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[Check Against Delivery]
Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
NEET solution demands action now, not later
Conference on "Keeping Young People in Employment, Education and Training: Common Challenges – Shared Solutions"
Bucharest, 10 March 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you today for this conference on young people not in employment, education or training. I would like to thank the Romanian government for organising the event.
This conference comes at a timely moment, following up as it does on the Council conclusions on NEETs adopted in November 2013.
What we are discussing here today at this conference and then again tomorrow, when we launch the new Erasmus+ programme, boils down to something we all care very deeply about: the future of Europe and the future of our young people.
Roughly one fifth of Europe's population – some 100 million – is less than 30 years old. And close to 15 million of these young people are excluded from mainstream society, in that they have no job and are not in any school.
Some social groups are faring better than others. But exclusion is certainly concentrated among young people whose parents, or even grandparents, were migrants or who have a disability or health problem.
And those who leave school early without completing their studies are the most vulnerable. Data shows that the lack of upper secondary education is a major obstacle to a successful entry to the labour market.
For Europe, the social exclusion of young people in this way has negative consequences for the economy and significant costs for society – the disengagement of young people from the labour market costs billions of euros. A conservative estimate has put the figure at around 160 billion euros per year, or 1.3 per cent of EU GDP.
There are other costs too, which, although less easy to calculate, are no less serious. Inactivity and exclusion can lead to anti-social or dangerous behaviour, often to political alienation, or an attraction to the extremes of the political spectrum.
Therefore, I draw the following conclusion: if we fail to address the problem of NEETs, our societies risk paying a heavy price. Above all, we owe it to our young people to act; but it is also very much in the interests of society as a whole.
So, what are the options?
As today’s conference will show, solutions have to be broadly based and need to address the whole phase of transition into adulthood. We need solutions using a mix of policies, bringing together various strategies, means of support and funds. Therefore it is crucial that different support providers work in partnership.
The Youth Guarantee is certainly a good place to start. In fact, the timing of our conference coincides well with the implementation of the Youth Guarantee, in particular its education and training part, which is highly relevant to NEETs.
The logic of the Youth Guarantee is very simple: it aims to ensure that no young person is left unemployed or inactive for longer than four months.
The Youth Guarantee states that Member States will enable young people to find a job suited to their education, skills and experience; or to acquire the education, skills and experience that are directly relevant to increasing their chances of finding a job in the future.
Nineteen Member States have already submitted their youth guarantee plans, which were discussed at the bilateral meetings with Member States. However, this is only the beginning of the process and we still have a long way to go to make youth guarantee schemes work on the ground.
Education and training measures, as well as youth work, must be the backbone of the youth guarantee schemes, and this is reasonably well reflected in most of the plans. No youth guarantee scheme can be successful without an effective partnership with the world of education and youth.
Through its youth-centred and informal approaches, youth work can deliver individual assistance and help instil confidence in young people to get back on track.
Youth work can also prepare unemployed young people, especially those with little or no qualifications for the labour-market, by offering them alternative learning pathways; it offers an informal environment where they can acquire the necessary social and human capital, can draw on personalised assistance.
[EU Youth Strategy]
In light of the contribution that youth work can make, the European Commission promotes the further development of this sector through its EU Youth Strategy. We have just completed a new study on the value of youth work. We illustrate in this study the contributions it can make to early school leaving, or to bridging gaps between young people and the labour market.
The Commission and the Member States also are involved in an expert group, which allows peers to share experiences in order to improve the quality of youth work across Europe.
But whether we address the challenge through the youth guarantee or youth work, the core of our response must involve education: we have to ensure that young people stay in and maximise the benefit they get from their education. Or we have to make sure that they are given a real opportunity to return to education.
We see ample and clear evidence that early school leavers are more at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. Therefore, comprehensive approaches are needed in each country that address the root causes of early school leaving, and include a clear commitment from all relevant actors at all levels.
Our education and training systems need to promote supportive and conducive learning environments, focusing on the needs of individual pupils. They need to ensure a rich, flexible and relevant offer of learning opportunities that will attract continued attendance while removing the obstacles that prevent people from completing upper secondary education.
For those who have left education and training prematurely, high quality second chance schools or other such opportunities must be available.
Our education and training systems must become more effective and more adapted to the needs of the labour market. We need to address urgently the serious skills mismatches, characteristic of EU labour markets. At the moment there are two million vacancies, which could be filled by young people, if they had the right skills.
Making sure that schools teach these skills has been the core vision of our strategy on Rethinking Education, which I presented to Europe's education ministers over a year ago. I have impressed on them the need to reform national education systems, so that young people have the skills they need to get a job, and that includes transversal skills and digital skills.
Reinvigorating our vocational training should also be part of our response to the youth unemployment challenge. Member States with well-functioning dual VET and apprenticeship systems have a much lower level of youth unemployment.
This is why last summer, together with Commissioner Andor, I launched the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Our ambition is to increase the quality and supply of apprenticeships across Europe and to change mind-sets towards this type of learning.
Quality apprenticeships can be very powerful in helping young people make an easier transition into the labour market. Also, with high-quality apprenticeships, we can tap into the potential of vocational training to support and even drive competitiveness and growth. And it is competitiveness and growth that will create more jobs.
Finally, I would like to underline that our new Erasmus+ programme will also help the most vulnerable young people, including those in a NEET situation. By offering opportunities for non-formal learning mobility, for example through the European Voluntary Service, Erasmus+ will strengthen young people's self-confidence, help them find their way and most importantly reinforce their skills.
At the institutional level, in its support for strategic partnerships, Erasmus+ will promote flexible and innovative cooperation between youth NGOs, formal education institutions, especially vocational ones, and employment services.
These groups will have the chance to design new integration pathways to the labour market and share the best of what is being done across Europe.
Projects such as these will help to equip young people with the right skills so that they find their way in the labour market. In this way, Erasmus+ will promote social inclusion, provide stronger links between formal, informal and non-formal learning and support cross-sectoral cooperation to develop Europe’s human capital.
All of these actions respond to the urgent call of a young generation that must be neither lost nor forgotten.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I think my message is clear. The social inclusion of NEETs is an urgent matter that we must address now, not later. Europe's future depends on it.
If we were to fail to do so, the cost to our economy and to our societies would be unbearable. So we must invest in skills; facilitate school-to-work transitions through apprenticeships; implement actions to prevent early school leaving; and reach out to the most vulnerable young people.
I am confident that we can do this, if we continue to work together in partnership, like today.
I look forward to our discussions and wish you a successful conference.