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The race for jobs: from graduates and interns to NEETs

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SocietyJob Hunters

One in five young people – around 5.5 million citizens – in the EU are unable to find work; many more do jobs for which they are overqualified.

Youth unemployment regularly hits the headlines across Europe – but what are the stories behind the statistics?

The second article of a multi-part report from Bucharest and London:

Young entrants to the jobmarket in the UK might not necessarily feel lucky. Compared to the Romanian minimum wage of €157.50 (£122.90), in 2015, the UK equivalent is €1524.98 (£1,105.00), but despite thr higher wages, there is huge competition for vacancies, especially in London. 

Tianyan Xu, 24, was born in China to Chinese parents. Last year, she got a place on a competitive graduate scheme with British Telecom (BT) – but says that her generation, graduating in the last five years just, as the financial crisis hit, can feel paralysed by the competition. Many of her friends, she explains, gave up trying after a few unsuccessful attempts at the difficult application process.

“Jumping through the hurdles is quite annoying – it’s not just based on your skills and your abilities, it’s based on perception. Whatever you have, you have one chance to show that”, she says.

Her friend Adeola Adeyemo, 24, has a master’s degree and several internships behind her, and longs to work in publishing. Yet, she says, “my dream job’s apparently impossible… I feel a bit thwarted, but I’m not sure what I can do about it. It feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. On paper I have enough experience. I guess it’s an oversupply of qualified people and not enough jobs.” She has delayed her dream while working in sales, she tells us, adding: “I would like to know I can work back into [publishing]… but I also don’t know how I could, from where I am.”

Tianyan and Adeola, of course, are among the luckier ones – because across the EU, over 20% of young people are unemployed, double the rate for all age groups combined and nearly three times the rate for the over-25s. 7.5 million people aged 15 to 24 are not in employment, education or training (so-called ‘NEETs’) – while some 2 million vacancies across the EU remain unfilled. The EU has promised 6 billion euro to support regions most affected by joblessness – the figure sounds huge, until one considers the costs: NEETs are estimated to cost the EU €153 billion (1.21% of GDP) a year in benefits and lost earnings and taxes.

Getting help – but from where?

How do we change that? Help young people to build the right skills, believes Cristian Ionescu from BPI Group Romania, a firm implementing an EU-funded pilot project to get 2500 young NEETs into work:

Cristian Ionescu from BPI Group Romania talks about helping young people build the right skills.

“There is a mismatch between the education system and what employers really need”, he says. There’s also a mismatch of expectations: employers complain that young jobseekers lack practical skills – yet, he says, “the expectations of youth regarding payment are not realistic”.

By offering apprenticeships, vocational training or entrepreneurship skills, in sectors that meet local industry demand (as electricians in industrial regions, or as bartenders in tourist areas), the project aims to fill some of those gaps. Yet even Cristian wonders how realistic it is to fulfil the EU’s Youth Guarantee, an initiative that’s trying to get every young European under 25 a good-quality, concrete offer within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.

“I don’t think it’s feasible in countries like Romania, Greece, Portugal or Spain… Romania has one of the longest periods that a graduate spends from graduation to getting to the first job.”

For those still in education, schools and colleges in Romania don’t seem to offer much help to find work. Alexandru Nistor, a 21 year-old cybernetics student at the Academy of Economics Studies in Bucharest, found an internship as a web developer at Deutsche Telekom Romania on his own initiative. He reckons his college doesn’t do enough to help students get the practical experience they need.

“There is mandatory training during university, but only with certain companies that have not so much to do with the profile of the faculty you are studying at. For example, because I study informatics, I should have done training at an IT company, but the university [only] has contracts with banks or more economics-focused companies.”

Yet it isn't only Romania, where the education and training seems inadequate for young job-seekers. London, too has this problem.

Stay tuned for the next part of this in-depth series by Anna Patton and Lorelei Mihala as they talk to young Londoners about the obstacles they face when searching for work! Read Parts OneThreeFourFive, Six and Seven now.