So, what can be done about the problem of youth unemployment? It’s a massive problem with no clear solutions, and this is party the reason why it has already escalated to such worrying heights. Understandably, individual European governments have not got money to throw at the problem. It is therefore necessary to think outside the box, and suggest alternatives like becoming freelancer writers or journalists. Clearly, there are downsides to this too – job instability and lack of previous work to name a couple – and certain governments don’t make this a particularly easy path for young people to take. In Spain, amongst other countries, freelance workers are required to pay a certain amount of money to the government per month for the privilege of not working for a company. This means that for many, especially those just starting to work, freelancing is not a viable option as they do not make enough profit once they have paid their fee to the government. Another option for young people looking to go down a less conventional route is in start-up companies – either working for one, or creating their own. This too can have its disadvantages, but no job is completely perfect. Start-ups can become very successful with some hard work and an innovative idea, and investment can come from private companies both in their home country and abroad. The added benefit is of course that start-ups can employ more people once they start to grow. In the mean time, however, governments should focus on keeping young people in school for as long as possible, so that they leave with decent qualifications and have various options open when deciding what to do with their future.
(PS – sorry for the cheesy photo (which is from http://www.transmitpromo.com))
Although the statistics vary in every European country, one thing is undeniable: something needs to be done about youth unemployment as soon as possible. Spain is one of the worst affected countries, with over 50% of 15-24 year olds currently out of work. This is a completely surreal statistic when you really think about it, and with many friends in Barcelona and Madrid, it’s a very real problem for a lot of people I know. It’s unrealistic to blame governments for every problem a country faces, but in Europe as a whole, the issue of youth unemployment does not seem to be at the forefront of politicians’ minds.
Youth unemployment can have massive consequences for a country – in both long- and short-term ways. In Spain at the moment, there is concern that the current generation of young people aged 15-24 will become known as the ‘generación perdida’, or the ‘lost generation’. Many of those who fall into this age category will never have a real ‘career’ in one field, as companies are reluctant to offer anything more than short-term contracts, and the proportion of young people who work over-qualified is worrying. Recently, a particularly worrying trend has come to light: young people leaving Bachelor’s degrees off their CVs when applying for jobs such as bartending, so that their future employer does not think it is just a holding job until something better comes along. Something is seriously wrong when people are actually downplaying their achievements just to earn some money. This age group is also now living at home for much longer, often until the age of 30, and they are therefore less independent. There rates of school dropout have also increased due to the economic crisis – when young people see that working hard and getting good grades just leads to unemployment, many think it’s not worth continuing with their education until the age of 18. This is something governments really need to address, as this is clearly one of the roots of the problem. There is also a certain amount of disillusionment with the education system – government cuts mean that teachers have bigger classes and are therefore able to devote less attention to each pupil.
It’s also not just us who are affected by youth unemployment – it is unlikely that the current youth of Europe will be able to support their parents financially in their retirement, as they will not have had stable savings throughout their adult lives.
The ‘brain drain’ is also a phenomenon that has seen in an unsurprising increase in the past few years, in Spain in particular, as the country has been hit especially hard in the area of scientific research. Due to a lack of funding, Spanish research centres have stopped employing so many scientists and engineers, and these young people choose to go to countries like Germany, where work is more readily available. However, this can have serious consequences for the countries from which the young professionals flee – in the future, when the crisis is over, there will be a large sector of top scientists missing, and those who leave are unlikely to return to Spain. It’s not just scientific research which is affected – the majority of my Spanish friends who are planning on becoming bankers, doctors and journalists want to study and then work in the UK or in America.
It all started in mid-October, as 15-year-old Kosovar Leonarda was arrested during her school trip because she was an illegal immigrant. Some days later, Khatchik, an 18-year-old Armenian boy, was sent back to his country for the same reason. The same morning, students tried to block their schools in protest.
I remember how it began in our school: it was a Wednesday morning, and I went to school at eleven. In front of the doors were gathered a few large green bins. Not taking notice of that slightly unusual detail, I walked past them and went straight to class. In the staircase I saw different signs saying « For Khatchik and Leonarda, General Assembly at 1 pm ».
At the time I didn’t pay attention to the news and thus knew nothing of these cases, but I soon learned all about them. At the meeting, a sit-in was planned for the next morning.Having heard of how violently Leonarda and Khatchik had been sent back to their countries, I felt it was my duty, and especially as a student supporting my comrades, to fight for their cause. I went to the sit-in at 7:30 and helped motivate students to sit with us. Our school was one of the most involved in the whole affair: many students went to the demonstrations. We had banners, we wore « war paint », we screamed slogans at the top of our lungs… We were quite impressive when we arrived on the large Place de la Nation and occupied the square. From all directions (the Place de la Nation is the crossroads of several main streets) came running hundreds of students from different schools: what an amazing scene it was! We all started to walk down the Fbg St-Antoine towards Bastille.
Everything seemed quite romantic: thousands of teenagers uniting to fight for the rights of their friends. But something felt wrong. Themedia thought we were ridiculous, and though sometimes they were just trying to insult us, they were right. First of all, students kept saying « sitting » instead of « sit-in » (I guess the French are just really bad at languages). Second and worst of all, a large part of these supposedly « angry teenagers » were just using this whole thing as an excuse to skip class. Those were the ones that were the most vehement about the demonstrations, screaming things such as « Valls démission », when I’m sure they didn’t even know who Valls is (he is the Home Secretary) and whether or not he was truly responsible for these expulsions. It got even worse on Friday, when Hélène Boucher (my school) organized a « blocus »: students stopped other students from going to class. It started raising questions among us, as many of us thought that it was ridiculous to fight against violence with violence. And then at last, we lost all credibility when only few of us showed up for the demonstrations during the holidays, although many were back in the streets after the holidays. They tried a “blocus” again in early November, but we were all mostly fed up with these chaotic protests, and it ended up in a sort of fight in front of school: I had to fight my way through the crowd to get inside!
But after this peak of violence, the administration intervened, putting a full stop to these absurd demonstrations. The really involved students went to the marches, not caring if it was on a school day or on the weekend; and others went to school as usual. We regained the credibility we had lost, asking for specific changes in immigration laws, and not just reciting sentences given by adults trying to benefit from our naiveté.
Flore, 17, Paris