Contemporary issues in youth policy

Reducing the rate of youth unemployment is a core focus of this area of policy, as young people are often one of the groups most affected when there are wider labour market or economic issues. The OECD defines youth unemployment as 15-24 year-olds who report that they are without work, that they are available for work and that they have taken active steps to find work in the last four weeks. Youth unemployment can be driven by both demand side issues - where there are not enough employment available for the workforce - and supply side issues - where there the workforce does not have the competencies for the work available.

According to Eurostat, the youth unemployment rate of persons aged 15-24 was 23% in the EU-28 countries in 2012. That translates to an average 5.6 million unemployed persons aged 15-24, among the 24.4 million persons of that age group in the labour market.

Young people who are not in education employment or training (NEET) forms a second key policy focus. This group includes young people in a wide variety of social situations, many of whom may not be actively searching for education or employment. NEET can lead to disenfranchisement or disengagement from society, and longer term negative effects on life chances. Eurostat reported that in 2017, 17.2 % of the 20-34 olds in the EU were neither in employment nor in education and training.

Underemployment of young people (being employed in job that does not fully use your skills or education, does not provide enough work, or provides fewer hours than one is available to work) is also a common policy concern. Similarly, precarious work situations such as zero hours, temporary or freelance contracts are now an increasing feature of employment for young people. The “gig economy”, where workers move continually between short term pieces of work without long term career progression, is identified as a future trend affecting young people. As a result, workers rights for young people, and the ending of practices such as unpaid internships are an increasing focus of many youth organisations.

Other contemporary policy issues include: the rise of Yo-Yo transitions, where rather than moving smoothly from living at home in education to living independently and in employment, young people increasingly “yo-yo” between the two; and the perceived mismatch of skills taught in education and those needed in employment.

European Union Youth Guarantee, agreed by all member states is a commitment by all Member States to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good quality offer of, employment, continued education, apprenticeship, or traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. In 2008, the Council of Europe adopted priorities for youth policy including “ensuring young people’s access to education, training and working life particularly through the promotion and recognition of non-formal education/learning”; and “supporting young people’s transition from education to the labour market, for example by strengthening possibilities to reconcile private and working life”.

Recommended Resources

European Union Expert Group Report: The contribution of youth work to address the challenges young people are facing, in particular the transition from education to employment

European Union: Youth guarantee

Council of Europe: Resolution CM/Res(2008)23 on the youth policy of the Council of Europe

Eurofound: NEETs - Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018.


Young people’s views

Youth Goal #7 “Quality employment for all”, calls for Europe to:

Guarantee an accessible labour market with opportunities that lead to quality jobs for all young people.

The goal identifies that “young people are suffering from high youth unemployment, precarious and exploitative working conditions as well as discrimination in the labour market and the workplace. The lack of information and suitable skills for future employment is preventing young people to be fully integrated in the labour market.”