Creating opportunities for young people
Education and training play a significant role not only in coping with the crisis in Europe but also in the personal development of the individual. That was the conclusion of the conference on the situation of young people in Europe.
About 350 young people from all over Europe accepted the invitation from the COMECE Secretariat, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Don Bosco International and Rete Juventutis represented by the European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education. They discussed with high-level representatives of the European Parliament and the Commission the pressing questions on the current employment crisis in Europe and also possible political and practical answers from a Christian perspective.
The first panel discussion was concerned with employment policy matters and was introduced in a keynote speech by Mgr Juan José Omella, the Diocesan Bishop of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño, when he outlined the causes of the current high level of unemployment affecting young people in Spain. One of the main causes is a dominant economic system based exclusively on a self-driven market dedicated to maximising profit and favouring short-term rather than long-term approaches. Due to the large number of jobless young people and the corresponding concern about the future of a whole generation, the issue of coping with youth unemployment formed a natural focus for the debate.
Young Europeans harbour high hopes for EU measures
Young Europeans have high hopes where the measures recently announced at EU level, especially the Youth Guarantee, are concerned. The object of this action is that everyone under 25 should receive, within four months of either finishing their formal education or losing their current job, either a job offer, a training position, an internship or a further education opportunity.
However, the Youth Guarantee is purely a recommendation and not a new EU law, so the EU cannot enforce its implementation. It is a huge challenge to harmonise the interests of an individual in his/her choice of a profession with the requirements of the labour market, according to Jean Mossoux, representing the International Christian Union of Business Executives, UNIAPAC. The conference participants also welcomed the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, a body aiming to improve the quality of vocational training and the availability of training places in the EU by forming a broad-ranging partnership between central actors from the spheres of employment and education. The dual education systems successfully operating in some EU Member States should serve as a model here. It is a welcome development that the EU acknowledges in the Alliance for Apprenticeships that every individual should be supported in line with his/her talents. Bishop Omella urged that “We need a greater commitment to technical and vocational training of young people, without at the same time abandoning academic education.”
Eliminating obstacles to mobility
Sarah Prenger, Coordinator of the network of European Young Christian Workers (European YCW), extended the debate to include the impact on individuals of the current employment crisis in Europe. She described the enormous pressure young people are already under during their academic or vocational training, and discussed the effects of the increase in atypical working conditions (fixed-term contacts, interim agency work, etc.) on the individual’s career and home life planning.
In this regard, the increasing pressure to demonstrate flexibility and mobility, both nationally and within Europe, represents a major challenge. Another alarming trend is the increase in insecure jobs among young people. Detlef Eckert from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion emphasised that from the Commission’s side every effort should be made to eliminate any remaining obstacles to mobility. After all, making use of the freedom of movement of workers should not in itself become a barrier!
Non-formal learning as a process of self-determined emancipation
In the field of non-formal teaching with and for young people, Churches and their organisations stand out for making an important contribution in the contexts of youth ministry, youth social work, youth association work and the teaching in many Catholic schools that not only train young people but provide assistance to them in many areas.
In the second round of discussions, the central question was how young people could be helped and supported in shaping their lives. This related above all to the role of non-formal education which offers young people space outside the formal education system to test and develop themselves. “This form of education as a ‘process of self-determined emancipation’ is the basis for the citizens’ participation in and contribution to our society and our Europe!”, said Lisi Maier from the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ).
With regard to increasing mobility, Lothar Harles from the Federation of Catholic Social Formation Centres in Germany (AKSB) emphasised the enormous significance of international youth work for the acquisition of intercultural skills. Father Giovanni D’Andrea SDB reported from his many years of experience of working with young people, and emphasised the need to become actively involved, especially on the part of young people who have dropped out of the system. Pascal Lejeune from the European Commission’s DG Education, Training, Culture and Youth emphasised how important it is to involve young people at all levels. The European Commission therefore supports a large number of initiatives, like structured dialogue, which ensure the involvement of as many participants as possible.
The conference highlighted the role that education and training can play in coping with the crisis in Europe, and the extent of their importance in the personal development of the individual. Many of the officially proposed education and training initiatives to open up vocational prospects could make an effective contribution to overcoming the economic crisis in Europe. At the same time, however, initiatives such as youth work which encourage non-formal education can make a decisive contribution of their own. Not only do they provide support for the social consequences of the crisis but also, in the long-term, they guarantee the stability of society and democracy while helping young people to develop independent personalities and become active citizens.
Christina Gerlach, European Office for Catholic Youth and Adult Education
Mattia Tosato, Don Bosco International
Anna Echterhoff, COMECE
Translated from the original text in German