Unemployment, especially among young people, is one of the enduring negative consequences of the financial crisis in Europe. Despite positive tendencies in employment rates, youth unemployment (comprising the age group 15 to 24) in EU Member States is still over 18% on average (21% in the Eurozone).

In the countries worst hit by the crisis, the numbers are far higher: In July 2016 Spain had a youth unemployment rate of 44%, Greece 43,8% and Italy 38,4%. Other countries with a youth unemployment rate over 25% include Croatia, Cyprus and Portugal. The effects of youth unemployment are serious and a threat to the development towards social and economic cohesion in Europe. To deny young people access to a decent, functional labour market is to waste human potential and talent, as well as previous investment in education and training. Unemployment puts young people at risk of poverty and social exclusion, challenging the individual’s welfare as well as the economy and social fabric of the country in which he or she is living.

The youth unemployment rate is only partially a reflection of the situation among young Europeans, as it is limited to people between 15 and 24 who are conventionally unemployed. To measure the share of young people who are not employed, and not taking part in education and training, the concept NEET (“Not in Employment, Education or Training”) has been developed. The EU has 4,6 million unemployed young people, but 6,6 million NEETs in this age group. There are great variations between the EU Member States regarding NEET rates, with the highest rates found in Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy and Romania. The various groups within the NEET category have different characteristics and needs, but all NEETs share the common feature of not accumulating human capital through the labour market or education and training.

The current economic strategy of the EU highlights a strong focus on employment, social performance, investment and competitiveness, supported by European funds. The background conditions that produce unemployment and poverty are addressed, aiming to tackle the disparities between and within the EU Member States. Combatting youth unemployment and addressing the needs of NEETs is one of the priorities highest on the European agenda. The most important policy incentive is the Youth Guarantee Council Recommendation which sets out a political agreement and objective: EU Member States should ensure that, within four months of leaving school or losing a job, young people under 25 can either find a quality job suited to their education, skills and experience or acquire the education, skills and experience required to find a job in the future through an apprenticeship, traineeship or continued education. A recent report on the Youth Guarantee indicates that the policy initiative has been successful, but maintains that more effort is needed to support “hard-to-reach” young people: those who are not registered with the public employment services, are low-skilled, have dropped out of school, and face multiple barriers to entering the labour market (such as poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, disability and poor mental health). In parallel, the quality of the offers and services provided to young people can be further improved.

The EEA and Norwegian Financial Mechanisms 2014-2021 are set up to contribute to the reduction of social and economic disparities in Europe. Recognising the strong link between social and economic equality and participation in the labour market, measures addressing youth employment are encouraged throughout the various programmes of the EEA and Norway Grants. In addition, the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment specifically aims to support transnational project initiatives that promote sustainable and quality youth employment. The focus on transnational cooperation reflects the view that unemployment among youth is a common European challenge and common European solutions should therefore be explored.

EU funding is available for the EU Member States on a large number of initiatives targeting unemployment among youth. These initiatives range from long-term systemic changes in the education and labour policies of the EU Member States to small projects and activities with limited funding. In parallel, the EEA and Norway Grants, through the Fund for Youth Employment, seek to complement existing EU funding on youth employment initiatives, including as well countries and areas that commonly do not receive EU funding.

The target group of this Fund is young people between 15 and 29, with a special focus on the 25-29 year old. One main reason for this is that although the YEI supports young people under the age of 30, many of the eligible EU Member States primarily target young people under 25. Another reason is the difficult labour market that people aged 24+ have encountered the last years. By including the 25-29 year old, the number of European NEETs increases from 6,6 million to almost 14 million people. Among the EU Member States eligible for funding under this call Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy and Slovakia have older NEET rates between 25-30% while Greece has a NEET rate of 32% (every third Greek person between 25 and 29 is not in employment, education or training). While the 15-24 year old are still targeted by this Fund, projects developing solutions for 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, people with mental health issues and the disabled are particularly welcome. The Fund aims to advance new and innovative solutions that focus on the specific needs of the target groups listed above.

Funded projects include several measures, 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) such as, to name a few:

  • Efficient practices that develop sustainable jobs;
  • Innovative solutions on how to prepare and train young people for structural labour market changes like digitalisation and smart automation;
  • Widening involvement of stakeholders, including the social services, child/youth services, medical and psychiatric professionals, parents, etc.;
  • Involvement of non-traditional employers and sectors, for instance NGOs, civil society organisations and SMEs;
  • Outreach strategies;
  • The development or involvement of social entrepreneurship/enterprises;
  • Innovative start-up support to young entrepreneurs;
  • Community-based approaches;
  • Family learning (learning activities that involve all family members, where learning outcomes are intended for all, contributing to a culture of learning in the family);
  • New mentoring and coaching approaches;
  • Development of new flexible solutions, e.g. in entry qualification requirements to educational institutions or in work contracts for apprentices;
  • Experimental pedagogy and didactics;
  • Innovative focus on employability and soft skills development;
  • Mixing informal, non-formal and formal learning arenas;
  • Innovative apprenticeship modules and work-based learning;
  • Innovative mobility measures and job placements; and
  • Experimental gender mainstreaming strategies.

Through those measures, the Projects are covering the three main support areas of the Fund:

  1. Innovation and exploration
  2. Transfer of know-how and good practice
  3. Analysis and research

The added value of this Fund compared to other initiatives of the EEA and Norway Grants is its transnational focus. The main idea of the Fund is to help entities across Europe pooling their efforts to find new ways of dealing with urgent, common concerns such as youth unemployment. This is in line with the Europe 2020 strategy and the EU cohesion policy that takes account of the crucial role the regions and cross-border cooperation play for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Fund supports this policy by funding transnational consortia that work together on common challenges, and learn from each other through dialogue and the exchange of good practice leading to mutual and accelerated learning and the replication of successfully tested solutions.