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Youth Facing 'Not Hired at All' Dilemma

Although unemployment was steady at 8.3 percent in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development area, youth unemployment, at 17.2 percent, is high and likely to go higher, Stefano Scarpetta, deputy director for Employment, Labor and Social Affairs at the OECD, told CNBC.com.

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In September, labor ministers from the G20 met in Paris and agreed on the creation of a task force to tackle the issue of youth unemployment and the OECD held on Tuesday a preparation conference gathering representatives from civic organizations and the public.

“In the next months, and 2012, we are likely to face a relatively high unemployment level ,” Scarpetta said, “and in particular, I would say, youth unemployment, which is why I think it is important to devote the adequate resourcesto the most needing youth in the labor market.”

Under-24s have always been one of the most vulnerable categories of workers, but during the current economic crisis they have seen their plight worsening.

“It used to be 'last hired, first fired,'” Richard Boucher, deputy secretary-general of the OECD, said in his introduction to the two-day meeting in Paris. “Now it's 'not hired at all.'”

Prospects for employment in the West look dim as the protracted euro zone debt crisis is threatening the already meager economic recovery, with many analysts predicting a recession for the single currency area next year.

“The challenge, I think, first and foremost, is to get overall employment going again,” John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, told CNBC.com, adding that this requires growth and governments giving priority to employment.

Youngsters have to face several hurdles on the job market and one of them is the fact that lots of new graduates struggle to find a position because their skills do not match those sought by employers.

“Today, they study with good hope,” Andreas Schleicher, special advisor on education policy to the secretary general of the OECD, said to CNBC.com, explaining that students are not well aware of the state of the job market, and push for sometimes unnecessary long studies. “It’s a matter of education and information,” he said.

Skills Gap

Many at the forum mentioned apprenticeships and internships as a way to reduce this gap between what students learn at the university and what skills they actually need once they are in a company.

Young workers need to learn general skills at school, rather than focus on very precise skills, so that it will be easier for them to adapt to whatever job is offered to them, Schleicher said. However, voices were unanimous to emphasize that these internships need to be “quality” ones and not just a cheap replacement of work force for employers.

“On the trade union side, we’re calling for a global youth jobs pact which we’ll be presenting to the G20 task force on employment this week in Mexico,” Evans said.

The pact would help a young person who has not found a job in six months to get a work placement, a quality internship, trainings scheme and employment for 12 months.

One model that was pointed as an example was the system in place in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, in which students start doing apprenticeships in their teenage years, and share their week between school and work.

But ultimately, unemployment is a local problem and this would make it hard to implement solutions through international organizations such as the OECD, the European Union, or even the G20.

“We can set a global framework,” Schleicher said, “but in the end, employment is a local factor, and it has to be decided in local labor markets.”

Contact Europe: Economy

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