2022 is the European Year of Youth. Although the role of young people in building a more sustainable, inclusive and greener world has become increasingly recognized, equal opportunities are still lacking. It is important to create opportunities for different groups of young people to be involved in policymaking and developing ideas on sustainability issues.
Social and economic equality is strongly linked to participation in the job market. However, not all young people have equal access to employment. In order to give young people more opportunities in education and the job market and enable them to fully participate in all aspects of society, several initiatives are working to address this. The Yenesis project was launched to address the challenge of unemployment for young people who are not in education, employment or training (so-called “NEET” youth) living on islands. Young people on islands often face several challenges, such as limited job opportunities and a lack of necessary business skills or capital to create their own businesses. Creating more green jobs is also one of the focuses of the European Green Deal which, in addition to several other priorities, aims to improve the well-being and health of citizens and future generations by providing future-proof jobs and skills training for the transition. The outcomes of the Yenesis project can also contribute to the European green transition.
To reduce the unemployment of young NEETs and enable sustainable development on islands, it is crucial to create green jobs on islands that support discouraged young people who have stopped looking for jobs and are socially excluded. More precisely, islands have great potential to develop jobs in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport and mobility. It is crucial that young people are empowered to create jobs themselves and for other young people so that they do not have to leave their home islands once they enter the job market. The Yenesis project provides training for young people on business innovation and even offers private one-on-one mentoring to those with more specific ideas resulting in various start-ups and local businesses led by youth. However, these kinds of support and solutions should be much more institutionalized and have a broader scope.
In the EU, issues related to youth and education policies primarily fall under the responsibility of each member state. However, the EU can support and complement these initiatives by enhancing cooperation and providing financial support for other activities. In the framework of the Yenesis project, several EU-level policy recommendations were developed. Input was gathered from numerous expert interviews and workshops that were held with experts who work with youth and NEET policies in Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Norway and Spain, all European countries that have many islands. The policy recommendations were presented under various categories: education and training, labour market and business innovation, youth & NEET status, programmes and action plans, communications and social/psychological and insularity.
In the fields of education and training, it is crucial to provide youth with career advice on green jobs and offer lifelong learning strategies, including upskilling and reskilling elements that are related to green jobs and suitable for people living on islands, as well as recognizing the importance of distance education and training activities to support personal development in remote areas. The limited supply of opportunities on islands for further vocational training and lack of specialization can be tackled with vocational training. This should be included in EU policies and should also be supported at the EU level. Support should be then targeted to green skills, entrepreneurship and digital skills building. Considering the financial constraints of several EU member states and regions, implementing a centralized EU student loan system to support education and training could be beneficial for people who do not have the financial means to further their education. Young people on islands are often in a less fortunate financial situation when planning for studies on the mainland or abroad compared to ones already living elsewhere due to the additional travel and accommodation costs. A centralized EU loan system for students could promote equity and reduce exclusion.
Even though many young people have already high levels of schooling and potential, they do not find positions that match their abilities and expectations, especially in less developed areas in the EU. According to the Yenesis report, to minimize the disconnect between what is expected and what is offered in the job market, the EU should consider a minimum guaranteed wage according to the job position. Additionally, including orientation in the recruitment phase (not only job skills requirements) can help to avoid later disappointment. To support youth going into the agriculture sector or entrepreneurship, other measures can be introduced, such as targeted support for young farmers and subsidies for start-ups in the green economy, as well as the digitalization of public services and the private sector to eliminate burdening bureaucracy.
Currently, EU funds for innovation do not establish specific conditions for operations on islands to consider their specificities, small-scale economies, unique and threatened natural heritages and high vulnerability to climate change. Taking into account sustainability requirements for socio-economic recovery, the commitments of the Green Deal and the vulnerability of tourism and natural-resource dependent islands, the EU should establish a mandatory share of innovation support funds for islands and guarantee programmes from 2021 to 2027 long-term EU budget and NextGenerationEU support. This will help innovation initiatives in green areas in the public, private and social sectors on infrastructure, new and refurbished processes, the circular economy and businesses, support employment and create new job positions in innovative green areas, namely for youth and NEETs.
When tackling issues related to the employment of NEET youth on islands, it is also crucial to acknowledge that NEETs are diverse, with various subgroups who may have different needs, such as young people with high educational qualifications compared to those with lower levels of education, young people from vulnerable groups and those affected by poverty. Their issues cannot be addressed with universal measures. The categories of NEETs must be communicated and dealt with separately (including young mothers and NEETs with criminal backgrounds), as well as on the EU level.
Within the Yenesis project, the policy recommendations mainly address the problems associated with NEETs on islands and remote areas and access to green jobs. However, considering the youth role more broadly in the EU Green Transition is crucial and should be elaborated in a much more detailed manner in EU policymaking.
Authors: Johanna Lehtmets (Communications Manager, SEI Tallinn), Kadi Väli (Yenesis Project Coordinator, SEI Tallinn)