Young, gifted and unemployed in 2012

Liam Morriss is Jogging4Jobs

Young Europeans could be forgiven for feeling like they are part of a lost generation. Despite growing up on a continent where access to education is available like never before, an increasing number of young people are finding themselves unemployed.

The latest figures released by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, reveal that the unemployment rate in the EU rose again in January 2012 to 10.1%, up 0.6% from the previous January. Eurostat estimates that there are approximately 24.3 million unemployed men and women in the EU today.

The highest levels of unemployment were recorded in Spain (23.3%) and Greece (19.9%), where the lack of jobs has led to social unrest and emigration. The lowest unemployment figures were recorded in Austria (4.0%) and the Netherlands (5.0%).

Amongst these figures are an estimated 5.5 million people under age 25. That’s 22.4% of the youth workforce, an extra 269,000 unemployed young people compared to figures from January 2011. Figures for youth unemployment were highest in Spain (49.9%), Greece (48.1%) and Slovakia (36.0%).

Unemployment in Europe has increased at an alarming rate since 2008, when the youth unemployment still remained high at just over 15%.

Charles Simmonds, 24, from West Sussex, UK, has a degree in Business Management and some professional work experience. He lost his temporary job in the financial services sector last summer, and despite sending many different applications he has had just two interviews and remains unemployed.

Charles said: “I apply for at least four jobs each week and the response rate is slow. Less than 10 per cent of companies reply to tell me yes or no. Signing on is the most depressing 20 minutes each fortnight. At uni they said your degree is your passport to your future, the key to open doors.”

Other jobseekers have resorted to more innovative means to promote themselves and their skills. Liam Morriss, 24, from Kent, UK, has been unemployed for the last six weeks after his temporary contract in retail ended. A keen runner, Liam decided to promote his skills and job hunt by jogging 10 kilometres per day from his home in Dartford into London. He wears a t-shirt that tells passersby “I’m unemployed, I’m a graduate and I’m jogging for jobs.”

Liam said: “I was so tired of being sat in front of my computer screen every day, trawling the same jobsites and having no success. It was getting me really down. This is the first period in my life I have been unemployed and I really felt like I’d lost a sense of purpose. Now I’m doing this, although it’s not a job, it gives me an aim every day.”

Liam has a degree in Music Industry Management and has applied for over 30 jobs in the last month. He has had one interview, but was told he wasn’t experienced enough for the role.

He said: “I think it’s mad how I’ve graduated yet I’m considering starting an apprenticeship. One apprenticeship is as a trackman working for network rail. I’ve applied for a few secretarial and admin type roles, but everywhere seems to require previous experience.”

So just why are young people disproportionately affected by joblessness?

James Higgins, Employment and Social Affairs Policy Officer at the European Youth Forum explained that the reasons are complex.

He said: “The majority of young people who are unemployed find themselves in this position due to difficulties in making the transition from education to employment. Some do not have sufficient skills, some employment sectors are oversubscribed, and in general young people tend to fall victim to an increasingly volatile labour market.”

Additionally, because young people are frequently over-represented in temporary and unstable jobs, this also contributes to the rising rate of youth unemployment.

A 2011 study by EUROFOUND, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, found that young people are particularly vulnerable because they are often the first and last to enter the labour market, as they have to compete with more experienced job-seekers in a market with fewer jobs on offer.

Against this backdrop of disastrous statistics, what is the EU doing to tackle the soaring rate of youth unemployment?

Essentially, the EU has a number of different schemes which sit in the framework of its Europe 2020 strategy, a ten year plan to improve Europe’s economy. An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs is a European Commission policy initiative that aims to help the EU reach its employment target for 2020: 75% of 20-64 year olds in work. There’s also Youth on the Move, which aims to tackle youth unemployment by promoting opportunities for students and young professionals to live, study and work around the EU.

However well intended, there’s no disputing that two years into Europe 2020, youth unemployment is higher than ever and the future looks uncertain for many young jobseekers.

It is not surprising that the European Commission promotes mobility for young professionals as one way to help resolve the crisis, but if there are no jobs at home and no jobs abroad, what use is it moving? Young jobseekers need to work, or to be offered the opportunity to train or re-train, and sooner, rather than later.

This feature was published by The New Federalist on 19 March 2012.


A weekend in Helsinki

Last weekend I was in Helsinki for the XXI European Congress of the Young European Federalists (also known by the French acronym JEF, Jeunes Européens fédéralistes). The Congress, which meets every two years in a different European city, is the highest decision-making body of the organisation. It elects the President, two Vice Presidents and twenty members to its Federal Committee whose mandates will now last until 2013.

Helsinki was an interesting choice for the Congress. I’d never been to Finland before, nor to any other country in the region, but my Finnish friends had made me want to visit for a number of years. Helsinki has this kind of enigmatic quality to it and is not like any other European city I’ve been to. My first impressions were that it was clean, well organised with a great infrastructure and safe. I felt safer walking alone down the street after dark than I ever have at home in the UK. Free unsecured wi-fi was everywhere, which truly was a godsend. I was also lucky that Finns are so great at English, as my Finnish is strictly limited to ‘kiitos’ (thank you) and ‘moi moi’ (hello). The architecture was a diverse mix of neo-classical, art nouveau, gothic, and even what I would describe as ‘communist-style’, with very square, imposing old-fashioned looking concrete buildings popping up in some places.

During downtime from the Congress, I had the chance to see a bit of the city. Helsinki Cathedral, painted in a stark white and with a huge green dome, is simply stunning. The view from the cathedral is equally impressive, looking out onto the harbour and the Gulf of Finland. A huge, beautiful golden organ sits inside the cathedral, and when I visited I sat and listened to a choir rehearsing hymns in Finnish. It was very peaceful.

Helsinki harbour is also an interesting sight. Huge ferries and ships sail from here daily, taking passengers from Helsinki to neighbouring Tallinn, Stockholm and beyond. The city didn’t feel overly ‘touristy’, unlike say London or Paris but then again it is also much smaller, with about 500,000 inhabitants. The harbour did have a small market selling souvenirs, including not just the usual fridge magnets and postcards, but also rabbit fur earmuffs and bottle openers made from reindeer antlers!

Helsinki is not really a budget destination and the £/€ exchange rate is always less than favourable for Brits, but it is possible to spend a weekend there on a limited budget. The city was small enough to navigate on foot and there are plenty of coffee shops to grab a cup of tea or a sandwich. I was totally intrigued by the number of people I saw marching down the street in hiking gear with Nordic walking poles and really tried hard not to stare!

During the last night of my trip I was lucky enough to have a real Finnish experience and visited a sauna. Many bars and pubs in the city have their own private sauna for hire, and my friends had booked this one out for the evening. It was bliss, just to sit and talk and relax in that hot, sticky wooden box for fifteen minutes while you sweat the day away.

I can highly recommend Helsinki and would love to visit the city again. It would also be great to plan a longer trip and see more of the country, especially as it is so far from Britain. The flight time was just under three hours, and direct flights are available from Gatwick through Norwegian airlines (who were also amazing – the best budget carrier I have ever flown with!).  

Youth on the move? Not in these parts…

The European Commission recently released this slick video to promote it’s Youth on the Move initiative which promotes opportunities available for young people in the EU. Citizens are free to live, work, study, train and set up businesses in any of the twenty-seven member states. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well it is.

I studied for my master’s degree in Belgium and paid the same fees as the local students, around €560 for the year. There was nothing inferior about the teaching or the university, as some back home scoffed, it was simply the case that funding for higher education in Belgium is different – better – than it is in Britain. However, despite all these great opportunities few young Brits seem to be taking them up. Reactions have ranged from astonishment and surprise to excitement when I tell people that they can receive higher education abroad in English at a fraction of what they would pay here, but few are seizing those opportunities.

The UK government has a responsibility to work smarter with the EU and really promote the opportunities for young people in the Union, particularly when so many are put off by rising tuition fees at home. What’s next? A generation of people that could have gone to university but simply didn’t because they were terrified by crippling amounts of debt? The concern is completely understandable but it doesn’t have to be that way.