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This Peer Review discussed the Dutch approach for the prevention of youth unemployment with a particular focus on how to provide high quality education that addresses labour market needs and regional approaches to reduce early school leaving and tackling youth unemployment.
The Peer Review was held to enable Member States to consider the best ways of supporting young people to enter into the labour market or further training. Addressing this issue was particularly pressing at a moment of high average youth unemployment and inactivity across the EU. Hosted by the Dutch government on 25-26 November 2013, the event brought together ministry officials, social partners and independent experts from Greece, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and the UK, as well as representatives of the European Commission.
The Dutch approach to youth policies was of special interest. When compared with the rest of the EU, the country had the lowest rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) (less than 5% in 2012, against an EU-28 average of 13.4%) and one of the lowest youth unemployment rates. The Netherlands also ranks consistently highly in international comparisons of the skills levels of young people. This positive performance seems largely to be the result of long-term policies leading to human capital formation and sustainable economic growth.
The key issues discussed can be summarised as follows:
All countries agreed on the importance of acting early to reduce ESL. In the context of expanded educational opportunities and upgraded skills needs in many sectors, low qualified young people are particularly vulnerable to ‘falling through the cracks’ in the modern labour market. For instance, they are significantly more likely to be unemployed than those with qualifications. They are also at risk of falling into the ‘NEET’ category, which can have profound implications for their long-term health, salaries and wellbeing.
Participants emphasised that young people out of employment, education and training are not homogenous, even if individuals from certain backgrounds are more likely to fall into this category (those from migrant backgrounds, those with disabilities, those from households with a lower income, etc.). The diversity of this group requires a range of individualised, holistic responses. For instance, whereas some individuals may require vocational guidance, others may be facing family issues and need the added support of national care organisations. Those with disabilities or mental health issues may need to interact with the medical system as well as the employment services, in order to ensure they are able to access job opportunities on equal terms with others. Often, some form of social welfare assistance may be required over the course of a young person’s training / education. In sum, young NEETs are united by their need for support, rather than by the nature of the support they need.
Many Member States agreed that local partnerships are needed along the NEET pathway into training or labour market engagement, as local organisations are best placed to understand the immediate labour market situation, to identify young people in need, and to create individualised reintegration plans. In some countries, local offices have smaller caseloads and are able to spend more time with disadvantaged young people.
In Member States, there is growing appreciation of the value of apprenticeships and other dual training pathways, particularly as countries with strong systems of this nature appear to have been more able to address the challenges facing youth employment in the crisis. However, it was warned that there is not always ‘parity of esteem’ between different pathways. Winning the support of social partners (employers’ organisations, trade unions, etc.) was seen as vital for ‘selling’ these routes to young people and their families.
In general, setting up connections between schools, VET colleges and the wider labour market was seen as vital if young people are to retain faith in the value of success in education and training. All countries had undertaken schemes to improve these ties. Given the inherent uncertainties of skills forecasts, it was also emphasised that vocational training curricula must be updated on a regular basis. The involvement of social partners and employers themselves is seen to be critical in this updating.
 Eurofound infographic on the costs of ‘NEETs’, available here: http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/emcc/labourmarket/youthinfographic.htm