s just that recent graduates really have no idea how to behave on the labour market or in professional life. That is something they can change through a few simple actions.

First of all, a lot of resumes I see are just plain bad. Graduates often have a nice amount of skills and competences to build on through their years of education and traineeships, but they lack the finesse to write it down on paper and make a killer resume. Typos and a poor lay-out are all too common. Pair that with missing or incomplete information and you have all the ingredients needed to make a bad first impression. It’s essential to have all the right information on your resume and still have it look great, professional. It needs to stand out from the rest of them, or else you won’t get noticed so easily. Now, I’m not saying people should make weird, over-the-top video resumes like Barney Stinson from CBS’ ‘How I Met Your Mother’:

Nonetheless, more attention should be paid to a resume. Let’s segway into my next point (which ties back to employment agencies and schools). There should be a mandatory job application training, whether in school or through one of the related employment services. Job application training will teach you the most basic skills needed to help you with your first steps onto the labour market.

There’s a lot of things applicants can do themselves to find a job more easily, I’m not going to (and I can’t) sum them all up but just know that if you’re a job seeker that has trouble finding a job, look to yourself first instead of blaming it on someone else.

My own suggestions

Now that I’ve summed up some initiatives and actions taken by the major players in today’s job market it’s time to highlight some of my own ideas on how to tackle youth unemployment.

First of all, take risks. I see a lot of my peers applying for a job in their own field of education. That’s only natural, but when you’ve been unemployed for months and haven’t even come close to landing a job it’s time to be bolder. In the words of Jean-Luc Picard: “To boldly go where no one has gone before”. That’s a bit of an overstatement of course, but it gets my point across. And remember, your first job doesn’t have to be your dream job. It’s meant as a stepping stone to what you want out of your (professional) life.

Secondly, companies should offer more chances to young graduates like I’ve mentioned before. Yes, it might cost more, but you still have an unspoken duty to society and your company. Not giving young adults a chance is bad for business in the long run. So don’t always hire the skills you need, hire the right behavior and teach them the skills they need. There’s plenty of financial support to do that here in Belgium (and in other countries).

Whatever you might think of HR, I believe it is and always will be a team effort. It’s a joint effort both on a ‘small’ scale like in a company or on a large-scale between various actors (such as governments, companies, schools and work agencies) in a country, state or region. It would benefit all stakeholders if we could all try to work together more. Like a well-oiled machine, every cog has to do its job so that the next cog can do theirs. If every little wheel in the machine tries to do its own thing thinking that they are operating in a vacuum it won’t work properly. It’s not different, in my opinion, for tackling (youth) unemployment.

Conclusion

I realize that I might sound like an elitist jerk who criticizes everything, but I’m only trying to open your eyes to make you see that changes have to be made now.

 If you think about it, most of the measures I summed up in part 1 and part 2 of this article actually take steps in the direction of a more cooperative and flexible environment for job seekers of all ages and backgrounds. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something to admire and strive for. We all just have to work on it some more.

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.

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Youth unemployment rears its ugly head – Part 1/2

<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.

European Youth Unemployment

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.

Governments

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.

Schools

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.

Employment services (www.vdab.be & www.forem.be)

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.

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The Unemployment Conundrum

This article appeared on HRMagazine.be (loosely translated by me) :

In January 2012, the unemployment rate in the European Union rose by 0,1 percent to 10,1 percent. One year ago, the unemployment rate was 9,5 %. That same evolution is noticeable in the Eurozone: 10,7 % in January 2012, 10,6 %  in December 2011 and 10,0 % in January 2011. Belgium rose from 7,2 % to 7,4.

Eurostat estimates that the amount of unemployed workers in January in the EU27 at 24,325 million of which 16,925 in the Eurozone. That is an increase of 191.000 people in the entire European Union and of 185.000 people in the Eurozone as opposed to the month before. A year ago, the amount of people without a job grew by 1,488 million in the European Union (1,221 million in the Eurozone)

It seems like it’s always the same countries with the highest and lowest rate. The lowest unemployment rate was noted in Austria (4,0 %), The Netherlands (5,0 %) and Luxembourg (5,1). The highest was in Spain (23,3 %), Greece (19,9 %) and now Ireland and Portugal as well (both 14,8 %)

The unemployment rate between men and women is equally high this month. 10,1 % (last year men: 9,4 %, women: 9,6 %). In the Eurozone, the unemployment rate is higher for women (10,9 %) than for men (10,5 %). Unemployment among young people increased significantly: from 21,1 % a year ago to 22,4 % in the EU (from 20,6 % tot 21,6 %). In Spain (49,9 %) and Greece (48,1 %), every 1 in 2 young people don’t have a job; in Slovakia it’s 1 in 3.

The United States of America closed the month of January with an unemployment rate of 8,3 %. In Japan, this figure was 4,6 % in December.

Now, I know it’s a lot of figures and percentages but I find this very interesting. It shows how much impact the current economic crisis has in the European Union. Especially in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland which are the countries in the biggest immediate danger. Companies are going bankrupt, people lose their jobs and can’t find a new one because of cuts in the workforce budget. It’s pretty much a vicious circle in the sense that people losing their jobs have less money to spend which in turn is bad for the economy as a whole resulting in more budget cuts and savings.

I believe that the HR department of companies can, in cooperation with the governments, have a large impact on the rising unemployment rate. Companies and governments should work together to draw more people back to the workplace by motivating them, cutting social security or lowering salary costs.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Especially in Belgium where so many people rely on our social security system for (temporary) unemployment, pensions and illness. Though, I believe that we could do with some sanitation. For instance, there are (to my knowing, ie. Not funded in figures) quite a lot of people who get money from our social security because they’re unemployed but have no desire to work anymore. Why should they? They get money for doing nothing, in some cases even more than they’d get if they had a job (usually a low educated demographic, and thus less motivated because those jobs often don’t have a lot of intrinsic rewards). We should try to encourage those people to go out and find a job again (and there a job enough for everyone really, it’s just that some jobs are seen as bad or below their standards.

And I don’t mean offering more salary. I’m talking about intrinsic motivation and non-salary benefits.

Furthermore, the social security system we have in Belgium is becoming unaffordable because there’s more people retiring and living longer than there are new entrants to pay for those pensions. We’ll all have to work longer than we do now (the average age for retirement in Belgium is only 58), and that’s fine by me. But I know a lot of people who are against this measure and are doing everything they can to retire now, or work fewer hours straining the system even more.

I feel that I can’t offer any concrete solutions for this problem, as it has many facets and issues to consider and I’m in no way an expert in that area. I do, however, believe that the solution is for companies, non-profit government organizations  and governments to work together to tackle this problem. And yes, this will require an investment from all parties.

In any case, I fear that we haven’t seen the end of this yet …

/Niels

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