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Nordic report: ‘Youth on the edge’ the greatest problem

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Nordic youth unemployment figures between 10 and 25 percent are bad enough. Even more alarming is the fact that 5 to 10 percent of Nordic 15 to 24 year olds are not in education, work or training. This problem has risen during the latest economic crisis.

This group is often referred to as NEET - ‘neither in education, employment or training’. A new report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers has put it more simply: ‘youth on the edge’.

“These ‘young outsiders‘ represent a large section of a generation which faces a very poor or non-exiting connection to labour life for much of their adult lives. This could also lead to social problems and conflicts,” says Bjørn Halvorsen at the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues, which has been tasked with looking at how the Nordic countries can learn from each other when trying to tackle this problem.

The report summary can now be read (in Norwegian) at Youth on the edge. About the inclusion of exposed young people (Nord 2012:004). The main report will be published in July.

Not enough attention

“It could look as if young people on the edge aren’t getting as much political attention as ordinary unemployment figures do,” says Bjørn Halvorsen.

The move from college to working life is in his view the most critical phase for young people.

OECD statistics detailing how many young people finish college in the usual five years show Nordic countries lag far behind Israel and the USA (90 and 88 percent). Finland comes out top of the Nordic countries with 78 percent. Denmark, Sweden and Norway are slightly lower with 65 to 69 percent while Iceland is lowest with 49 percent.

Some slack can be regained

Some of the youth will to a certain degree regain their losses by going back to school at a later stage. This is particularly true in Sweden. The dropout is lowest among 20 to 24 year olds in Sweden and Finland, where 8 to 9 percent have not graduated from college. At this stage dropout is still high in Iceland (26 percent), followed by Norway (20 percent) and Denmark (16 percent).

“I think young people realise the importance of finishing their education in order to enter the labour market. What’s important is not to allow them to loose their belief in themselves,” says Bjørn Halvorsen.

Around 2 to 3 percent of all 20 to 34 year olds are already outside of the labour market, on early retirement/disability allowance/support allowance. The percentage is quite similar across the countries, but highest in Iceland followed by Sweden. 

“2 to 3 percent might sound little but this represents a dramatic increase. In ten years it has risen by around 50 percent. We are talking about people who live all or most of their lives outside of the labour market.”

Internships important

Bjørn Halvorsen says internships are important, as are teachers with working life experience. It is also important that vocational training does not become too theoretical. Finding enough internships is a problem.

“Many employers feel they take a risk if they offer internships. I have a personal example. My brother in law runs a small electrician’s firm. He has had a couple of bad experiences with interns who have made mistakes installing electrical equipment. This could have grave consequences - the worst case scenario is a fire or a fatal accident.”

That’s why it is important to reduce companies’, employers’ and middle management’s insecurity, ignorance and fear of extra work and extra costs connected with training, testing or hiring young people - not least young people who are “struggling a bit”.

“One idea could be to make it easier to hire people on a trial basis, traineeships or in temporary jobs as part of their entry into the labour market,” says Bjørn Halvorsen.

Idea and experience bank

He and his co-authors Ole Johnny Hansen and Jenny Tägtström suggest establishing an online Nordic ‘idea and experience bank’, where examples of ‘good practice‘ can be gathered alongside evaluated trial and method development projects for the inclusion of young people in education and work in the Nordic countries.

There is a plethora of internship and trial projects with good ideas and promising results as well as exciting ways of approaching things in all of the Nordic countries. Many focus on new and untraditional ways of establishing contact, mutual trust, contribution and motivation among young people, and they look at ways of coordinating measures from various institutions. These are some of the examples from the report: 

  • Youth workshops/production schools with vocational training and traineeships.
  • Help and guidance to choose the right education and job. Personal ‘coaching’ or mentorship with adult professional role models.
  • Cross-sector and cross-trade cooperation between schools, working life, labour market services.
  • Individual ‘matching activities’ between what the young person wants and the plans and opportunities that exist in the local labour market. Real involvement by the young person.

The distance from word to action is not always very far. Before the main report has left the printers the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues has been asked to establish an idea and project bank based along these lines.


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