The Youth Guarantee: ideas for improvement

Ruben Hamburger and Grégory Sacré

Created with a Council recommendation to Member States in April 2013, the Youth Guarantee consists in giving “every young person a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education”. As the European Union’s competences are limited in the employment sector, it can only support Member States’ actions by financing projects and monitoring their results.

A budget with two sources

Whereas all Member States are targeted by the Council’s recommendation, EU funding is not evenly distributed. The 6.4 billion euros allocated through the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), which is the main financial envelop for the youth Guarantee, is only accessible to regions with a youth unemployment rate higher than 25%. “This means that some Member States don’t receive any funding because none of their regions have more than 25% of their youth unemployed”, explains Clémentine Moyart, Policy officer for employment at Youth Forum. “However, there are cities in those countries where youth unemployment is above 25%, but they aren’t eligible for this funding as it focuses on regions.”

On top of the initial 6.4 billion euros which the European Union set aside for the Youth Employment Initiative in 2013, 2 additional billion euros will be dedicated to the YEI over the 2017-2020 period. Whereas the sheer influence such a non-binding recommendation can have on national governments is impressive, this budget remains clearly too low for most stakeholders.

A tough evaluation

The beneficiary regions have to set up an evaluation system so that they can send their results to the European Commission, where they’ll be analysed. But this monitoring faces several hurdles. First, the measures set up vary greatly from country to country. “In some countries, like in Bulgaria, the Youth Guarantee consists in about twenty measures. So it’s difficult to know about its impact,” says Clémentine Moyart of Youth Forum. By contrast, France leads by example, having decided on a more targeted implementation of the YG. France thus preferred investing the low budget available into regional pilot projects whose efficiency is easier to monitor. “They can observe the impact on the region and then ask for more funding on the basis of a concrete evaluation and a foolproof Youth Guarantee”, Clémentine Moyart adds.

A second obstacle makes it hard to evaluate the national initiatives: the lack of statistical support in several regions. “These regions face many challenges to introduce a new type of evaluation that didn’t previously exist”, says Claire Dhéret, Senior Policy Analyst at EPC, a European think tank.

This is why the Commission’s efficiency reports, which are based on the data sent by the Member States, are not always reliable: they use quantitative instead of qualitative data. “They add up the amount of offers made to the young people registered in the job agencies databases, but they don’t say what kind of youth it is, or whether the offer led to an actual job”, Clémentine Moyart explains.

Facilitating job access for NEETs

Another critic made about the Youth Guarantee is that it doesn’t differentiate enough between the various kinds of youth. According to Victor Reloba, vice-president of the Spanish National Youth Council, “when it targets university-level youth, the Youth Guarantee is no longer efficient”. Mr Reloba fears that the YG could create a windfall effect, where youth get jobs they would have been hired for regardless. This would multiply cost without having lasting results. He says that “it’s the same as giving free money to companies without there being any real job creation”.

Furthermore, the ones who are usually helped are unemployed students already registered with job agencies, who have started looking for a job on their own accord. Whereas the YG’s goal should rather be about helping the youth who are the furthest away from the job market and are the hardest to reach out to. This is one of the Member States’ greatest challenges: reaching the NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training). The European Commission knows about the issue, as a European source close to the file told us: “There is still much to do in this sector. The ones who find work are the motivated youth. Today, the objective is to go seek those who are less motivated and less educated”.

But finding these 14 million young Europeans is no easy task. First, they’re not all in the same situation. In Spain, a lot of well-trained youth are left under the radar because of the economic crisis; whereas in Belgium the targeted youth are usually those who have left the school system. Second, integrating NEETs into the job market requires long-term investments. To that end, Clémentine Moyart of Youth Forum thinks that local stakeholders should be more involved to seek those marginalised. Hanna Sauli, coordinator of advocacy in the Finnish Youth Co-operation Allianssi, agrees:  “Municipalities really play a role. Everything is run by them! The outreach youth work is mostly funded by municipalities. They are quite big!

And the role played by education in helping out NEETs is often underestimated in the YG, says the assistant of MEP Jana Žitňanská (ECR): “unemployment doesn’t start in the unemployment office, but much sooner, already in schools, when the right education isn’t provided, when children drop out or even earlier.” The YG seems not to be adequate to address those challenges that emerge early on.

Quality offer and « long-termism »

The YG is about guaranteeing a “good-quality offer” to young people “within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education”. But what is meant by “good-quality offer”? The Council recommendation remains vague on the definition: it doesn’t outline what quality criteria are meant to be used and leaves it up to Member States to do so. “But they have given themselves the means to do that”, says Claire Dhéret, of the EPC, a European think tank. This is risky. Being under time pressure, the Member States’ employment agencies can multiply generalist, short-term job offers, including internships. The issue is that those “don’t necessarily lead to more stable jobs, she says. We cannot only offer an internship without considering whether it can open doors for the youth”.

Sarah Benke, assistant to MEP Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA), fears “that some perceive the Youth Guarantee as an opportunity to hire one intern after the other, without ever offering a stable job”. Also, without clear quality criteria, several youth organisations worry about companies’ lack of obligations in terms of remuneration and social security.

Job creation to counter structural unemployment

In its recommendation, the Council of the EU doesn’t mention job creation at all. This means that the YG system is about proposing vacant posts to young people, not creating new ones. But only focusing on the existing workforce can be insufficient to counter youth unemployment, especially in periphery regions that were the most hit by the 2008 crisis. In Greece, Spain or Italy, “the problem is that there is structural youth unemployment” says Sarah Benke. “The issue doesn’t come from a lack of competence or knowledge in young people. It stems from the economic crisis, amongst others from the austerity measures that will have to be reconsidered”.

To guarantee employment, the Youth Guarantee needs to be supported by investments in job creation. In Italy, “the Youth Guarantee helps the employment system, OK, but it doesn’t structurally help to solve issues”, says MEP Marco Valli (EFDD). “We need to change our political approach and provide an economic stimulus to try to generate demand.