Inspired by the European Commission’s recently published report First results of the Youth Employment Initiative, the European Social Network (ESN) reviewed how effectively the Youth Employment Initiative targets vulnerable youth groups. Even though encouraging good practice at the local level for the inclusion of disconnected young people exist, mainstream interventions struggle to address disadvantaged groups like early school leavers, low-skilled or long-term unemployed youth.

Overall, youth employment has slowly improved across Europe. EUROSTAT data reveal that youth unemployment in 2013 stood at 18.4 percent in the EU-28, but dropped to 15.7 in 2015. At the peak of these high youth unemployment rates, policy makers across Europe made budgets available with a view to reducing youth unemployment. An example of this is the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), which benefitted from 6.4 billion EUR and which supports the implementation of the Youth Guarantee.

Average rates say little about how various subgroups are affected. It can be argued that all young people are exposed to risks and are vulnerable in their transition into employment. However, young people are not a homogeneous group and different subgroups may face much higher levels of vulnerability with multiple, complex needs.

What makes a young person vulnerable?

It is commonly agreed that a variety of factors can make a young person vulnerable. Among these factors are lack of employment opportunities, missing financial resources, homelessness, drop-out from school, care backgrounds, mental health problems or disabilities. Because of vulnerability, a young person might not have equal chances of full inclusion in society be that in terms of participation in education or their integration in the labour market.

How does the Youth Employment Initiative target vulnerable youth?

Public authorities at all levels of government have designed measures to improve young people’s opportunities, but they struggle to tailor these measures towards the complex needs of those with multiple problems. One European flagship measure is the Youth Guarantee, which is framed by the Youth Employment Initiative. However, the YEI addresses mostly young people with upper secondary and tertiary education. Only some member states have created additional measures to identify and engage vulnerable target groups.

How can good local practice effectively address vulnerable youth?

Challenges to designing effective practice targeting vulnerable young people are widespread, but signs of encouragement exist in the form of innovative efforts at a local level. In a recent report, the OECD casts a spotlight on two of these:

  • The municipality of Ljusdal (Sweden) is in a remote rural area facing above-average youth unemployment. This led local Public Employment Services (PES) to experiment with home visits to young people, which usually falls in the remit of social work. The move challenges traditional separation of roles across sectors.
  • In Amsterdam (Netherlands), the newly introduced method of a Participatory Audit for Homeless Young People (PAJA) enables homeless youth to ‘audit’ services responding to their needs. This bottom-up approach has been designed to empower young people and assist them in developing personal skills.

What both practices have in common is that they break with the patterns of established service approaches and feature a more person-centred approach. The European Commission points out that individualised models are a novelty in some member states.

Different analyses from leading public policy bodies agree on a fundamental question: youth measures target primarily mainstream groups and give insufficient attention to vulnerable young people. As a consequence, these vulnerable young people too often remain disconnected from the labour market, which impedes their integration in society at large. However, encouraging signs can be found in local practices across Europe, where a combination of targeted outreach, service involvement of young people, and strong cooperation across youth services form vital ingredients for better participation of young people.