Marianne Thyssen is Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.
Thyssen answered questions by EurActiv’s Editor-In-Chief Daniela Vincenti, and journalist Henriette Jacobsen, ahead of the launch of the new initiative, the European Pact for Youth.
Why is the European Pact for Youth needed when the European Commission has already launched the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) to combat youth unemployment?
We can’t relax our efforts to help young people into jobs. I welcome the European Pact for Youth, which is a business-led initiative that complements the European Commission’s efforts at EU level.
Companies are key drivers to create apprenticeships, traineeships and other types of work-based learning, and help young people transition into their first jobs. This is why it is so important that this initiative comes from business itself. Businesses realise that they have a responsibility and an interest in investing in skills and in helping to create the talent of tomorrow. This pact fits well with the aims of existing EU initiatives such as the Youth Guarantee, the Youth Employment Initiative and the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.
Has the European Pact for Youth been set up because the Commission is unhappy with the lack of progress related to member states’ Youth Guarantee?
The implementation of the Youth Guarantee is on track and is already bringing first positive results. There are almost 10% less young people unemployed this year compared to last year. This is a very encouraging sign. While there are still too many young people out of a job, I am hopeful that this positive trend will continue.
The Youth Guarantee is not just a quick fix that delivers results from one day to the next. It will take some time to pay its full dividends, but compared to other structural reforms in Europe, the Youth Guarantee has probably been the most rapidly implemented.
Next year, we will evaluate in-depth results on the ground in all the 28 member states. But already, the numbers of young people who have been helped into a job, an apprenticeship, a traineeship or further training by the Youth Guarantee show that this instrument is making a real positive difference to young people’s lifechances.
I believe that the European Pact for Youth is an important contribution from the private sector that can help deliver on the Youth Guarantee. The companies that are initiating the Pact are committing to delivering at least 100,000 new apprenticeships, traineeships and entry-level jobs by 2017.
Together with the pledges made in Riga to make 140,000 apprenticeships available to young people through the European Alliance for Apprenticeship, we are making good progress. All together, we are moving now towards the creation of one quarter million new training opportunities for young people across Europe.
As the Pact develops and grows, I hope we can develop even more ambitious targets. This will be an important contribution to helping young people into jobs and careers.
How are businesses and the EU’s educational systems meant to be collaborating under the European Youth Pact?
One way is to increase the supply of apprenticeships, which means that young vocational students share their time between learning in school and training in a company. This is important because quality apprenticeships have shown to help young people into employment faster, and they also improve companies’ access to skilled graduates. Typically, two in three apprentices are employed directly after their training, which shows how valuable they are for employers.
But there are also other ways. Companies can provide guest lectures in schools, they can invite teachers to do job shadowing in their company or they can invite students in for company visits. There are many different ways that companies and schools can cooperate, and we want many different ways to be explored, tested and developed through the European Pact for Youth.
What has been the response from the educational providers to the European Pact for Youth?
Very positive! Europe’s biggest education and training providers are partners in this initiative. Business-education partnerships can of course only be developed if schools, colleges and universities are willing and able to engage with companies. My impression is that there is more and more appetite for such cooperation. The Pact provides the perfect opportunity for education and training institutions to keep up to date with the developments in business, industry and work-life.
What has kept businesses away from hiring young people previously?
The economic crisis caused massive layoffs, and during the most difficult years fewer and fewer people were hired. With economic growth now back on track, we also see that employment is very slowly starting to rise. At the same time we face a paradoxical situation.
There are 4.5 million young unemployed, yet at the same time 2 million vacancies across Europe remain unfilled. One in four employers report that they have difficulties finding people with the right skills. This shows that we need to increase the relevance of education and training, and for this we need a stronger cooperation between business and education.
How is the European Pact for Youth targeting Southern European countries, in particular Greece and Spain, where youth unemployment is at the highest level?
This European Pact for Youth is an initiative led by CSR Europe and its network of business and partner organisations across the whole of Europe. Action plans on business-education cooperation will be developed by these networks in each of the 28 EU member states, including Greece, Spain and other countries with high levels of youth unemployment. Companies and education and training providers will use this opportunity to boost the skills and employability of young people.
You say the aim of the European Pact for Youth is to create at least 100,000 new good quality apprenticeships, traineeships or entry-level jobs. How does the Commission define, for example, a ‘good quality traineeship’ – can it for example be unpaid?
Traineeships are important stepping stone to work, but they need to be valuable and take place under good working conditions. A traineeship should be an investment, not a substitute for free or cheap labour. At EU level, we have a framework in place to promote quality traineeships that offer full and transparent information about working conditions – including on whether they are paid – and what is on offer to learn.