Seeking solutions to youth unemployment

January 16, 2016 - 05:22

Europe is struggling with high youth unemployment rates. Researchers will now look for solutions that can prevent young people from being excluded from the labour market.

The financial crisis and the economic slump that followed in its wake led to a dramatic increase in unemployment, especially among young people in the EU countries. (Illustrative photo: Shutterstock)

The financial crisis and the economic slump that followed in its wake led to a dramatic increase in unemployment, especially among young people in the EU countries.

"We see a clear tendency for young people to have an increasingly tenuous connection to the labour market characterised by temporary contracts and employment," says Christer Hyggen, NOVA researcher at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA).

Hyggen coordinates an international EU research project on measures against the high youth unemployment.

A lost generation

"Europe is in danger of losing a generation. A lost generation of Europeans that are excluded from the labour market," says Hyggen.

He draws parallels to the years just after World War I, where the young generation, damaged by war, was referred to as the "lost generation".

"In many ways, you could say that the trenches, shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorders that characterised the years after World War I have been replaced by the financial crisis, banking crisis and failing labour markets," Hyggen says.

Unable to gain a foothold in the labour market

The big risk is that the young generation of today – like the generation after World War I – will be so marked by their experiences that they cannot gain a foothold in the labour market, not even when times and labour markets improve.

Previous research seems to indicate that those who enter the labour market in times of prosperity achieve a stronger and more stable labour force attachment, also in the long term, than those who enter the market in tougher times.

Luck is important

A lot of this comes down to luck, the NOVA researchers point out.

Whether someone succeeds in the labour market depends on more than just the individual in question. Some people are simply born into a golden generation and bring this experience with them into the labour market. In this research project, the researchers are trying to learn more about what effect this could have on the rest of their careers.

Marked by bad times

Will, for example, employers not want to hire people from such generations – because they assume that these jobseekers are deeply marked by the hard times?

The researchers look into how individuals are affected by a labour market where there is simply no room for them - or where there are only temporary jobs available. How does this affect people's health, living conditions and the possibility to buy a home?

The researchers will test how employers assess CVs. They will submit the CVs of fictitious people for assessment by employers in four different countries.

How important is not having any gaps in your CV, for example, and is it most important in countries with high or low unemployment rates?

It is possible to influence the situation

"We do not see the young people as passive victims, but as people who have the opportunity to influence their own situation in the labour market," says Hyggen.

Facts

  • 'Negotiate - overcoming early job insecurity in Europe'
  • A three-year EU research project under the Horizon 2020 programme coordinated by NOVA (Centre for Welfare and Labour Research) at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA)
  • Budget: EUR 3 million
  • Qualitative and quantitative scientific methods
  • Partners from nine European countries
  • Research institutions, voluntary organisations, youth organisations, political authorities and trade unions and employer associations are involved in the project.

The project has therefore been named Negotiate – which means both to bargain and to overcome difficulties.

"We want to find out more about how young people can improve their negotiation skills in order to gain access to the labour market, says Hyggen.

Simplifying the transition from adolescence to adulthood

Various political measures can also improve young people's power of negotiation. The researchers also study what the authorities can do to simplify the transition from adolescence to adulthood, from education to working life.

Are there any institutions or national schemes that work especially well in relation to making it easier to go from being a student to being an employee?

"Another important question is how employers assess the risk associated with hiring young people and how this risk can be reduced," says NOVA researcher Mi Ah Schøyen.

The goal is simply to prevent young people from being excluded from the labour market and preventing another lost generation.

What actually works?

Many countries use labour market measures to try to reduce unemployment, but is it working? And how about wage subsidies? Do they work? Do they reduce employers' risk when hiring young people? The researchers will be looking for the positive and negative effects of such measures so that different countries can learn from each other.

"It is important to compare countries with different schemes in order to get the best possible picture of which schemes and systems actually work," says Schøyen.

Lacking an enemy

Another question is how young people perceive being unemployed. Is it, for example, harder to be unemployed in Norway, which until recently had a very low level of unemployment?

Researchers believe that it may be worse to be excluded from the labour market in Norway. This may be due to the fact that in countries like Spain and Greece, which have high unemployment levels, there is a clear 'enemy' to blame, for example the big banks, the EU or the financial industry.

In Norway, on the other hand, where unemployment is still relatively low and the potential enemies are less clear, it can be easier to feel that it is your own fault if you cannot get a job.

"We also want to find out why some people succeed in the labour market against all odds. Why is it that some people manage to get good jobs despite dropping out of school and being faced with an economic downturn?"

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) is Norway‘s largest state university college. Read more

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