Who, if not us? – Young people as experts for the future: empower young people for the European labour market after the pandemic

From October 21 to 24, 2021, 18 young employee representatives from 9 different EU countries met in the Nell-Breuning-Haus in Herzogenrath (Germany) for the EZA platform conference for young employees, which was organised in cooperation with the Nell -Breuning-Haus and with the support of the European Union. The title of the event was "Who, if not us? – Young people as experts for the future: empower young people for the European labour market after the pandemic".

Due to the pandemic, the organisation of the conference faced numerous difficulties. Some registered participants were unable to enter the country due to constantly changing regulations. Here the offer was made at short notice to connect digitally to some subjects. Other participants had difficulties booking flights as only limited air travel was offered. It was also not possible for the planned speakers to participate, and the program was adjusted accordingly.

At the beginning of the conference, focus was on getting to know each other and the expectations of the seminar. A high need for replacement was already evident here. Some expectations and wishes were, for example: getting to know applied practice from other countries, expanding knowledge, discussing work and training issues, networking, standing up for rights, experiencing and shaping Europe, but the pandemic and the different national strategies were also discussed repeatedly.

The following day started with a short input on the work of the platform for young workers and the question of what insecurities young people in Europe are/have been confronted with today and in the last ten years? At the end of this subject, the participants realised that topics have hardly changed and that it is still fundamental to recognise young people as an important source of skills, creativity, and dynamism. Here the question arises, how can they better use these qualities for themselves but also for society? And how can this be brought even more into the focus of politicians and society? Another important finding was that the pandemic has massively aggravated the situation of young people across Europe. The conference participants see strategies of prevention and proactive action in the foreground here - not just reacting. The forecast was also made that the coming years will not automatically bring an improvement and that good, long-term strategies are therefore needed for Europe as a whole. It was also stated that it is the task of the platform and the individual organisations to repeatedly raise the issue of youth, especially in contact with young employees, and not at levels where they are not to be found and therefore not likely to be heard.

In a second step, the conference participants dealt with the question of what the concrete work in the local organisations looks like under pandemic conditions. The focus here was on the exchange of best practice examples. How can young people be reached? How can opinions and voices be captured and conveyed to the public? What do concrete seminar, consultation and contact formats look like? Which topics have come to the fore? In a switch of plenum and small groups, many approaches, ideas, and projects came to light, which were summarised in a small catalogue of actions that was made available to everyone. An elementary question that was discussed again here: How can networks be created to carry and support ideas and successes? The concrete approaches were then supplemented by a look at programmes, campaigns, and actions for young workers in the European Union.

The questions, insights and ideas were followed up on the second day. In an open space scenario, projects and approaches for the future were developed based on the experiences of the previous day. Participants were able to further develop existing ideas or develop completely new ideas and topics.

The participants were motivated to spin their visions, but then to work them out in a very concrete and practical way. In constantly changing groups, four very practical action or seminar ideas were developed, and concrete action steps were described. Ideas that were tackled were: a podcast series with interviews by young workers on current topics and appropriate tips and tricks; a future workshop on the subject of "Careers of the future and how do young people imagine their future job?", an event for networking and reaching out to young people, and a digital meet and greet on the topic of "work biography". This practical unit was experienced by all participants as very fruitful and motivating, as the exchange was encouraged, new strategies were developed and ideas for cooperation voiced and agreed.

At the end of the second day, the participants were once again motivated to actively advance their work with a look at the coming youth year of the European Union. “Equipped with the necessary skills and opportunities they need to reach their potential; young people can be a driving force to support development and contribute to peace and security. Youth-led organizations need to be encouraged and empowered to get involved in local, national, and regional politics. They play an important role in the implementation, monitoring and review of future strategies. With political commitment and adequate resources, young people have the potential to achieve the most effective transformation of the world into a better place for all.” Work and networking of youth organizations in Europe and beyond. In concrete terms, the participants were able to talk to the "YouRegion" in Maastricht. The advice centre specialises in advising young people on training and work in the Maas-Rhein region, i.e. in the border triangle of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Here the European ideal is implemented in a very concrete way, and a large network of companies, training centres, universities and schools want to create good conditions for young people across borders.

With a view to the program, we are confident that the exchange of experiences, suggestions, insights, and ideas will have a positive impact on the youth work of this year's participants. We are already looking forward to the next conference of young workers in the coming year.