(12 August 2021) The COVID-19 crisis has aggravated the challenges young workers face entering the labour market. In the EU, youth unemployment increased from 14.9% to 17.1% since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the situation in the rest of Europe is no better. If recovery plans do not include specific measures to fight youth unemployment, there is a risk that years of progress will be undone.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, youth unemployment rates in Europe soared, and it took the best part of a decade for them to come down. Even in 2019, just before the outbreak of COVID-19, youth unemployment in the EU was three times higher than it was for over-55s. It is vital that policy makers learn from this, and introduce measures now to prevent another decade of precarious entry into the labour market for young people.
Unemployment figures alone cannot inform a real recovery. There needs to be a holistic approach, taking into account all the challenges young people face entering the labour market. For example, workers on precarious contracts, including many long-term care workers, are employed but do not have adequate access to sick pay or social protection. Other young workers have to take low quality jobs, traineeships and internships, even if they are overqualified. Once in employment, young workers often do not have the same education and training opportunities to progress in their careers. The lack of affordable housing in many countries aggravates the uncertainty faced by young workers and further hinders their chances of upwards social mobility. Periods of unemployment for young people is shown to be connected with poor mental health. And finally, young workers will be the most affected in the coming years by climate change and all the impacts this has on jobs and the labour market.
All these factors need to be considered in policies aimed at reducing youth unemployment. Recovery plans should allocate funds specifically for helping young people transition from education into quality jobs, and more should be done to tackle precarious working conditions and zero-hour contracts. Measures should also be implemented to ensure that, once in employment, young workers have access to training so that they can continue to develop professionally. Furthermore, to help limit generational inequality, there is a need for regulation of the housing markets, and more public housing. Attention should always be paid to ensuring a just transition to deal with climate change, so that no young workers are left behind. Investment in and funding of public services can do all this.
For all of the above, it is important that young workers’ voices are heard in the policy making process. Youth have already been instrumental in putting climate change higher on the agenda and should continue to have a seat at the table in designing the social and green labour policies of the future. The EPSU Youth Network plays an important role to play in campaigning for a just, youth centred recovery, and in monitoring and bringing to light the barriers young public service workers face, such as lack of training and precarious contracts.