Look to cities for answers to Europe's youth employment crisis

Written by Anna Lisa Boni on 5 April 2016

With three quarters of Europe's population living in urban areas, the problem of youth unemployment is concentrated in cities, but that may also be where the solution lies, writes Anna Lisa Boni.

Meeting recently in Brussels, national employment ministers declared renewed political commitment to address youth unemployment. Figures from 2015 reveal rates ranging from 7.2 per cent in Germany to 49.6 per cent in Spain. With three quarters of Europe's population living in urban areas, the problem is concentrated in cities - but we may also have the solutions. 

Leaders of major European cities signalled their engagement with this issue in February last year through the EUROCITIES Declaration on Work. We called on the EU institutions, national governments and stakeholders to work with cities to design better policies for creating quality jobs. 

What local authorities can offer where other levels of government struggle, is an integrated approach – one that connects services, delivers a combination of supply and demand-side measures and brokers partnerships. This approach is already working in cities like Rotterdam and Oulu, where young people can get advice on employment, training, healthcare and housing under one roof. 


With their intimate knowledge of the local labour market, cities can lead partnerships like the Edinburgh Guarantee, a joint effort between businesses, employers, education centres, academia and parents to ensure every school leaver has a job, traineeship or further education opportunity to go to. 

On the demand side, cities are experimenting with measures such as social clauses in public procurement to create new jobs for young people. In Amsterdam, where 32,000 young people were without work in 2015, a 'social return' clause requires contractors to include and invest in activities that create employment, training or work experience placements for young people. 

Encouraging businesses to adopt youth-friendly CSR policies is a measure used in Tilburg, where the 'Youth Work Experience Grant' enables young people to secure traineeships. Employers pay a monthly stipend of €500, setting aside a further €100 for further education and training. The city council refunds €500, and believes other cities could carry out similar schemes using municipal, national or European funding. 
Some cities support social economy initiatives aimed at specific groups. In Newcastle a scheme exists for young ex-offenders, while Gothenburg assists young people with disabilities. And cities such as Bologna and Porto are helping young people get their business ideas off the ground: Bologna's IncrediBol! initiative is a network of public and private partners offering financial and in-kind benefits to young creative entrepreneurs. 

Scaling up successful initiatives like these could make a big difference to Europe's youth unemployment rates. Cities need more resources and technical support to address the urban nature of this problem, and cities' insights into the needs of the local labour market and people could enhance the planning, development and implementation of EU and national employment policies. National strategies also need to be sufficiently flexible so cities can shape them to local needs. 

With youth unemployment in the spotlight again, we are especially keen to see greater engagement of cities in the EU's Youth Guarantee. Our member cities are committed to making this work; we envisage a more innovative scheme with tailored support for the most vulnerable young people. 

Some local authorities are responsible for implementing the scheme, but are limited in what they can do without direct access to finding and with few resources. Many of our members cite insufficient funding and poor coordination between the national, regional and local level as barriers to implementation. 

Under the EU urban agenda, 'jobs and skills' is identified as a priority area. EUROCITIES members are committed to making progress on this issue and are ready to engage in a future urban partnership on this priority. This mechanism should lead to greater involvement from cities in EU policy development and help with addressing unemployment in Europe. 

It's time we work together to deliver better results, faster. If not, we risk losing a generation. 


About the author

Anna Lisa Boni is Secretary General of EUROCITIES

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