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Youth guarantee rolls out across the EU

Youth guarantee rolls out across the EU

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén, Photo Cata Portin

Finland and Austria are in the vanguard when the EU is developing new ways of supporting young people at risk of becoming unemployed. Finland’s youth guarantee means everyone will get a job, internship or training within three months, and the country’s long-term youth unemployment is the lowest in all of the EU.

Experts from EU member states met in Helsinki in September to learn more about Finland’s youth guarantee.

“Finland is a reference in this field and other governments may find some elements of the Finnish scheme useful in their countries,” said László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion ahead of the meeting. 

The Finnish youth guarantee ensures that young people between 16 and 29 can be activated three months after leaving school or losing a job. Now 28 member states have presented their own plans for introducing youth guarantees. More information can be found at the Commission’s home page

Made a mistake

The Nordic Labour Journal visited one of Finland’s 250 so-called youth workshops, to see how the transition from school to workplace works. The Mediakylpylä (“Media Spa”) workshop lies in a vocational training centre in the north of Helsinki.

“I graduated this spring, but after that I have done nothing at all, which probably was a bit of a mistake,’ says Nicolas Harju (20), who is getting acquainted with audio technology at the Mediakylpylä workshop. 

That morning he broadcast an hour-long live show for the local radio with live rap artists in the studio — rap music with social criticism to be exact. It went well and his friends are congratulating him.

Now he is applying to begin training which starts in January, and has sent his papers to five different vocational universities. Having a plan for the future is one of the criteria for joining the workshop.

Next to him sits Anu-Maarit Ikola (23) who trained as a media assistant. She has finished her studies but cannot find a job. She was disappointed and soon realised there were no jobs in the media for her. 

Now she is on a work placement as an assistant leader for the youth workshop, and she is an expert on the youth guarantee.

“The idea is to help young people at risk of marginalisation. To me it is somewhat problematic, since you have to be unemployed and not have an education.”

Anu-Marit Ikola is considering switching trades and train to be a youth leader instead.

Games developer

Ida Liina Laine (20) is visually gifted and wants to find a job where she can develop and make computer games. She ended up at Mediakylpylä after doing voluntary work for the Red Cross and working with a temping agency.

“I attended a college for a year and that’s where I realised what I wanted to do, to study games development, perhaps train to be a computer engineer at some university.”

Mediakylpylä accepts 34-36 unemployed youths for five months at a time. They get to work with sound and video, as video documentary makers, animators or working with printed media like brochures and magazines. Jouko Salonen is responsible for the workshop and has experience from the advertising and printing trade. He says they don’t demand too much from the young people, because many of them have psychological problems and regularly attend psychotherapy sessions.

“All I ask is for them to be here, even if they arrive a bit late.”

The main point is that those who take part learn what it means to lead a regular life and to work professionally.

Hard for the youngest ones

His hope is that the youths will have moved on before the five months' period has ended. Many start at the vocational training centre in the same building. In his experience, the youngest — aged 16 and up — are struggling more with the discipline than their friends who are a few years older.

“The youngest are just placed somewhere and many leave.”

All the three we met say they enjoy attending the workshop. 

“At college there was a feeling of, argh, it’s Monday morning. But I come here to play the piano and then I carry on at home,” says Nicolas.

None of them seem to me to be at risk of marginalisation, but Nicolas explains that many young people worry about the future, about becoming adults. Anu adds that not everyone manages to cope.

“They have no control and have no idea what they want to do with their lives. Here in the capital region there is also an incredible array of choice. As early as in upper secondary education you must take decisions about your future, although you don’t really know until you’re in your 20s.”

The City of Helsinki has an entire system of different youth workshops, ranging from woodwork and metalwork to cafés, sewing and media.

“You gain knowledge here, but no formal education. It does look better on your CV if you have done this, though,” says Nicolas.

Important project

The youth guarantee is one of the current government’s most important projects and is meant to strengthen employment and education for young people, and to protect them from marginalisation. In parliament the opposition has questioned whether the new system, which came into force at the start of the year, really works. One in every ten people between 16 and 24 are unemployed — which means they are not studying or working. Youth unemployment has risen by 50 percent since the system was introduced, but the rapidly falling economy could take much of the blame for that.

Many marginalised

Those who work with marginalised youths in the field also observe that the most difficult cases are not being looked after and that the rehabilitation promised by the government is still some way off. It is not possible to demand from marginalised youths that they present a finished plan for their lives, experts say. 

One of them is Ulla Nord, who heads a project aimed at stopping marginalisation at the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. She thinks prevention efforts should begin as early as in upper secondary school, since that is when problems often occur — like bullying. More and more youths become early school leavers. Last year in Helsinki the number was 15 percent. Many of those who managed to finish had such poor grades that they will not manage to compete for jobs.

“The youth guarantee does not take into account individual factors, it is the same for all.”

The fact that so many break off their vocational training is a sign that not all is as it should be. Youth workshops demand that the young people function at a certain level so that they can be bothered to stay there five days a week. The most exposed youths need to learn to handle their everyday lives and social situations, and for that Ulla Nord is still waiting for an initiative from the authorities.

Finland's Mediakylpylä

welcomes 34-36 unemployed youths for periods of five months. They get to work with sound and vision among other things. From left: Ida Liina Laine, Anu-Marit Ikola and Nicolas Harju.


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