The European Commission (EC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have joined forces to support the institutions responsible for youth employment policy in the Western Balkans in introducing a youth guarantee (YG). The European Training Foundation (ETF) is also a partner in the realization of interventions. Inspired by similar schemes in the EU Member States, a youth guarantee is a commitment to support every young person under the age of 30 who is not employed, in education or training (so-called NEETs). This commitment entitles young people to receive a good quality offer of employment, traineeship, apprenticeship, or continued education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.
The EC/ILO support includes the adaptation of the youth guarantee to the Western Balkans through policy, programming and monitoring support, advanced training, and peer-learning across Western Balkans and EU.
This EC/ILO Technical Assistance Facility (TAF) comes after the second EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Meeting on Employment and Social Affairs on 8 July, at which ministers and representatives responsible for employment endorsed a Declaration on ensuring sustainable labour market integration of young people. The Declaration recognises the disproportionate negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the labour market situation of young people and spells out a commitment to gradually implement youth guarantees in the region. The Declaration takes inspiration from the EU Council Recommendation of 30 October 2020 on A Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee.
Young people are bearing the brunt of the massive economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, youth employment fell by 8.7 per cent in 2020 compared with 3.7 per cent for adults. An examination of the share of young people who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) provides a snapshot of young people’s overall vulnerability to the economic situation. Simply stated, if the employment rate goes down, either the NEET rate or the educational participation rate (or both) must increase. Clearly, a reduction of employment compensated by an increase in education is, in principle, more desirable than an increase in NEET rates. However, in the Western Balkans, the loss of employment and the rise in inactivity has not – in general – been offset by a return to education. In Montenegro, for instance, four out of five young people who lost their job became inactive rather than unemployed, but did not go back to education. NEET rates in the Western Balkan economies remained above the pre-crisis level throughout 2020, although in some cases they declined from their peak in 2020Q2, thanks to the measures implemented. In Serbia, one out of five young people fall within the NEET category, but it can be as high as one out of three in other parts of the region.
The ILO has called on governments for action to prevent short-term exit of youth from the labour market turning into long-term exclusion for a generation of young people. The implementation of a youth guarantee could help in avoiding long-term scarring effects, i.e. the increased likelihood of more spells of unemployment or inactivity, lower earning prospects, and lower chances of obtaining a good quality job.
The ILO is a specialised technical agency that leads the action of the United Nations system on employment and the world of work. This partnership with the European Commission to facilitate the establishment of youth guarantees in the Western Balkans builds on the previous EC/ILO Joint Action on the Youth Guarantee targeted at EU member states. It contributes to achieving the objectives set out in the EC’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans (EIP) in October 2020. The EIP promotes long-term economic recovery, a green and digital transition, regional integration, and convergence with the European Union; it includes a flagship initiative on the Youth Guarantee with a view to offering better perspectives to young people and mitigating the brain drain.