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Early, active measures to fight youth unemployment

| Text: Marie Preisler

All the Nordic countries are hard at work to limit the rising youth unemployment. The measures differ but there is broad agreement on the need for early, comprehensive and active measures to help youth finish their education.

Education is the best way of fighting rising youth unemployment, and it is important to start early with active measures to catch young drop-outs. There was broad agreement on this at the Nordic Conference on Action on Youth Unemployment, organised by the Danish Labour Market Authority in Copenhagen earlier this month. 

The Nordic Council of Ministers presented their new report 'Nordic Countries' Anti Youth Unemployment Measures - Mapping and Analysing'. Conference participants got a taste of many of the concrete initiatives which have been put into action by the Nordic countries nationally in order to fight youth unemployment. 

Both the report and the conference came about in response to a marked increase in  unemployment among young people in all of the Nordic countries during the recent economic crisis. The trend worried Nordic labour ministers so much that they commissioned the now published report which maps and analyses the measures to fight youth unemployment which have already been put in place across the Nordic region. 

Easy to fire youths

The situation for young people is worst in Sweden and Finland where one in four youths is unemployed. Norway comes out best and has passed Denmark as the Nordic country with the lowest youth unemployment. 

Despite these differences all Nordic countries prioritise the fight against youth unemployment, and all of them focus on education as the best way forward to prevent youths becoming unemployed and socially marginalised both in the short and long term. 

In Denmark only six in ten people with only secondary education have work. There are far more people with further education in work. As a result, help to get an education is a clear priority in Denmark's fight against unemployment among people under 30, Stig Nørgaard, head of section at the Danish Labour Market Authority, told the conference.

He outlined four main reasons for why Danish youth unemployment remains relatively low: 

  • Early and active measures targeted at young people neither in work nor education 
  • Strong economic incentives for young unemployed to get an education
  • Practical training allowing young people to try out their skills in a real work setting as part of their education
  • A flexible labour market where employers are free to fire young people, which reduces the risk associated with employing workers who have yet to demonstrate their ability to work

Mr Nørgaard recognised it is controversial to argue that this kind of labour market flexibility has helped keep Denmark's youth unemployment on a relatively low level. He was still not sure whether this meant other Nordic countries should adapt in the same way. 

Focus on psychological health

There are many reasons for the low youth unemployment in Norway. One is the strong focus on catching young people who are about to fall outside of the education system. To manage that you need new ways of cooperating, explains Helen Engebakken from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). She presented a three-party cooperation between three Norwegian municipalities, NAV, educational institutions and businesses. 

"Many drop out of college, so we keep in close touch with colleges to quickly pick up young people in the danger-zone. So far it looks like this actually helps keep youth unemployment down," she says. 

NAV has also chosen to focus to a far greater degree on the correlation between psychological health and unemployment. Some young people struggle with psychological problems in addition to being unemployed, and in many municipalities they risk having to wait for months to see a psychiatrist. One concrete project has therefore been to secure fast access to psychological treatment for young unemployed people with psychological problems, says Vigdis Løndal from NAV.

Conclusions from the report

The report 'Nordic countries' Anti Youth Unemployment Measures' maps and analyses measures initiated by the Nordic countries on a national level to reduce youth unemployment in the short and long term. 

The report was commissioned by the Nordic labour ministers and written by consultancy firm Rambøll. The conclusions will be debated by the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

The report identifies shared challenges and holds up several initiatives from various countries as examples to learn from, while warning not to conclude that these initiatives are necessarily very good examples. It is very hard to analyse just how measures work.

Important shared knowledge - what actually works, according to the report: 

Early educational initiatives

All of the Nordic countries agree a lack of education increases the risk of unemployment. The mapping demonstrates how Norway and Sweden both have initiated measures early on in youths' education. Norway has been working to prevent early college drop-outs while also spending a lot of resources on making sure secondary school children have necessary basic skills. Norway and Sweden both focus on reading, writing and mathematics.    

An individually tailored educational system

Denmark has long focused on alternative educations, like practical training, and it looks like this too has led to lower youth unemployment. Denmark and Iceland's schools of production are examples of individually targeted educations. Apprenticeships have long been important in Denmark, Finland and Norway. 

Efficient follow-up

There is not a lot of analysis of how the Nordic countries follow up youths who fall outside of the labour market and the educational system. Researchers are struggling to find meaningful conclusions about how to perform such follow-up. They do, however, underline the importance of cooperation in this area between schools, job centres and social services. Several of the Nordic countries' municipalities are responsible for the follow-up of youths who are at risk of dropping out of college. Yet the report concludes it is not enough that municipalities are responsible to keep themselves informed. The follow-up must be linked to activation measures.

Early action tailored to the individual target group

There are many tools to help youths - especially college leavers - find work. Labour market measures should include economic incentives and the measures should kick in as soon as possible when a young person becomes unemployed. Early and targeted measures happen in Denmark, where age and education determines what kind of measures are implemented. Finland has a range of measures targeted at various groups of youths, i.e. the social guarantee for under 25s who have been unemployed for more than three months in a row, apprenticeships for over 15s and the sanssi card which grants wage subsidies to employers who hire under 30s.

Combined activities

Activities to help youths seek jobs should be combined with other activities if they in themselves don't get the youth into employment. Sweden's job guarantee and Norway's youth guarantee are good examples of integrated activities which use job seeking as a starting point.

Importance of further education

In a recession it makes sense to establish more university places, like Sweden and Finland have done.

Cross-sector activities

Getting young people into work or education demands cross-sector cooperation. Iceland does this with their Young People measures and in Finland regional and local parties cooperate on workshops. In Norway NAV is being given free reigns on a local level. Sweden's Navigatorcentrum is held up as another good example of local cooperation.

Read the report here (in Norwegian)

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