Perspectives on Youth Employment in Europe (n. 3)

Coronavirus: what impact on youth employment?

Our life has changed overnight. Our work, our world have been paralysed. Our projects suddenly seem inappropriate. Youth employment, and youth employment promotion, are no exceptions. The virus is particularly lethal for old people. But in our labour markets also young people suffer from “chronic illnesses”, making them very vulnerable to the Covid-19: “NEETity” (do not search in the dictionary: “condition of young people not in employment, education or training”), precarity, disabilities, discrimination as women or as member of minorities…..The impact on them can be devastating too.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been quick to detect the danger in a preliminary assessment note published on 19 March, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts andresponses. Preliminary ILO estimates indicate a rise in global unemployment of between 5.3 million (“low” scenario) and 24.7 million (“high” scenario) from a base level of 188 million unemployed people worldwide in 2019. For comparison, the global financial crisis of 2008-9 increased unemployment by 22 million. As underlined by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, “this is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people”, including young people. In its analysis, the ILO points to six particularly vulnerable groups: only second to “those with underlying health conditions and older people [who] are most at risk of developing serious health issues”, the ILO mentions “Young persons, already facing higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, are more vulnerable to falling labour demand, as witnessed during the global financial crisis”. Other vulnerable groups include older workers, women (over-represented in more affected sectors such as services or in occupations that are at the front line of dealing with the pandemic e.g. nurses), unprotected workers, including the self-employed, casual and gig workers, and finally migrant workers.

Let’s try to recapitulate how the coronavirus risks to affect young employment now and in the future:

  • Youth Active Labour Market Policies have had to be suspended: as public employment offices close, the Youth Guarantee, like many other youth employment promotion tools, has suddenly become ineffective. It will take a while before they can be resumed. And even if we as analysts and practitioners often complain about their lack of effectiveness, this will clearly have a drastic impact on (young) beneficiaries.
  • Young people in training have seen their classes or traineeships interrupted, and their training itineraries run the risk of being disrupted. The fast reaction of training systems to go online and make the transition to distance learning solutions has still to become the “new normal”, as both teachers, advisors and trainees, but also available technologies and facilities and pedagogical methods, adapt to the new learning environment. One opportunity however emerges in the horizon. The huge boost that the coronavirus is already giving to new forms of telework, teleconferencing and distance learning will no doubt benefit young people in isolated areas, rural areas and islands, who are worse off in terms of access to training opportunities and employment. But it remains to be seen to what extent the sudden disruption of education and training will cause permanent damage to the skills and employability of trainees and other young people. Work is a social process, and training too.
  • Young working people, often in precarious employment, so far marginalised in the world of work, are quickly becoming the heroes of the coronavirus crisis: home delivery services, cashiers and even nurses are to a large extent young people. Will their work be better acknowledged, and their work conditions improve after this maelstrom is over?
  • Disadvantaged young people. The impact is even worse for those belonging to disadvantaged minorities: young immigrants, young people with disabilities, NEETs (persons not in employment, education or training). In particular if they are engaged in the informal economy, the confinement measures will have the strongest impact on them, and will make it even more difficult for public employment services and employment promotion associations to reach out to them. They have the most precarious home conditions, and they often do not have even an Internet connection (the digital gap is another key issue these days).
  • Young unemployed. As highlighted by the ILO in its note, youth employment risks quickly returning to post-crisis levels in 2008-2013 well before its effects were set off, with rates of up to 50% youth unemployment in some European countries. If we cumulate the 2008 recession and the impending recession, if national and European policy responses are not determined and targeted, for those who were born in the early 1990s, who are turning 30 now, there are good reasons to start thinking about a lost generation….

Policy measures to react to the coronavirus have focused so far on two fronts: to improve health care systems to face the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis, and to mobilise resources to support those who are losing their employment. But those who already had no job, and who will now face increased obstacles to access the labour market should not be forgotten. To a large extent they are young: it is the future of European societies which is at stake.

As for the confined activists, social service workers, NGO officers and other youth employment practitioners, they should keep motivation high and prepare themselves during this time of forced leisure, and keep the machinery running. March 2020 is a month we will not easily forget. It will surely mark a sharp increase in youth unemployment throughout Europe. But we should not forget that when the pandemic is over, hopefully at most in a few months, the work of our associations and institutions, and of initiatives such as the Youth Employment Fund, will be more necessary than ever. Unemployed youth need us.


Our Spanish Youth Employment Expert


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