Choice of thematic spaces
On day two of the Symposium, all participants will be invited to join a working space, to discuss on challenges and policy responses and on the conditions for a successful policy implementation tackling the challenges. On this occasion, also good practice examples will be presented. Participants will join one of six working spaces. We present below the content of the spaces.
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More information on the working spaces:
This theme covers aspects related both to young people’s identity (identity formation, belonging to a group, non-discrimination), as well as issues relation to young people’s place in society (social cohesion, young people’s place in it, social dislocation, isolation and marginalisation, wellbeing).
Challenges faced by young people relating to belonging include the integration of young people from migrant backgrounds, and their ability to feel at home in the place that they live in Europe, as well as for the society around them to view them as full members of the community. Rising right-wing populist movements and nationalist policies that define citizenship and belonging on ethnic or racial lines exclude large segments of minority populations. Other challenges faced by young people relate to economic insecurity and rising unemployment, which impact on a young person’s ability to achieve a safe and stable material condition, thereby comprising their ability to feel invested in a community. Radical or extremist groups, as well as more localised criminal and social groups and ‘gangs’, may be attractive to excluded young people but pose a threat to social cohesion.
2. Agency and empowerment
This theme covers projects that support young people to affirm themselves and to have the tools to claim their rights in society. In the broadest sense, empowerment is when individuals, families, organisations and communities gain control and mastery – that is, have agency – over their lives. This is produced when those who are powerless becoming aware of the power dynamics that shape their circumstances (what Freire calls ‘critical consciousness’) and develop the skills, confidence and capacity over their lives, improving equity and quality of life. Empowerment is also about bringing people who are outside the social, economic and political systems, and bringing them in to decision-making processes.
The theme looks at this process through specific examples, from issues such as independent and autonomous housing, access to rights, and support programmes for the empowerment of minorities.
Challenges faced by young people relating to agency and empowerment are those practices, beliefs and values that are disempowering for young people. This includes attitudes such as ageism, or discrimination against young people because of their age, and can extend out to the violation of young people’s rights in areas including education, participation, employment and social protection, health, freedom of expression and information, freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.
3. Participation and expression
This theme looks at the rights, means, support, opportunities and spaces young people have for making their voice heard and having an influence on issues that concern them. This applies to all areas of a young person’s life, from the family, school, local communities, public services, and wider government policy. Therefore participation is not only about political participation, meaning when a young person, acting as a citizen, engages in the public realm to affect change in a policy, law, or politics and society more generally. It is also about a young person’s right to participate in judicial or administrative proceedings that affect them, such as adoption or divorce proceedings in the case of minors , or playing a part in the projects and programmes that are designed for them, such as participating in the planning of a programme targeted at young people, or providing feedback in the monitoring and evaluation of a youth programme. Therefore participation applies to young people both as individuals and as a group, in decisions affecting their individual lives, as well as those that affect them as young people generally.
This theme explores the idea of youth expression and the granting or securing of ‘space’: public spaces where young people can express themselves, spaces for assembly and association and also spaces for creativity and artistic expression. The indicative practices here are programme for youth creativity or support to youth participation at different levels, mostly in relation to spaces for democratic participation and freedom of assembly.
Challenges faced by young people relating to participation and expression include the tension between the declining rates of youth participation in formal participation structures (ex. voting, political party and union membership), and the wave of social uprisings since 2009 led by youth that demonstrate their willingness to confront powerful regimes and institutions. Such tension may be due to disillusionment with formal processes to lead to meaningful change, and young people seeking alternative routes of participation and expression. Other challenges include restrictions on meaningful participation and a closing of civil society space, in the context of states clamping down on democratic freedoms and citizens’ right to free expression and assembly.
This theme looks at volunteering, as a means of civic engagement for and by young people. Volunteering is freely given, unpaid work, and can be based “on a wish to give something to other for free or minimal extrinsic reward”. Young people may be motivated by a “will to share, a desire to help others, to be useful, to defend a cause, to give meaning to their life, even to test a vocation or training”. Volunteering can build competencies useful in education and employment, such as skills, knowledge, social networks, and a sense of self-efficacy. While volunteering can take place in civic or community associations, caring for elderly relatives, younger siblings, or others in the community is also a common yet overlooked form of voluntary work routinely done by young people.
Volunteering can also be seen as a pathway to further participation in democratic life, as it demonstrates a sense of community and solidarity between a young person and the society around them. However the excessive focus placed on volunteering in youth policies, for example, particularly in civic, charitable or other non-political activities, can be seen as a de-politicisation of participation and an erosion of democratic practice. Volunteering may be a palatable way for governments to engage young people in society that doesn’t involve a transference of power, or a challenge to stability or the status quo.
This theme also covers the relevance and value of voluntary service types of intervention, particularly in two respects: for young people as citizens, and for young people’s competences, particularly in relation to the job market. This theme may also cover the relevance of international programmes, through which young people can have learning mobility opportunities. Challenges faced by young people relating to volunteering include improving access to and capacity to undertake volunteering opportunities, particularly for young people with fewer opportunities. For example, young people facing economic obstacles may lack the time and resources to volunteer, having to choose paid work instead, or taking on other unrecognised unpaid work in their family or community, such as caretaking of elderly relatives or younger siblings. Such young people are further disadvantaged by not being able to accrue the benefits of volunteering such as skill development and network building. Other challenges include the lack of visibility and recognition of volunteering-related competencies and experience in the labour market. Indeed, evidence of volunteering leading to enhanced employment prospects remains weak, both for entry-to-work and wage progression.
5. Learning and training
This theme looks into aspects such as the role of formal and non-formal education as means for supporting young people’s personal and professional development. Formal education covers learning in state-regulated schools, training institutions, colleges and universities, with a clearly defined curriculum and rules for certification. It is compulsory up to a certain level, and there is often strict accreditation and professional criteria for its teachers. By contrast, the European Knowledge Centre for Youth Policy describes non-formal learning as, …purposive but voluntary learning that takes place in a diverse range of environments and situations for which teaching/training and learning is not necessarily their sole or main activity. These environments and situations may be intermittent or transitory, and the activities or courses that take place may be staffed by professional learning facilitators (such as youth trainers) or by volunteers (such as youth leaders). Once associated with youth work in the “soft sector” of personal development and leisure activities, non-formal education is now more closely tied to vocational training with the aim of preparing young people for the labour market, particularly in those countries with rising youth unemployment. This turn can be seen as a reaction to the lack of vocational qualifications provided in the formal education system, and the inability of labour markets to absorb all young people.
Challenges faced by young people relating to learning and training include the risk of early school leaving by young people in formal education, as well as obstacles to accessing non-formal education opportunities. In both instances, young people with fewer opportunities are disadvantaged, having higher rates of formal school leaving, and also falling through the cracks of non-formal education programmes, which tend to reach those who are more advantaged. Additional obstacles faced by young people include the ability of vocational education and training (VET) programmes to keep pace with fast technological progress, specialisation of skills that limit transferability, the poor reputation of VET programmes in some countries, and the strong focus on manual work at the expense of learning about society, culture and civic life.
6. Working and creating
This theme explores the relation between young people and their participation in the labour market, either from the point of view of having access to job, having the competences needed and also as having the conditions to become creators/entrepreneurs. Unemployment has far-reaching consequences for young people beyond economic, including loss of confidence, undermined trust and expectations, and greater risk of social exclusion and disengagement from society. Causes of youth unemployment in the EU are difficult to isolate, and likely to involve a multiplicity of factors including lack of jobs, lack of skills, a skill mismatch between those gained by youth, and those needed by the labour market. Skill mismatch can include both under-qualification and over-qualification, the latter of which is particularly relevant for Europe, where in 2014, 25.2% of highly qualified young employees (24-35 years) were overqualified for their jobs. Young people also make up a great proportion of the precarious work force that is characterised by job insecurity, low wages, and lack of social benefits.
Attention will be given to the relationships between initiative and creativity, and enterprise and entrepreneurship. The practices that could be included here are vocational guidance programmes or support for social innovation (such as co-working spaces, hubs and incubators).
Challenges facing young people relating to working and creating include the delay of conventional transitions to adulthood that accompany financial independence from parents, such as the ability to live on one’s own, get married, and start a family. Young people also may choose to take on unpaid internships, which is increasingly favoured by companies, in an attempt to get ahead in a competitive workforce or to make up for a lack of practical skills not gained in formal education. However unpaid internships further entrench inequalities among young people, with those who are better off being able to engage in unpaid work, and are of questionable professional value.