What can we learn from our neighbours? A few examples of implementations of the Youth Guarantee
Camille Bottin, Guillaume Mercier and Fanny Van Muylder
Introduced in 2013, the European Youth Guarantee was first a Council Recommendation to help Members States to strengthen their social system to better support the young unemployed. Since then, each country has had the opportunity to implement its own system according to its own challenges.
Implementation was therefore very uneven in each Member State and over time, the launch of the program was also very slow. Obviously it is not an easy program and the structure that comes with it is quite complex too. It requires Member States to adopt common policies at the regional, national and international level. Members States are very different, with different structures, economic schemes, different needs, different skill sets in the population… Whilst various teachings can be drawn from different practices, one must take into account the overall flexibility.
Some countries have more experience in the field, whilst others were launching their Youth Guarantee (YG) scheme only a few years ago. At mid-mandate of the European Parliament, we selected five relevant countries to study their best and worst practices. This way we can understand in detail the current challenges of the YG, and perhaps get inspired to come up with stronger and more efficient policies in the future.
The implementation of the YG has been quite challenging in Belgium given the country’s federal structure. Some competences rest with the federal government, whereas others rest with the region or the community. Not every region was eligible for the YG: only two provinces in Wallonia (Hainaut and Liège) and the Brussels-Capital region were accepted. Flanders was not eligible for the Youth Employment Initiative because this fund only provides support to regions where youth unemployment rate is over 25%. . However, the Flemish region still receives other funds from the European Union via the European Social Fund (ESF).
What is interesting in the case of Flanders is to see how the region had anticipated the YG and how it proceeded to improve it when the EU started the initiation phase. Before the implementation of the YG, there was already a plan to address youth unemployment. As Sara de Potter, Policy Officer at De Ambrassade, the Flemish Office for youth affairs explains: “We didn’t implement new things with the arriving of the YG in Brussels and Wallonia, it was already in a certain way set up in Flanders […] we had similar projects to the YG.”
For example, the IBO (Individuele BeroepsOpleiding, which translates as“individual vocational training”) is a status given to young people who then have the opportunity to do a three-month internship. At the end of these three months, the company or organisation has to offer an open-ended contract. Other projects like this one exist and perform well. However, according to Sara de Potter, there isn’t enough information about them: “young people are not well informed or don’t even know where to find the information.” VDAB (Flanders’ Public Employment and Vocational Training Service) is collaborating with partners such as youth organisations that work locally in neighbourhoods and know well the young people there. For her, “what works well is the “one stop shop”; it’s a place where young people can talk about all their problems: health, the search for an apartment, for a job, etc.” Together, they try to solve these problems.
In Brussels, the YG is coordinated by the regional government that facilitates the collaboration between the employment, training, youth support and education agencies, as explained by Sven Schayes, International Relations Officer at Actiris Brussels. The good cooperation between these different actors has led to quite encouraging results, “even if there are still many challenges to face.” Still according to Mr Schayes, the main issue for Brussels is that most unemployed youth are qualified. So the core of the problem here would not be the profile of the young unemployed but rather the very few opportunities offered by the labour market.
Some youth organisations specialised in employment, such as Brussels-based Flemish organisations JES and Arktos are sometimes partly financially supported by the ESF, Sara de Potter explained. They take care of specific groups such as the NEETS (individuals who are not in employment, education and training). These groups of young people are more difficult than others to get in touch with. The YG considers them as their most important target group.
It’s important to note that VDAB and Actiris propose a voluntary-based registration system. “They are working with young people who are easier to reach”, Mrs de Potter says. She added that those organisations also apply for funding from the EU, and are usually the first ones to receive it. In this case, the YG supports youth who have already been helped; they have a desire to find a job, a training, etc. But there are still a lot of other, more difficult to reach, young people, “that we should go out on the street to help”, Mrs de Potter adds.
The case of Ireland is interesting because the role of the National Youth Council has been preponderant in implementing the YG there. A lot of different stakeholders were initially involved in the creation of the YG scheme, which was instrumental to its success.
After the 2010-2011 economic turmoil , the Irish government started listening to the youth organisations and working with them. The Irish Youth Council published reports and factsheets on youth unemployment, came up with solutions and suggested them to the Irish government. James Doorley, deputy director the National Youth Council of Ireland remembers: “In 2013, relations were good. There were consultations, meetings with some stakeholders and other partners. Then once the implementation plan was published in 2014, I got the sense that the government wanted to do its own thing. It was not just us, but also the relations with other partners. Once the implementation plan had been submitted to Brussels and the funding been agreed, when we got to the implementation phase which is the crucial one, there was very little engagement. The government was simply willing to apply the YG to its existing resources and systems, and we were quite clear on that, that it was not really what the YG was about.”
If the situation seems to have improved as unemployment rates are falling, it is difficult to measure exactly what role the YG played in this situation. As James Doorley points out, not only were the YG measures implemented, but also other general policies. Also, today’s economic conditions must be taken into account, as they have certainly impacted the whole labour market. The lack of financial support is not an issue in Ireland, but rather its implementation. There has been an ongoing demand for institutional changes, as well as an in-depth implementation. The YG generally provides a solution for the first four months of being outside the labour market, but then fails to deliver on its promise to create more jobs. Today, 10.000 youth have been unemployed for more than 12 months in Ireland.
The Ballymun project was an important pilot project for the implementation of the YG in 2013. It put the emphasis on a small target group of unemployed young people in the area of Ballymun in northern Dublin. The goal was to provide young people with a quality offer of education, training, work experience or employment within a short time of becoming unemployed. It made it possible in interaction with employers, education providers and community organisations to test out new ways to engage with the unemployed youth. This project really shows how crucial it can be for local youth councils to build trust. This trust, based on a system of several meetings with the young people, was tangible in the better partnership and communication with labour agencies. The positive results really show that a model of direct interactions and local-level intervention was about to be introduced, although it was then not replicated on the national level. Despite the bad reviews it received, the project drew public attention and was featured in the national media, which was a good way to make the YG more popular.
In the beginning, the YG was inspired from measures the Nordic European countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland) adopted in the 80–90s. These countries are perceived as pioneers in this area. In Finland, it was first introduced in 1996 but the current Finnish youth guarantee scheme took place in 2005 and was greatly revised in 2013. For the current YG, Finland is considered as one of the examples to follow. However, according to Hanna Sauli, coordinator of advocacy in the Finnish Youth Co-operation Allianssi, the Finnish YG scheme is nothing more than an old memory. They used to have a good model but “at the moment, the YG in Finland is very much down scaled to what it used to be”, she says. The system strongly depends on the funding that is provided to sustain it. The last government dedicated a good amount of its budget to the YG -60 million euros per year – whilst the current government (elected in 2012) cut about 97% of the funding, lowering it to only 3.3 million euros per year.
Most young Finns are well educated. However, the country is still struggling to provide jobs for everyone. In a 2012 report, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture already wrote that “around 110.000 have completed only comprehensive school [and] 55.000 young people are unemployed jobseekers. Youth unemployment is on the increase”. The Finnish government currently doesn’t receive any funding from the Youth Employment Initiative, as Finland’s youth unemployment rate is still below 25%. But “now, Finland is being considered as a candidate, as the need rate has grown”, Hanna Sauli emphasises.
Until 2012, under the former government, half of the Finnish YG’s 60-million-euro budget was spent on education, ensuring a second-degree education for all. The other half was spent on employment and salary subsidies such as the “Sanssi card” (sanssi means “chance”). The unemployed youth use this card to contact potential employers and be hired for a lower wage. This subsidy enables “potential employers to get [a contribution of] about 700 euros a month”. “It is cheaper to hire that person” and furthermore it compensates the employment costs. With that card, young people can try out different careers and stay in a job for 3 months before changing. NEETS were also taken into account with a specific outreach programme.
If it works well in Finland, it is because “NGOs, employment offices, schools… Everybody works together”. It has been noticed in different countries that the success of the implementation of the YG has a direct link with the stakeholders’ involvement. According to the Alliansi coordinator: “At first, the private sector/employer was not directly involved in the youth guarantee, not really interested in it” and “companies didn’t know how to get involved”. She adds that the communication as done today is not efficient enough. Even for her who constantly works in this area, the whole system remains really complicated. So even though the system was already quite efficient in Finland, it could still be improved.
She outlined that 60 million euros in funding was not enough: “there were still a lot of people that didn’t have access to the services”. According to her, the current government says that youth unemployment still constitutes a priority but, judging on the budget allocated, it’s not doing enough. On paper, these services listed still exist but there is actually no money left to make them work like in the past. “They are not abolished, but simply not funded”, she says. What is new with the current government is the “Shop service center”, a sort of interdisciplinary space. People can go to one place and get help from different services:a psychologist, a consultant…. It is partly funded by the EU (via the ESF) and by the municipalities (which run them). For Hanna Sauli, it’s a “good system, we should try to keep up”.
In Italy, there are big disparities between the different regions of the country, mostly between the northern and the southern parts, which have encountered radically different challenges. The North has a thriving economy and provides much for Italy’s general prosperity, whereas the South is still lagging behind in economic terms. This reality had a significant impact on how the YG was implemented.
In Italy, as opposed to France for instance, there was a massive one-time implementation of the YG throughout the country. There were no structural reforms to go along the measures of the YG. A lot of financial resources were put on the table, but the way they were invested was not fully studied in advance. The government aimed at targeting a large group of young people under 30 years old, but there were no specific policies for target groups. As a consequence, the YG led to the creation of internships, which most of time did not materialise in stable jobs. In the case of underprivileged youth who hadn’t had access to an education, no internships were made available.. Most of the money invested was poured into young people’s remunerations, instead of new support models for target groups. Salvatore Marra, president of the Youth Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC/CES) regrets that “in the creation of these models, the young people were almost not consulted. However, if we want to put together a system that can deliver some results, young unemployed need to take part in it along with youth councils and organisations, social partners, public society,…”
The YG as it is now implemented in Italy, hasn’t delivered on its initial promise, which was to create quality jobs for all. Instead of fostering job creation, the subsidised has encouraged turnover as employers hire new interns continuously. More precarious jobs spread all over the country. The assistant of Italian MEP Brando Benifei (S&D) even described the situation in Italy as a “machine of internships.” He also recalls that it is up to the Members States to properly implement the YG.
There is a crucial need in Italy for more staff to coordinate the system from the bottom up. The Commission can’t be the only authority that provides clear guidelines. “Don’t forget that the European Commission that seems huge is a small public administration. It is like a public administration of a city, in terms of staff. It is practically impossible to have a clear idea and control over a population of 500 millions of people; that’s where Member States need to do their part of the work, and that’s what we are calling for” adds Brando Benifei’s parliamentary assistant. MEP Martina Dlabajová (ALDE), who is the vice chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control agrees the Italian system has various speeds: “We visited two regions, Sicilia and Calabria; they really have high levels of youth unemployment. Italy has many different operated programmes, which are managed on the one hand by a national centralised management authority and on the other hand by a regional authority. That is why I am talking about simplification: we really need a simplification of all measures.”
Spain is often described in the public discourse as the worst example with regards to the implementation of the Youth Guarantee. This southern European country was hit hard by the financial crisis in 2010. The Spanish population, and more significantly the young workers, have therefore suffered from a high unemployment rate. With one of the EU’s highest youth unemployment rates, boosting the Spanish labour market was a massive challenge.
Victor Reloba, vice-president of the Spanish National Youth Council, describes the current situation first as a major structural issue. The youth can sign up for the programme via a registration system, which is however not connected with the public employment service. In this case, it’s quite obvious that a piece of the puzzle is missing in order to build an efficient and productive system. On top of that, it’s often complicated to go through a long process of endless paperwork and administrative matters. For young people who have never studied, and are not used to such administrative issues, it becomes challenging to get the help they need.
The Spanish authorities have slowly understood that they had to provide support starting from the bottom, which is why they have consistently improved their registration system by directly contacting young people. They are now trying to develop a stronger communication system at the local and regional level to get as many young people as possible involved in the Youth Guarantee scheme.
If the employment policies are only dealt with at the regional level, there ensues a lack of transparency, information and communication between these regions and their local entities. Victor Reloba insists on “having greater public authorities that share their data and assess the actual implementations of these policies, trying to analyse their data and translating them into some more consistent personalised tools.” This feeling of frustration is also shared by Clémentine Moyart, policy officer for employment at the Youth Forum. She adds that “information get lost in Spain… The Youth Guarantee doesn’t seem to exist and in reality it doesn’t translate into anything specific.”
This is true. The Youth Guarantee doesn’t generate much support. In Spain, the focus was mainly put on creating internships that would enable young people to get some work experience. However, this kind of system only benefits students with a high educational background. Companies get paid to hire these young people for a short period of time. This funding could have been invested instead in supporting other groups of young people in need, like those without an education, who totally left out of the system.
In a nutshell
These five examples of implementation truly represent the difficulty and the complexity of the YG. However, a few relevant points come across in the case study. A system can be efficient if we give it the means to do so. Whilst money is key, the willingness to build a coherent and strong system is even more important. We noticed that for instance in Italy or in Spain, money was injected but there was no structure around it to translate investments into concrete long-lasting results. Countries need to make sure that all the stakeholders come together, team up and share information in order to provide the best support. Each candidate has a different story and faces different struggles in his professional life. No general, nationwide blanket programme can answer everyone’s needs effectively.
As shown in Finland or in Ireland’s Ballymun project, support must come first from the local level. Many unemployed youth, from different ages, educational or social background can be considered as eligible candidates to get the support they truly need. The whole challenge is to put in place a communication that reaches out and speaks to them all. The YG scheme must be known and advertised. Many young people don’t have in mind all the possibilities that can be offered to them as a lever for change. There is a need for more staff that would be in charge of finding these youth and spread the word.
However, as much as we can get inspired by good practices in several countries, we need to bear in mind that Member States are not on equal footing as some were hit worse than others by the economic crisis. It is certainly easier to implement such schemes in countries where there are 2000 youth unemployed versus a country with hundred times more. If the YG scheme was a success in Finland during the previous legislature, it could not be entirely replicated in a country like Spain for instance. However, successful practices could definitely help countries like Italy or Spain to save up a lot of time in their revision and introduction of a better YG.