Interview with Gian Luca Bombarda, Fund Director of the Fund for Youth Employment

  1. What is the Fund for Youth Employment? Who are your donors? What are your goals?

The Fund for Youth Employment, launched in 2017, aims at contributing to sustainable and quality youth employment in Europe. Nowadays, unfortunately, about 10 million young people in our territories are not in employment, education, or training, we are now used to categorise them as NEETs, a concept that, recently, demonstrated the need to be adapted to a changed society, starting from the targeted age (the group 15-24 should be enlarged at least up to 30 years old).

Unemployment among youth, in other words, is a shared European challenge, together with its effects, since they are putting young people at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The pandemic, for example, exacerbated labor market possibilities of young people, some of them feel outside any channel or valuable network.

That is why a Fund such as the Fund for Youth Employment was needed and, particularly, unlike the ordinary programs funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway – EEA & Norway Grants –, this Fund has a transnational focus – it helps entities across Europe pooling their efforts to find new ways of reducing youth unemployment.

With that goal, the €60.6 million Fund for Youth Employment complements the Youth Employment Initiative, which is the main EU funding program to facilitate the roll-out of the Youth Guarantee –a commitment by all EU Member States to ensure that young people receive good quality offer of employment, continued education and apprenticeship.

Two calls for proposals were launched, one in 2017 – Active Youth – and one in 2020 – Unlocking youth Potential. The first call selected 25 projects with participants from 25 countries, with a total budget of €60.6 million. The projects cover three support areas: innovation and exploration, transfer of know-how and good practice, and analysis and research. The second call was launched on 1 September 2020 with €11.5 million available for transnational projects with partners from the 15 Beneficiary States, as well as organisations in Ireland, Italy, and Spain. The funding is reserved for initiatives seeking to ensure access to employment, education, or training for two specific target groups: young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) who are between 25 and 29 years old and live in small towns, suburbs or rural areas; and young people with disabilities or mental health disorders.

The calls and the awarded Projects are funded under the EEA & Norway Grants – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, the Donors –, a funding scheme that aims to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe strengthening bilateral relations between the Donors countries and the beneficiary countries. Not surprisingly, one of the main goals is youth employment, which is as well a shared European challenge affecting millions of young people not in employment, education, or training.

2. What are the covered and financed priority areas? Which entities had the possibility to participate to the calls?

The funded Projects are developing innovative solutions for the main target group (young people from 15 to 24 years old) including as well the long-term unemployed, discouraged people who have stopped looking for work, inactive women caring for children or incapacitated adults, ethnic minorities including Roma, asylum-seekers, the low-skilled, and people with mental health issues and the disabled are particularly welcome.

It is important to state that all kind of entities (Universities/Research Centers, NGOs, CSOs, International Organisations, any public and/or private bodies for-profit and not-for-profit; in practice only physical persons are excluded to be part of the implementing consortia, while they will be the target) had the possibility to participate to get financing. The best proposals were awarded, but we register the participation of 424 entities. The measures implemented by the Projects are several, both systemic (e.g. developing formal educational modules; develop systematic cooperation with nontraditional stakeholders), and personal (e.g. attending to the individual needs of the members of the target group). The Fund for Youth Employment finances actions able to create efficient practices such as sustainable jobs, trainings for structural labour, digitalization and smart autonomation, creation of innovative start-ups to support young entrepreneurs, family learning, mix of formal and non-formal learning arenas, involving different stakeholders like social services, medical and psychiatric professionals, communities, NGOs, SMEs and many others.

In general, through those measures, the Projects are covering the three main support areas of the Fund: Innovation and exploration; Transfer of know-how and good practice; Analysis and research.

3. Could you share an example of a successful intervention funded by the Fund?

With already almost 5 years of implementation, to name just one successful intervention, that we are used to call ‘best practice’ would be difficult. In those years together I have seen and I congratulated myself towards numerous initiatives led by the Projects, particularly the ones organised through a natural networking of the Projects (sometimes involving the Fund for Regional Cooperation as well, the other Fund we manage under the Regional Funds). Some of our Projects, in addition, won external but very important awards. The majority continues to create their publications and research activities.

But why not talking about the Project ‘YES! – Young Entrepreneurs Succeed’ where Autoocupació is among the Beneficiary Partners? I would like just to mention their knowledge sharing webinar series, designed to engage stakeholders, training practitioners, coaches and mentors who are working with NEETS and want to explore innovative tools and techniques to support them. In addition, a special mention has to be done to the innovative SOS Mentoring initiative, a volunteer program in which experienced professionals helped entrepreneurs during Covid-19 time to take the necessary decisions to deal with this emergency situation, containing the impact of the crisis, ensuring the continuity of this companies and maintaining their employment.

4. How do you measure the impact of your interventions?

I believe that some numbers can give you the idea of our successes. Considering, in general, the Active Youth call, the main goal was at the beginning to enroll 15.000 young people in education or training, to support 14.000 young people in active job search, create 3.000 jobs in NGOs, social enterprises and the ordinary labour market, and help 1.800 young people start up their own businesses. Please, just have a look at the numbers/results achieved at 31.12.2022, and we still have one year to go:

  • 16.808 NEETs/target group engaged in active job search (RF-YOUTH)
  • 15.086 former NEETs/target group enrolled in education and training, including work-based learning (RF-YOUTH)
  • 2.526 NEETs/target group in the process of starting their own businesses (RF-YOUTH)
  • 4.325 beneficiaries of services provided or improved (RF-COOPERATION, several outcomes)
  • 25.111 people engaged in civil society organisation activities (RF-COOPERATION, several outcomes)».

5. Do you think the YE Projects are sustainable? Will they have effect in the future?

For sure they are sustainable: the Projects are working daily to find innovative solutions able to create effects for a long-term perspective. The hope of the entire Regional Funds, alongside all possible future evolutions of the financing, is that the funded Projects will be taken as a mix of lessons learnt and best practices to be emulated, thanks to a process of knowledge sharing, for future similar initiative.

6. Autoocupació’s claim is “I am what I want to be”. What about you?

JCP Srl Italy, which is representing the Fund Operator together with Ecorys Polska, is a company with more than 30 years of history in international cooperation actions, therefore it is doing different things and following different paths. But with the quality of Fund Director of this initiative, I can tell you that I am really doing what I want to achieve, following the challenges I want to win, and the Regional Funds are allowing me to help the cause of youth unemployment. Simply, and I think this can be perfectly related, I like my own motto: ‘We need YOU(th)! We need you(th) because you(th) are our future. And it is a must, for us, to continue working to allow them to shape a better society.



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