Policy Paper in Transition from Education to Working Life
by Pablo Hernández Rodríguez
01 | Introduction.
AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe/European Students’ Forum) was created in 1985 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and a respect for human rights, by bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation with 40 countries, 200 cities, and 13,000 friends. The extensive AEGEE network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses and case study trips. To combat the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work focuses on four main areas: spreading “Europtimism”, improving youth mobility, increasing youth employment and promoting civic education.
One of the biggest challenges that youth is facing today is the economic and social crisis, a scenario that has had a major impact on the life of all European youngsters, challenging them to struggle with unacceptable youth unemployment rates and the decrease of quality education, training and job opportunities. These facts have intensified the difficulties a young European person faces when transitioning from education to working life.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in its article 23.1 that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” In this sense, AEGEE as a European organization focused on students, develops policies, activities and recommendations aiming to reduce the existing barriers between the education system and the labour market.
02| Current practices and challenges for transition from education to working life among the members of AEGEE.
Recent statistics show the poor employment situation that European youngsters are suffering, including youth unemployment rates over 50% in some European regions and the increase of temporary jobs since the beginning of the crisis. Another notable worry for today’s society is the amount of the so-called NEETs, people who are not in education, employment or training.
AEGEE has carried out a research determining the challenges of its members when it comes to transition from education to working life. The purpose was to identify the overall situation of this target group and to present recommendations that would empower them and improve the current situation.
The first challenge that is shown is that nowadays formal education systems are not fully providing the skills needed by the job market, thus more than 85% of the people consulted believe that non formal education should bridge this gap. This data shows the need for adaptation of the formal education system to the needs that young people have when transitioning to the labour market. Non formal education providers should not be left alone in the provision of those skills. In this sense, it is needed to teach transversal skills, those that could be applicable to a broad number of occupations not entirely leaving this task to non-formal education institutions.
Secondly, internships in Europe are in a critical situation having several challenges to be faced. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) alerts that around half of internships are unpaid, and among paid internships, 45% pay too little to cover day-to-day living costs. As such, about three-quarters of European interns are not able to make ends meet, and two-thirds of them must fund their placements through parental help. In response to this data, around 85% of the people consulted in AEGEE’s survey stated that internships should be paid. Beside this, almost 4 out of 10 young people think that internships are overused by companies that are not looking for educating their interns but for replacing a real job for a cheaper one.
Thirdly, one of the recipes that are given to solve youth unemployment is entrepreneurship as the process of starting a business that is seen for 57% of the people consulted as their possible future career path. The analysis of the results of the opinion of AEGEE members show that the actual situation is very discouraging, as more than 6 out of 10 people that think it is not easy to start their own business. The challenge that entrepreneurship has to deal with is the lack of support that is given to the ones willing to create their own business.
Furthermore, the transition from education to working life is a process that is not escaping from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race or any other. Over 60% of the consultants think that there is discrimination in the job market, something that has worsened since the beginning of the crisis as external research shows. The same study states that “the lack of official comparable data makes it very difficult to assess the extent of discrimination in employment in Europe”.
Current situation leads to many more challenges and practices that should be shaped or changed to fit them in the constantly changing context. AEGEE’s research shows that half of youngsters do not have financial independence and most of the people consulted do not think that they will be in their job of future job for more than five years. These new trends are forcing the stakeholders involved, including AEGEE, to respond with measures and strategies that fit in the current context.
03 | Position of AEGEE / European Students’ Forum.
AEGEE is a students’ organization that empowers young Europeans giving them a platform for debate and personal development as well as stands for their rights. One of the main challenges that every European citizen has to face with is the serious unemployment and underemployment situation, specially for those coming from minority targeted groups.
AEGEE is one of the main stakeholders in the design of packages and reforms that should be taken in order to solve the current situation that is unacceptable. There must belong-term planning, allowing all social actors to intervene in modeling a system that involves main fields of action such as bridging the skills mismatch between formal education and the labour market; implementing a sustainable entrepreneurship atmosphere; providing quality jobs; establishing a quality and useful internships system; and easing the inclusion of minorities.
Regarding the relationship between the skills and competences provided by formal education and the skills and competences needed in the job market, AEGEE believes that the universities must be the place for both professional and personal development. In this sense, curricula should not be oriented to create the so-called “Homo Economicus”, that is to say, students with knowledge only applicable to the needs of a concrete job market, but oriented to form citizens that complement each other in their communities.
AEGEE stands for education in transversal skills moreover living in a fast-changing society in which technology creates new job niches. These skills should be gained through vocational training, dual education and non formal education, providing to the students with experiences valuable for their future work. In this sense, AEGEE understands that non-formal education must complement formal education in order to obtain the skills required for the proper development of their future job. Regarding this object, AEGEE advocates for the recognition of volunteering: “valorising volunteer activities as a real and worthful experience, which can be presented by young people in their future steps of their career”. AEGEE is a provider of non formal education, as this association empowers members and other agents involved with tools and opportunities to develop skills by doing giving them experiences valuable for their career.
AEGEE promotes quality internships as a means for the intern to gain practical or applied education in a career field. In order to shape a quality system, there should be an implementation of compulsory internships within the framework of the higher education. AEGEE remarks the importance of allowing the students to acquire relevant experience in their placement both during vocational training schemes and during their University studies. These internships should be based upon a series of core principles such as equal opportunities for everybody in the same situation, focusing on the inclusion of minorities; the use of them must not replace a job. In order to improve this situation, higher educations institutions and policy makers in relevant European countries must implement a learning methodology in all internships by, for example, having an assigned tutor and training courses to develop the skills and competences required; and there must be a compensation to the intern for their work including remuneration, access to social protection and workers’ rights.
Apart from providing the necessary skills, in order to fight against unemployment and mainly against youth unemployment, AEGEE proposes to establish a sustainable atmosphere to allow youngsters to become entrepreneurs. In this sense, it is needed to ease the requirements for starting a company, making it accessible and user friendly, as well as to provide information on which steps to take. There must be a strong dialogue among all the stakeholders in order to develop a proper entrepreneurship ecosystem that provides easy access to information on how to become entrepreneurs as for example happens with the MY-WAY project in which AEGEE is part of that aims on creating a support system for young people to become entrepreneurs. This atmosphere should include public facilities to be used by young entrepreneurs to develop their ideas as well as proper funding opportunities that gives the possibility to quality proposals to become real. In the basis of the encouragement to young people to become entrepreneurs there should be the introduction of an entrepreneurship spirit and knowledge through the incorporation into formal education.
AEGEE believes that besides entrepreneurship, there should be good labour perspectives. That is to say, the chance to have a decent job in which the skills and knowledge of the person are recognized. AEGEE stands for the development of policies that foster youth employment creating full time, permanent jobs and reducing the number of part-time and temporary jobs, ensuring quality conditions for workers including a decent salary, a proper usage of the skills of the employee and security in terms of proper future expectations. In order to fully achieve this goal, it is crucial to promote measures to make young people more employable by avoiding austerity measures as there have not been empirically proven their relation with lower youth unemployment but have a high risk of pushing young people into poverty and social exclusion.
Finally, for AEGEE it is essential to advocate for equal opportunities for all, thus inclusion of minorities is a milestone in the construction of proposals and recommendations that empower young people with tools to smooth the transition from education to working life. The promotion of measures that, for instance, empower women to become entrepreneurs would foster the whole European youth employment creating also a more integrative and stable social situation.
4 | Recommendations for the ease of transition from education to working life.
04.01 |Recommendations for educational centres
AEGEE-Europe recommends that universities, highschools and other educational centers bear in mind the responsibility they have in providing to their students’ with knowledge, skills and opportunities valuable for their future career. The educational centers are the main stakeholders in the transition from education to working life as they build the background that every young person has when trying to access to the labour market. In this sense, there should be a coherent and omni-comprehensive approach to the formal education system in order to empower these young people with the best possible tools.
First, AEGEE-Europe encourages the educational centers to open up the catalogue of extracurricular activities, enabling every student to make his/her own career path. This catalogue of activities should be composed out of both courses directly oriented to the maximization of opportunities for young people to be hired in future; and also another set of activities oriented to develop personal skills useful for the society. In order to fully achieve this recommendation, it is needed to have a proper representation of the students in the institutions through students’ councils making them able to prioritize their needs and adapt their education to their preferences.
Second, the entrepreneurial spirit should be introduced from early ages as another form of future employment. AEGEE encourages to these institutions to foster creativity and entrepreneurial mentality as an alternative to traditional employment. Moreover, the universities should create incubators, coworking spaces and have mentoring services that would enable their students to start their own businesses and put in practice their projects.
Third, AEGEE-Europe beliefs that educational institutions must, in conjunction with policy makers, provide an adequate system to gain employability skills and practical knowledge on the needs of a job seeker by ensuring extra-curricular activities in their centers.
04.02 |Recommendations for policy-makers
AEGEE-Europe understands that some regulations should be implemented in order to ease every stage of the transition from education to working life. The different policy making institutions involved should work together towards the creation of a renewed framework for young people that would foster their future employability and establish quality job and internship standards.
First, AEGEE-Europe recommends to regulate the situation of interns as one of the possible paths in the transition to full employment taking into consideration that bad practices might exist such as using internships to replace regular jobs. AEGEE-Europe proposes to establish fiscal advantages and favourable taxation to those companies that after the period of internship, finally offer an employment contract and, by contrast, penalizing those that use this system as cheap labour force. Another measure that must be implemented is the inclusion of internships in higher education curricula as a way to provide all the students with professional experience before they finally look for a job. As a complement to this, there should be a quality assurance service in charge of following up how employers are putting in practice this program, establishing minimum standards that have to be accomplished. This last recommendation can only be correctly developed after the recognition in the European level of the definition of quality internships and its indicators thus there can be a proper impact measurement of the different employment policies.
Second, local governments and other territorial administrations should empower their citizens to be self-employed giving them an alternative to paid employment. In this sense, the process of starting a business should not be a barrier to the goals of young people, thus AEGEE claims for the reduction of bureaucracy and transmit to face with when starting a company. Additionally, there must be a good provision of facilities and assessment that would allow young people to commence running their businesses. AEGEE encourages policy makers to set business incubators gathering local governments and universities creating a sustainable transition to autonomous labour life.
Third, AEGEE-Europe is also concerned about the lack of formation for employment. AEGEE believes that governments should deliver courses at educational centers teaching on a practical base essential skills such as writing a CV or a cover letter, how to do a proper job hunting or how to be interviewed. Those courses should not be only run at Universities but at earlier education stages as they are skill that are needed by any person.
Last but not least, AEGEE-Europe thinks that it is needed an adequate funding to the different measures suggested so they can become really effective. The Youth Guarantee scheme is a stand out of the proposed solutions to the transition from education to working life, concretely to the high rates of NEETs, that, due to the lack of money allocated to it, does not have an adequate impact in society.
04.03 |Recommendations for companies
AEGEE-Europe believes that the private sector must be a cornerstone in the design of policies and mechanisms to ease and improve the European unemployment situation as the public sector cannot entirely absorb the impact of the crisis and, as it has been shown, there have been huge cuts in public hiring.
Companies have the responsibility to modernize their recruitment strategies getting adapted to the actual labour framework. AEGEE recommends them to set training programs in order to form their own workers in the skills that are going to need in their future job and recognize the ones gained outside formal education institutions. Additionally, AEGEE encourages companies to approve internal binding norms including regulation on quality working standards together with their workers.
04.04 |Recommendations for youth
AEGEE-Europe would also like to involve the main stakeholder in youth unemployment and transition from education to working life which is the youth itself. As a heterogeneous collective, it is needed to have an integrative approach including those coming from the most diverse backgrounds. AEGEE/European Students’ Forum has assumed the responsibility of stepping forward in the defense of youngsters’ working rights. Consequently, AEGEE encourages its members to have a proactive mentality and use the resources and the platform offered by the organization to turn their ideas into reality (e.g. getting informed by the YuE project or organizing an event about employability skills in collaboration with that project).
AEGEE recommends to every European student to actively seek for their own career path complementing their formal education with non formal education and training in soft skills and transversal skills in order to foster their employability. AEGEE-Europe encourages the youth to keep informed of the opportunities they have in the local, regional and European level using public information means and actively engage in a dialogue with policy makers and companies.
Finally, AEGEE believes that every person should have same opportunities regardless of their origin, race, sex or any other source of discrimination, thus integration of minorities must be a priority in the design of any kind of measures that aim to smooth the transition from education to working life. In this sense, the collaboration with International Non-Governmental Youth Organizations (INGYOs) is crucial in order to come up with solutions that help to put into practice the previously quoted article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4 | References
1 Eurydice – Facts and Figures, 2014/15, National Student Fee and Support Systems in European Higher Education 2014/15