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youth unemployment mismatch of school and work

Youth unemployment is a big issue in Europe. With an average of 20%, and some countries scoring as high as 50%, youth are worse off than the total workforce. Inevitable? Youth unemployment follows the general trend, but always a couple or more percent points higher. All measures that lower unemployment will also lower youth unemployment. Still, there is something more, as I gathered at a seminar in Bad Honnef, organised by EZA and KSI, end of October 2011.

The connection between school and work seems to be a major issue for younger people looking for a job. The trend is that the European ‘labour market’ needs more higher qualified workers; the supply of lower qualified and unschooled jobs will further diminish in the near future. Prolonged education seems to raise chances of getting a job. And then there is a need for targeted policies and subsidies to get youth to actively enter the work force after they have left school with a diploma. But it was also said that youth want to work, rather than stay at home and receive welfare. So I wonder what exactly is behind the transition between school and work. Do they not learn the right things at school; or is industry just expecting readymade drones for the workforce?

First: what do younger people learn at school? The emphasise is more and more laid on competences than on content. Students are thought where and how to look for answers. But one also need answers right away in order to know that one is on the right track, and to value what one discovers on the road. This is a discussion in its own right; the question I have is how relevant education is for many students who want to settle in a job when they are 16 to 18 years old and leave school with a diploma. The ‘sail girl’ from The Netherlands obviously did not see school as very relevant, because she dropped out of her distant learning as soon as she became 16. Sailing around the world will also teach her a lot of competences, for which she apparently does not need school. Are schools just producing unproductive and irrelevant competences?
The educational system cannot train all the possible skills, neither can it fill the students with all the applicable knowledge for whichever job will be available when the student graduates. So, it seems that the employer also has a role, and a duty, to finish the training and schooling of its employees.

Second, what kind of employees is industry expecting? It goes without saying that schools do not educate young persons exclusively for the temporary and fluctuating demands of industry — that would be training for permanent unemployment. Schools aim at developing a complete person who can apply his or her talents to earning a living and contributing to society. But one also has to learn how to be an employee; one has to acquire the right skills for a specific job, and the attitudes for interacting at the job. The latter might be a specific problem for those youth who have serious problems in finding a job, one can wonder whether employers should expect readymade employees, drones that fit perfectly for the job.
The prolonged schooling time raises the question whether employers are outsourcing the necessary training to the schools, and thus to public money. How often can people start at a company right out of school, and climb up the ladder in the company, acquiring their skills and qualifications on the fly?

Of course I know that I paint a simplistic picture. Still, this gap between school and job has an awkward side. School and industry only seem to match when youth stays longer at school, and when governments are active in matching youth and employers, and subsidising industry for employing younger persons. Employers seems just to sit back, picking only the ripe fruits as and when they are presented to them (with a juicy bonus).

So these are the questions then: are schools teaching the right skills, knowledge and competences for the jobs? And, secondly, is industry really doing its part in developing the talents of its employees, thus finishing what the school has started? What do you think?

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