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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Harnessing everyone's skills and talents as a way out of the crisis
Job Expo Fair Conference / Nitra
18 April 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
My warm greetings to you all and my thanks to the organisers for their invitation. It is a real pleasure to be back to Slovakia and to be able to address you on the issue of employment.
You will not be surprised that fighting the rise in EU's unemployment is one of my foremost concerns as Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion.
We all know how bleak the figures are. The jobless make up almost 11% of the working population across the EU and the figure is more than twice as high among young people. The economic and financial crisis has hit us hard at a moment when other longer-term challenges, such as population ageing are starting to bite.
Meanwhile, the competitive edge of the emerging economies — such as China, India and Brazil — is no longer just cheaper labour.
They have modernised their education systems and are competing with a high-skilled workforce.
The fact is that the European Union cannot come out of the crisis successfully unless we improve the use we make of our labour force’s potential. This requires policy action and Slovakia is no exception.
Let me outline three areas where I think action is essential.
First, we need to develop more inclusive labour markets. In Slovakia it means getting more young people, more women and more people from the most vulnerable groups, in particular the Roma, into employment.
In our recent work we in particular focussed on the young people.
Building on the most successful policy models that exist in the EU, we proposed that all Member States should adopt a framework – called the Youth Guarantee – where no young person would be left without a future.
Concretely, it has been agreed among Member States that in future all young people should receive a quality offer of a job, or an apprenticeship, a traineeship or a chance to continue education or training within four months of becoming unemployed or of leaving formal education.
We are well aware that achieving this ambitious objective will take some time. But we are strongly convinced that it is the right way to go.
A particular challenge in Slovakia will be to address the large problem of unemployment among the Roma. Concerning young people, our recommendations insist on the need to improve access to school and to pre-school education, vocational training and second-chance education.
I know this is on top of your concerns and I very much support your efforts in this respect.
My second message is that we need to bring education and training more in line with the skills needed on the labour market.
The foundations for anyone's success on the labour market are laid at school. Clearly a good level in mathematics and reading, basic IT literacy, entrepreneurial skills are and will remain a great asset.
But the labour markets are changing more quickly than in the past. Some occupations are becoming obsolete while others are emerging. Skills required for an occupation also change. Twenty years ago, a hotel receptionist did not need to operate an online booking system and electricians were seldom asked to install solar panels.
This increases the demands on adaptability of higher education, vocational education and training systems and on life-long learning.
This also requires better tools to anticipate the skill needs.
I hope that tools such as the EU Skills Panorama, launched last December, will help also Slovakia to anticipate future skill demand. This could also benefit from the support that the so called European Skills and Knowledge Alliances could provide for the shaping of future training curricula.
My third message concerns the need to better match labour demand and labour supply by stronger mobility.
It is a reality that despite high and persistent unemployment in many EU countries, a lot of job vacancies are still hard to fill. This is partly because of the skills' mismatch I just discussed. But it is also because labour mobility inside countries and between them remains insufficient.
Part of my work is to look for ways to remove the remaining obstacles to free movement of workers in the EU.
An important tool in this context is the EU network of European employment services, the so-called EURES network which I wish to transform into a genuine European placement and recruitment instrument. I am glad that EURES partners from 13 European countries are present at today’s event.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Implementing policies to respond to each of the challenges I have outlined requires funding.
I know that mobilising public resources in the present times of austerity is particularly difficult.
But my fourth message is that it is worth doing it even if it means to setting priorities.
One example is the Youth Guarantee I mentioned earlier. Yes, introducing it will have a cost. But this cost is not comparable to the cost of inaction. To put it in perspective, the 14 million young Europeans who are neither in employment, nor in education or training are estimated to cost the equivalent of 1.2% of EU annual GDP or €153 billion every year.
I also want to stress that Member States will not be alone in this. The EU budget will be there to help.
In February, the European Council decided to support the implementation of the Youth Guarantee by earmarking at least €6 billion for a new Youth Employment Initiative. From 2014 this will be available to regions where youth unemployment is over 25%, which is the case here in Slovakia.
This will of course come on top of the support that is and will be available from the EU structural funds. In this programming period Slovakia receives around 1.5 billion euros from the European Social Fund precisely to support measures to enhance its human capital. And I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister for the recent decision to channel even more European Social Fund resources into supporting employment among young people.
This is one example among many others of how the Social Fund can be useful at the current time. I am convinced that Slovakia could and should use it even more in the next financial period to tackle precisely the challenges that I outlined to you today.
Prime Minister, Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude by a word on the importance of an active role for employers and trade unions and of a healthy social dialogue for the implementation of all these reforms.
As a matter of fact, the countries in Europe where social dialogue is well established and industrial relations are strong tend to be those where the economic and social situation is more favourable and subject to less strain.
Involving social partners in dialogue and reform leads to more widely accepted solutions that are easier to implement and are more sustainable.
The Commission’s 2012 report on Industrial Relations in Europe released recently shows that industrial relations in Central and Eastern Europe are rather weak and fragmentary in general.
But it also shows that Slovakia does have some tradition of bipartite collective bargaining and strong tripartite institutions.
That is a useful basis for the social partners, employers and trade unions to continue building their capacity for collective interest representation.
And it is a good starting point for the social partners and the authorities to strengthen social dialogue.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Slovakia has achieved good progress in reaping the opportunities of its EU and euro area membership.
But it should not rest on its laurels.
More can be done and an even better use of EU funds in the future is an important starting point.
My best wishes for a successful conference.