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Interview: Closing the skills gap to address youth unemployment

On International Youth Day, we asked Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director-General of the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, to answer a few questions about the role of the EU in addressing the ever increasing rates of youth unemployment in the world.

What is the EU doing to help get young people around the world into decent jobs of their choice? 

Young people make up nearly half of the world’s unemployed. Employment challenges are not only to do with the amount of jobs created, but also with the quality of jobs. Most vulnerable people in developing countries, especially young people, lack decent jobs which would offer them social protection, security, minimum wages and the respect of labour rights and that would enable them to escape from intergenerational poverty.

In EU development cooperation, employment and decent work are central to achieving inclusive and sustainable development.

In EU development cooperation, employment and decent work are central to achieving inclusive and sustainable development. Improving people’s employability is one of our broad areas of intervention. This is implemented through adequate skills development and revamped Vocational Education and Training (VET) policies. It is encouraging to see that in recent years, requests for support from partner countries in designing and implementing reforms have increased.

Creating a conducive business environment is also a fundamental pre-requisite for enhancing skills quality, generating  jobs and providing better opportunities for young people. One of the main objectives of future cooperation on youth economic empowerment will be to strengthen the link with the labour market by promoting more demand-driven VET systems while at the same time fostering inclusion of disadvantaged groups thus providing alternatives to migration and reducing inequalities. 

Where do you think the biggest needs are when it comes to youth unemployment? 

Rapid changes in labour market needs mean that Vocational Education and Training systems need to adjust quickly. VET often does not adequately prepare young people for work or for the fast-changing nature of modern economies. Private sector contributions are growing slowly, due to a lack of trust between public and private institutions and limited discussion between the public and private sectors on identifying skills required. A gender-sensitive VET system needs to be aware of the existing differences in women’s and men’s access to VET programmes and employment, and be capable of improving the equality outcomes.

Governance methods and models have a significant impact on the overall performance of education and training policies, influencing the way they are formulated and implemented. Actions and debates that target the development of good governance are necessary. Sub-national regions and local actors, social partners and civil society organisations should be more involved in shaping education and training policies. The EU and partner countries should take action to increase the role of regional actors and ensure multi-level participation in policy-making including the participation of youth representatives.

State and non-governmental actors such as ministries and their administrative bodies have to be supported in applying gender-sensitive approaches and integrating specific gender-orientated initiatives to mainstream equality where and when necessary, at the local, national and supranational level.

Finally, people in rural areas face enormous challenges in preparing for and accessing decent work. Young people working in agriculture need comprehensive and strategic policies to fill the gaps in knowledge, education, create green jobs, access land, participate in policy dialogue and achieve gender equality.

What is being planned in the context of the revised Gender Action Plan (GAP) regarding girls and women’s economic empowerment? 

The Commission promotes women and girls' socio-economic empowerment in all its thematic programmes, ensuring equal opportunities and equal rights in all sectors: rural development, education, vocational training, promotion of private sector, employment, etc. All programmes funded by the EU will aim to assist women and girls in achieving their rights in these domains. The objective of the GAP II is to have 85% of all new programmes and projects scoring 1 or 2 in the OECD DAC gender marker, meaning having gender equality among its substantial or principal objectives. Mainstreaming gender equality in combination with promoting specific actions to fill the most important gaps, is the primary way to achieve that. The gender analyses which are ongoing at EU Delegation level aim to identify those priorities area. 

Why is it that, despite the rest of the GAP focusing on girls and women, the section on decent work focuses only on women? And could it lead to girls being left behind?

All GAP II priorities, including on socio-economic empowerment, address women of all ages. Of course we must pursue this objective in the most age-appropriate way. Despite the ILO Conventions allowing girls to work from age 15, the Commission aims to offer them access to secondary school or vocational training until their adulthood, without of course denying the right to a decent work to those who decide to leave the educational area. No girls – therefore - will be left behind by EU policies. 

Given that jobs, growth and decent work is an important part of the 2030 Agenda, how will the upcoming policy revisions such as the new Consensus on Development reflect those goals and targets?

The EU played a leading role in shaping the 2030 Agenda, and in ensuring it would reflect the EU’s values. The EU is therefore committed to playing a driving role in implementing the SDGs. The preparation of the revised Consensus will ensure it adequately reflects new elements from the 2030 Agenda.

For example support for the creation of decent jobs will be accompanied by strengthened social protection systems and other approaches such as tackling inequalities within and between countries. Other areas of focus include the improvement of public and private partnerships and the promotion of responsible business standards. Measuring the progress of implementation through better data collection and reporting will be one of the main policy objectives of the EU.

The active participation of youth in decision making process is crucial.

What would it take for the EU to invest much more in Youth Economic Empowerment?

Investing in youth starts from childhood and even before birth: empowered women will ensure that  children’s rights are protected and their livelihoods improved through better nutrition, health, education and ultimately better jobs.

The active participation of youth in decision making process is crucial: it is important to reinforce their capacity to be heard and to be represented in order to understand what is needed for their well-being and what their expectations are.

Empowering youth also requires accountable social services systems and innovative tools to promote the skills and potential of youth in order to enhance their economic, social and cultural opportunities.

Interview with Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development.