Help, what is to become of me?

Elmar Stracke says career choices and life planning to avoid young people failing to meet these challenges is in need of more orientation. As an observer of trends on the European employment market, he was a panellist at the 6th Berlin Demography Forum (BDF).

12. April 2017

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If we take a look at the future prospects of younger people in the employment market, we can quickly see many developments, which make the future appear at best unpredictable and at worst frightening: demographic change, globalisation, digitisation, sluggish economy. Additionally, or consequently, we see increasingly precarious and uncertain employment situations and high unemployment among young people. This does not exactly inspire confidence, particularly in countries in Europe such as Italy or Greece, which, unlike Germany, already have an unemployment rate of up to 50% among young people.

Young people often study for the sake of studying something because they were told that intelligent people have to study.

If I ask colleagues and university friends from the regions concerned what happened to their primary school friends, many actually find themselves unemployed in their late twenties or in jobs for which they appear to be completely overqualified. One theme keeps cropping up in these narratives besides a difficult economic environment and that is a lack of (professional) orientation. They studied something for the sake of studying because they were told that intelligent people have to study. They did not gain any practical experience which would have helped them to realise where they wanted to work and where they did not want to work. And they had no social networks which could have given them this orientation for example because their parents’ life experience could no longer be applied to the conditions of today.

While they are at school, children should already have a feel for what options and paths will be available to them.

Regardless of economic climate, talent and education, a lot of potential seems to remain untapped because there is an inadequate exchange of experience. Therefore, careers advice should become an integral component of education across the whole of Europe: while they are at school, children should already have a feel for what options are available to them, which fields have greater prospects and which have fewer, and, be given a helping hand if necessary: teachers or social workers could simply ask every few months, “Where are you at and where do you want to go?”, and they could then help to work out a path, which reflects their own strengths and interests as much as the economic environment. In many places, this is already a matter of course or is acquired from the social environment, but in many places this is not the case.

Changing job or career is becoming more the norm than the exception.

In an increasingly fast-paced age, both jobs and careers have to be changed more often. Young people today have to learn and must be prepared not to practice the same profession their whole life; that they may even have to change their field of work completely because one economic sector is disappearing and a new one is emerging. The career ladder no longer only points upwards: it is quite possible that you might have to start all over again from the bottom in order to work your way up in a new field. We have to adjust to an increasing complexity in working life and bolster our ability to transfer knowledge from one field into another and to apply it there in an intelligent way.

It is also about recognising and sensing that you are a key component in society.

A model tool for strengthening orientation and experiences among young people in Europe is already available in the shape of the European Voluntary Service (EVS): if young people not only commit themselves to social projects on a voluntary basis but also do this in another European country, and receive recognition and also some money for this, they get inspired, have ideas, gain important skills and knowledge. They also get a sense of being a key component in our society and that they are needed. They broaden their network and social capital and can look more optimistically into the future. At the moment, EVS is not just far less well known and used than, for example, the Erasmus Programme. Such opportunities are more likely to be used by those from more privileged classes anyway. The groups in the population which could benefit most are those which know the least about such options. This must also fall into professional orientation.

None of this is a miracle cure for creating jobs for everyone. However, it can help to create a generation in which there are enough well-educated young people to cater for all these fields. Professional orientation can help to harness young people’s potential in the employment market, to give them dignity, self-confidence and an optimistic outlook. This is not only of major significance to potential employers, but rather to our society as a whole.

Find information about the Berlin Demography Forum (BDF) here.

  • Elmar Stracke

    Elmar Stracke is studying Comparative and European Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, where he is carrying out research into Europe’s various welfare states, with regard to their employment market policy and educational systems among other things. Work placements and studying abroad in various countries of Europe allowed him to better appreciate the concerns of young people today. With a background in Philosophy and Economics and as a co-author of the Ahrntal Manifesto on demographic change in Europe, he was on the Future Skills Panel at the 6th Berlin Demography Forums in 2017.