From 18 - 20 September 2019, 26 young labour representatives from 13 European countries came together at Nell-Breuning-Haus in Herzogenrath (Germany) to attend the conference of the EZA platform for young workers, which was organised in cooperation with Nell-Breuning-Haus and with the support of the European Union. The title of the event was “From youth for youth: recipes for fighting labour market insecurities”. The conference was part of the EZA project coordination on youth employment.
The conference started out by asking about the types of insecurities that confront young people in Europe today. The participants found that young people represent an important source of skills, creativity and energy, which raises the question of how they can make better use of these qualities for themselves, but also for society as a whole. The employment data for young people is not always correct, because they do not always realise that they are actually unemployed. It is important that a solution is found jointly with young people, rather than for them. Another important finding was that while youth unemployment is slowly decreasing, the number of long-term unemployed youths is actually increasing. Here, conference participants would like to see more preventative and pro-active strategies - rather than a strategy of merely reacting.
Project Coordinator Mateusz Szymański presented the main assumptions of the project, the time schedule and the initial findings from the seminars to date. They can be divided into four large blocks: Education, the precarious situation of young people, emigration and changes in the organisations that represent young people, so that their voice becomes more important. These blocks formed the basis for the work of the next conference day.
In a second step, conference participants looked at the question of what employers must do to become superheroes, and how employers can promote and hence also utilise the potential of their young employees.
Divided into small groups, the participants designed their superheroes and presented them to the entire group.
What makes an employer a superhero? Some of the attributes are:
- Ability to see everyone's place in the organization
- Pro-active rather than reactive.
- Strong and flexible, and an ability to change the manner of leadership depending on the situation
- Listens to employees
- Offers support where required
- Motivates employees
- Ensures health
- Foresees changes
This vision of a superhero employer was then subjected to a reality check. During a visit to Saint Gobain Sekurit, Herzogenrath (Germany), a manufacturer of automotive glass, conference participants also had a chance to talk to the works council and gained insights into the corporate culture, the reality of work life and the type of support that is available for young people starting their careers and apprentices.
Building on this information, European examples for designing the transition from school to career were also presented. It was noted that there are several very successful examples for promoting young people starting their careers across Europe. However, many of these are only at an experimental stage and are not carried on. There are no joint strategies in the different countries, and definitely not across national borders. This raised the question of how networks can be created to ensure that ideas and success stories are carried on and supported.
A presentation by Anastasiia Klonova from Foreningen Norden on the second day of the conference took up this question. The NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) knowledge platform is part of a large project with the name “School to Work Flagship” (S2W). It is part of a macro-regional strategy for the Baltic Sea region. S2W also has two more platforms: one that concentrates on people who did not finish their education, and one that focuses on newly-arrived refugees. The platforms offer a synergy effect. The key to the success of these platforms is the fact that they build on the knowledge and experience that the participants in the platforms have already gained. In this way, they can work on expanding what they already know, rather than starting from scratch.
Klonova motivated participants to use an entirely practical approach. Groups were formed, so that people could learn from each other. The groups focused on projects in different countries that share similarities. The objective of this exercise was to create an environment where people can learn from each other and utilise the advantages of other projects, so they know from the start what could work and what might not work, based on the previous knowledge and experience of others. All participants found this practical unit very stimulating and motivating, since it promoted exchange, the development of new strategies and the creation of ideas for cooperation.
At the end of the second day, participants gained insights into Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, which once again motivated them to actively pursue their own work. “By giving them the necessary skills and opportunities that they need to achieve their potential, young people can become a driving force for supporting development and contributing to peace and security. Organizations led by young people must be encouraged and enabled to help implement Agenda 2030 into local, national and regional policies. They play an important role in the implementation, monitoring and review of the Agenda, and with regard to the accountability of governments. With political engagement and the appropriate resources, young people have the potential to achieve the most effective transformation of the world into a better place for all.” This statement by the UN once again emphasises the importance of young people in the upcoming processes - hence also the importance of work and the connection between youth organisations in Europe and beyond.