Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Young Ones

What sort of country are we leaving for our children?

What sort of society, what sort of culture, what sort of world will they inherit?

It's a question that is often asked.
But perhaps we should be questioning what sort of children are we leaving for our world?

With some of the worst youth unemployment figures in the developed world, Europe is home to a disengaged, disenchanted and disenfranchised generation who will soon be expected to take over the mantles of their nations.

Figures for youth unemployment are largely double the incidence of adult unemployment in many European countries. The economic slowdown is hitting the young the hardest, but we are yet to truly see the scars that will be left behind. Those will only become apparent in around a decade or so.

While Generation X, the post war baby boomers, may be held accountable for the strain on economies brought by capitalism, credit and unsecured loans, Generation Y have managed to squeeze through and are largely upcoming professionals who have completed education and are well on their way to careers. It's the next generation down, dubbed Generation Z. that we should perhaps be worrying about.

There is an increasing incidence of NEETs in Generation Z - Not in Education, Employment or Training. A lost generation who are likely to be living at home, and as such are delayed in becoming fully engaged young adults who are taking an active role in society. Together with their peers, they look at everyone else around them and perceive a world that is forn the most part inaccessible to them. They feel they must carry the burden of the mistakes of their elders on their shoulders, while they are stripped of responsibility, indepence and pride.

Youth unemployment is largely the product of structural factors, where there is simply no capacity to accomodate those entering into the jobs market for the first time in the system. This is then exacerbated by the sort of austerity measures we are seeing in Southern Europe that has put youth unemployment in Spain higher than in Greece, with both running over fifty per cent for 18 to 24 year olds.

Youth unemployment across the Eurozone as a whole was 21.6 percent in February, according to the European Union's statistics office, Eurostat. That accounts for hundreds of thousands of unexploited, underused and wasted capable people who are not only contributing to society, but are starting to feel like society is not contributing anything for them.

Youth unemployment is often the first symptom of a failing economy. Service industries are hit by the reduction in available spending money and the perceived threat of joblessness, causing people to stop going out and buying, or eating in restaurants. It is well noted that service industries are one of the biggest employers for this sector of the demographic. How many of us toiled in pubs and restaurants, or shops, during our youth? Yet with so many places affected by the recession closing or having to cut back significantly, the first area affected is often staff.

Meanwhile, job cuts in other areas are seeing better qualified, better equipped, and perhaps more motivated members of Generation X and Y taking up jobs that Zedders would otherwise have access too.

On top of that, large amounts of immigration, both EU and non-EU, is providing cheaper employment for already struggling businesses who are more likely to be tempted to take on a foreigner for less money.

Youth unemployment is not just about joblessness. Various studies have shown clear links between youth unemployment and antisocial behavior, alcoholism, mental and physical illnesses and suicide. Meanwhile a large number of the protestors involved in the riots that have spread across Europe and are likely to continue and escalate well into the summer, are unemployed youths who feel disconnected from society as a whole. You only have to look at pictures from the London riots and the most recent scenes in Barcelona to see the majority of people who took to the streets feeling that their voices were not being heard, came from the younger generations who feel they are unfairly having to bear the brunt of matters they could not possibly have contributed to.

Not only that, but economists have also argued that youth unemployment creates a scarring effect that reduces the capacity to earn throughout a person's life compared with someone who did not suffer long term unemployment at an early age. Therefore the majority of those young people stuck in an unemployment rut now will be blighted by a decelerated passage of progress compared to their counterparts who are able to traverse the current economic situation relatively harm free.

So what can we do to help Generation Z?

The primary driver of employment is growth, especially for those just beginning their careers who can be taken on baord and groomed and moulded into the future workforce of an industry. But with ongoing austerity measures designed to to tackle structural problems, growth is being sacrified on the altar of a quick fix recovery.

The other solution is to take these people out of the job market by placing them into training. While they may not be earning money, many believe the best solution is occupying them with studies which will also prepare them for participation in the workforce when the better days finally do arrive.

However, with structural state deficits as they are across European nations, governments are ill placed to pour money into the further education of a group of people who have already negotiated the school system and have either chosen not to enter further education, or have come out of it to find no job at the other end as well as potentially a large amount of debt already accrued in their bank accounts.

The situation isn't uniformly bleak across Europe. In Germany, young people's prospects for work have never been brighter. Yet this may also be a reflection on the higher number of young people engaged in education and vocational training.

It is essential countries like Spain and Greece need to ensure Generation Z are well rounded, fully engaged and highly skilled young adults, ready to compete in an ultra competitive global market place. However strategies to encourage youth into training schemes work best when they come with guarantees of employment at the end. However prolonging the amount of time spent in education is not the solution.

Whilst in Germany the length of a degree is similar to that in the UK, in Spain many courses take much longer. As a result, young people may be dissuaded from signing up to such a big commitment, with many degrees taking up to six years, when they are already demoralised by the society in which they live and as a result would be less likely to want to make such an investment when their prospects look bleak.

Meanwhile those attending shorter courses will likely come out the other side to see little change, and may feel even more let down by the system.

At the same time, austerity measures are seeing an increase in retirement age across Europe . It's ironic that at one end of the demographic you have people seeking work who are unable to find it, while at the toher you have people wanting to leave work but finding they must remain in employment for years to come. On top of that, regulations and directives from Brussels restricting flexibility in the workplace are preventing dynamic handling of the socio-economic situation from the bottom up. From the working time directive to the agency workers directive, legislation is costing companies billions in red tape and making it expensive to take on new staff.

It is also likely that such social regulation has also affected the expectations of Generation Z, who are becoming less willing than previous generations to perform what they deem menial tasks, or work for long hours for perceived little pay.

Meanwhile the generation in question has been brought up in a Western capitalist society where they know little other than a culture that demands recognition, luxury items and a certain lifestyle which in itself denigrades the usual forms of employment for those just starting their working lives. As a result, many 18 to 24 year olds look down their noses at employment opportunities in supermarkets or manufacturing plants. As a result, many of those jobs are taken up by migrant workers who essentially flee unemployment in their own countries, but by doing so, essentially shift the burden of jobs creation and welfare onto another country.

The cost of youth unemployment in Europe could be very high. This summer as Spain joins the ranks of Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece in economic turmoil, expect to see more riots from a disgruntled public on the streets, with a large proportion of protesters hailing from the 18-24 year old age bracket.

For every young person out of education and out of work, not only is an individual's capability wasted, but also their spirit. It is high time Brussels sought to rescind restrictive regulation that places a stranglehold on enterprise and curtail uncontrolled and exacerbatory free movement of people, if only to give the youth of today a chance while the going is tough.

Meanwhile as adults and as parents, it is our job as a society to keep the fire in their bellies alive, and thank or lucky stars when we have a solid income and a stable job.

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