60 child and youth services professionals and science and industry experts from 12 countries discussed practices that had been identified as promising in the field of transition from school to work. Participants included representatives from Japan and Turkey.
In her introduction, Anna Ludwinek, a research manager at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin (Eurofound), painted a bleak picture of the present situation facing young people in Europe. Currently, no other population segment is at greater risk of falling into poverty or suffering social exclusion than young people. The most recent research shows quite surprising results. Worrying are the high youth unemployment rates in countries such as Spain, Portugal, or Greece, but also in Sweden the plight of young people has grown considerably worse - or at least, it feels that way. "Between 2007 and 2011, the number of young people in Sweden who regard social exclusion as a problem has more than doubled," said Ludwinek. Today, one in five young people in Europe is unemployed; one in eight has dropped out of school, and one in twelve comes from a socially disadvantaged background or would describe their health as bad or very bad. The research manager rates the project "transitions" very highly. "The transition system within Europe in particular needs a much bigger injection of power," Ludwinek demanded. If you look at the average time it takes for young people to find a job after they leave school, you will see huge differences between individual countries, from just under four months in Great Britain and the Netherlands to more than thirteen months in Greece. "Our research shows that in general, young people in Scandinavia, in the Baltic states, in Germany, and in English-speaking countries tend to have less problems finding work quickly, but the waiting period is long in the Mediterranean region." Ludwinek was surprised how little the trade unions were involved in the current transitioning processes. "Why are they nowhere to be seen in this debate? I don't understand," said the researcher. For each country, she suggested coordinated action plans to include government, social partners, and non-governmental organisations, at local as well as national level. But, said Ludwinek who originates from Poland, the reality of the situation was devastating. There may be a profusion of declarations of intent but there are hardly any new jobs.
Japan: You are a youth until your late thirties
At this conference, examples of best practice for the transition system were presented not only by participants of the project countries Finland and Luxembourg but also by participants from Japan and Turkey, two countries with which Germany had previously run a bilateral exchange on the same subject. Of particular interest was the holistic approach employed by the Japanese Youth Culture Studio in the city of Matsue in Shimane prefecture - especially when you consider the age range. There are numerous activities on offer, aimed not only at disadvantaged youths but also at men and women up until their late thirties who are made welcome, too. "We all want to learn from each other," Etsuko Kimura explained. "This place has been in existence since 2004 and maybe it has been successful because leisure and work have always been closely interlinked. Many of our visitors have no structure to their days. We want to help them find a rhythm again - connected to a few basic qualifications for a future job." When you come to the Youth Culture Studio, you are given the opportunity to take some first tentative steps in a working environment. "Flea markets, local festivals, working in the fields - those are activities that can certainly make it easier to gain a foothold later on," Kimura said. Another determining factor for successful engagement in the transition system is a strong networking connection with local partners. "In Matsue, we work with some 20 different organisations, from the Chamber of Trade and Industry and the employment agency to the ombudsman for the rights of children and young people. The prefecture wanted it to be like this. It's the only way for us to be able to offer all those services." The Youth Culture Studio offers leisure activities and employment preparation courses as well as counselling and advice for young people in need of help. Overnight accommodation and, if required, mediation with parents, is also available.
Turkey: We cannot manage without volunteers
Entirely different is the approach employed by the so-called Pomegranate Seeds Project (Nar Taneleri) in Turkey. Since 2009, the project has supported orphaned young women aged 18 to 24 with their integration into the job market and society. The project is funded by a public-private partnership in cooperation with non-governmental organisations. "We noticed that these women especially are in need of support," said Aysun Sayin of Boyner-Holding, one of the project partners. "They do not have any of the qualifications demanded by the job market. Often, they get married and have children very early on and, because of their own background, they sometimes have a tendency to allow themselves to be exploited. We would like to counteract this." The women are supported with training and a well-thought-out mentoring system, and this is available across all of Turkey. Since 2009, 162 women have taken part in the programme and most of them have completed it successfully. From 2009 to 2012, 57 percent of the women taking part in this programme have found a job, 25 percent decided to continue their training, and 18 percent started to look for work. "For our transition programme we rely hugely on the many volunteers from companies and businesses. Without them, it would be impossible for us to offer such a range of activities," explained Gül Erdost of the United Nations Population Fund, the project coordinator.
A multitude of suggestions
By the end of this international expert meeting there was no lack of suggestions for making the transition from school to work more effective. The importance of strategic partnerships was mentioned, as was the need for mutual trust and a continuing flow of information and communication. The importance of talking with - instead of about - each other was stressed again and again, as was the fact that it was prudent to have a clear allocation of responsibilities. With regard to the young people, the wish was that young disadvantaged people could really be given access to work experience. It would also be desirable to have coaches with a holistic approach working in the field of transition, and to have a closer cooperation with trade unions and private and public employers, but there was also discussion about closer cooperation with parents. All the participants were very clearly united in one goal: whatever the plan, it must always ensure that the young people concerned are included.