Last month, the Union’s member states came together and accepted the proposed scheme. The scheme is a response to a real crisis of youth unemployment: in Europe, there are currently 5.7 million young people unemployed.
The jobs market is tough these days. Young graduates need experience to get a job, but can’t get a job to gain that experience. It’s a vicious circle. In these difficult economic times, employers are less willing to risk investing time and energy in training new employees.
Once upon a time, graduate entry-level jobs filled this role. Unfortunately, some employers are taking advantage of the economic downtown; graduate entry-level jobs seem to be becoming internships, both paid and unpaid.
An unpaid internship is fine if you are secure in the knowledge of a job offer afterwards, but this is rarely the case these days. Most, if not all graduates know there is no such thing as big salaries or company cars, but we do need enough to pay the rent and put food on the table just like everyone else.
I fear that ‘internship’ is just another term for free labour. There are a lot of internships available at the moment, but the majority are unpaid. If quality internships are on offer, then yes, a person can work unpaid for a period, knowing they are making an investment in themselves. A person cannot simply survive working for free in the long term and that’s the bottom line. The right kind of internships can be great, but a system must be put in place to ensure that people are learning from their internship experiences.
The passive attitude of ‘What do you expect?’ or ‘It’s terrible, but that’s just the way it is’ cannot go on any longer. I’m relieved the issue is being recognised now by the European Union. Youth unemployment affects society as a whole. The more young people that are unemployed, the greater the burden is on our social welfare system and the more skills and talent we lose to emigration.
I recently expressed my concerns about the Youth Guarantee to MEP Emer Costello, a proponent of the scheme. I voiced my fears to her that it is unrealistic and would fail like other initiatives before it. I told her that I am concerned by the lack of value I feel is put upon my training and by the length of time graduates are expected to work unpaid.
I was surprised by her answer, which was realistic and made sense. I felt there was a real understanding on her part of the change that needs to come. Ms Costello assured me that the EU is aiming to create not just any training or internships, but quality internships where people will learn and will be paid a basic wage. The programme will be something new and adapted to suit the needs of the individual.
My conversation with Ms Costello gave me hope that finally we could be on the right path. However, my major concern is the budget that has been set aside for the programme. There are 5.7 billion young unemployed people in Europe, and yet only €6 billion in funding has been set aside. That is only a little over a euro per person. This really needs to be looked at as the changes and support that have been promised will not be solved with this kind of budget alone. Youth unemployment affects us all, not just the young. What will the Europe of 2030 or 2040 be like if all these people remain inexperienced and have their skills undeveloped? Something needs to be done and I hope that the Youth Guarantee is that something.
Clodagh Garry is a citizen reporter with European Movement Ireland as part of their Youth Media and the Irish Presidency programme.