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Editorial: What to do with the youth?

| By Berit Kvam

Make no mistake: youth unemployment is foremost in Nordic politicians’ minds. Especially NEETs, young people not in education, employment or training. They make up between five and ten percent of Nordic youths. But what will politicians do for them?

‘Everyone’ who’s involved in fighting youth unemployment met in Stockholm on 16 May; Nordic prime ministers and labour ministers, employer organisations and trade unions, youth organisations and labour market authorities. They were all there to discuss how to include those who find themselves the furthest away from the labour market.

The venue, Stockholm’s Fryshuset, began as an alternative school and activity centre to help the very youths who were in danger of falling outside of the system. Beatrice Clarke used to be one of those young people. Now she runs Fryshuset and could address the powers that be. 

The politicians appeared humbled by their task - perhaps not surprisingly, as youth unemployment has been near the top of their inbox since 2009, soon after the start of the economic crisis.

Sweden’s Minister for Finance Anders Borg nevertheless pointed out that the Nordic countries are doing much better than the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. One reason, he said, was the Nordic model with its strong cooperation between the social partners. Still, youth unemployment remains high especially in Sweden and Finland.

Norway’s Prime Minister Stoltenberg said youth unemployment figures follow the general unemployment figures, only they are two to three times higher. In Norway, as in Sweden, drop-out rates from upper secondary school remain a major problem. Just 70 percent finish their education.

The Nordic governments come in different political hues, and the systems and measures aimed at getting youths into work and education are different. Yet there is increasing agreement on the direction in which to take the fight against youth unemployment; seek out those who are not in education or work, help boost their self confidence and basic skills, improve the coordination and cooperation between institutions that are in touch with young people. 

As Sweden’s Minister for Employment Hillevi Engström put it:

No size fits all; we need to work with individuals.

Norway’s Minister of Labour Anniken Huitfeldt highlighted the need for everyone to learn how to read and write. Even a storage worker cannot get by without being able to read box labels. There is also a common desire to invest more in training and to further develop cooperation with employers so that they can open up for even more young people. Failing that, there is a great danger that unemployed youths will keep struggling with unemployment also later in life.  

What to do with the youth?

The willingness to take action is there, as demonstrated by those attending the 16 May meeting at Fryshuset. The challenge, as Beatrice Clarke put it, is for the politicians not to punish but to astonish young people.

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