Fighting youth unemployment in the Netherlands

Edited by : Ellen Kalisperati,

“What I would advise other countries to do is: try to sell your traineeships to companies in your neighborhood (…) Don’t give up, we are young and we are the future. So if it does not work the first five times, 10 times, 20 times: keep on trying. Inspiring advice, but not always easy to follow”.

While youth unemployment rates in Greece and Spain hover around 60 percent, the figure in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands is below ten percent. How do the Dutch combat youth unemployment? How do they get young people into the labour market?

Inside the “Innovation Dock” in Rotterdam,18-year old Gillian is working hard to make sure he gets the skills he needs to find a job in a fast-changing labour market. He spends one week a month at this vocational training college. The rest of the time, he learns on the job as an apprentice in a company. This approach combining training and practical learning forms the basis of education in the Netherlands. “I learn a lot here. I also learn a lot at my workplace. But here, at the vocational training college, on top of what I can learn at work, I acquire very specific skills and a huge variety of up-to-date techniques that you can’t pick up in every job. School and work are complementary,” says Gillian. “Innovation is very important for us as an educational institute,” says Gillian’s supervisor at Albeda College, André de Knegt. “We also try to meet the demands of companies: we go to trade fairs where we buy tools or try to update our teaching skills and techniques. We have all kinds of innovative machines and know-how, which are available to students and apprentices.”

The 22 million euros needed to transform the submarine shipyard into a vocational training center were co-funded by the European Union and the city of Rotterdam. We ask one of the managers what the secret is to fight youth unemployment in the Netherlands. “What I would advise other countries to do is: try to sell your traineeships to companies in your neighbourhood. Because if you do that, you get close to those companies and you stay in touch with the latest standards of innovation. I am sure that they will help you include their innovation into your traineeships,” says Michel van’t Hof, manager at Albeda College. The Netherlands’ latest youth unemployment rate stands at 9.7%. It’s a low figure, compared to the European average of around 23 percent.But it’s on the rise. Which is why Rotterdam has decided to invest more in training schemes.While he welcomes an EU proposal for a “youth guarantee”, which would guarantee either a job or training to every unemployed youth, the city’s social affairs councilor says the pressure is first and foremost on the job-seeker:

“They should be forced to accept every job offer that is in the real labour market and in the real economy,” says Marco Florijn, Rotterdam City Councillor for Social Affairs. “They shouldn’t be given social security, they should be sent back, because they have to look for a job themselves, we are not their parents,” he adds.

9.7 % – The EU’s statistics bureau figure for the Netherlands looks nice on paper, but it doesn’t reflect reality according to this Dutch labour market expert:“What’s very different here is that young people are very often both in education and in employment at the same time, but in small jobs – that situation is ten times more frequent here in the Netherlands than in Italy, for instance,” says WiemerSalverda, from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.

“At the same time, since the financial crisis, the employment rate of young people in the Netherlands has fallen by one third and the employment rate of young people of migrant origin has fallen by half.“We are in one of the nation’s hot spots, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Many young migrants live here. Among them, unemployment doesn’t stand at 9.7 percent but at 40 percent. The aim of the “Candidate Market Project” is to give these youngsters a chance. Some of them haven’t had that many in their lives. “I don’t have any work and I’m so ashamed. In the street, I sometimes get harassed, I have to run. I haven’t had much luck in life…,” says Yafutu, who breaks down in tears. “He’s not a junkie, but he is forced to avoid aggressive people in the street. If we don’t find solutions for people like him, one day, he, too, will lose it,” says Dyron, who is also unemployed.

Yahya is convinced there will be work for those who work hard enough: “You’ll get by if you study hard. You can never learn too much,” he says.Brahim says he just wants a job, any job: “I will do anything: cleaning, anything, but they don’t hire me because they don’t give me a chance. There are a lot of companies here in Holland that still discriminate. That’s what I want to say to them: that they, too, should wake up and give young people more of a chance.” Rodney agrees. He says attitudes towards young migrants needs to change: “If you don’t want to invest in young people, especially those who are really keen to do something, if you don’t give them a chance on the labour market, what will they do? They will probably take another path, they will turn to crime, because there is no other way out for them… So in the end, this will cost authorities and society much more.” Patricia Zebeda is the founder of Filenetwerken, a “social business incubator” in the West of Amsterdam.Set up in a former garage, the incubator is a place for young people with ideas and skills but no job. Patricia says everyone has strong points but doesn’t always have the social skills to put them to good use. “Youngsters who have these difficult backgrounds often struggle a lot in life, they have a lack of supportive networks around them,” says Patricia.
With her connecting-people-method, Patricia has a stunning success rate: 60 percent of youngsters she has coached have found work. Ivo Hoedt is one of them. He now runs a sports centre. He has this message for other young people looking for a job:“Don’t give up, we are young and we are the future. So if it does not work the first five times, 10 times, 20 times: keep on trying.“   Inspiring advice, but not always easy to follow for young people with disabilities.We head south, to the city of Utrecht, where we meet Bastiaan. A qualified administrator, he is struggling to find a job. Today, e-coach Laura is briefing him about how to use social networks to approach employers.According to Dutch law, companies are recommended to include between two and five percent of people with disabilities in their workforce. But there is no legal obligation. One third of people with disabilities are out of work. “I think it would make a big change for me if companies were obliged to hire a minimum of five percent of people with disabilities. I hope the law will change, so that many young people will be able to find a job, not just myself but many others,” says Bastiaan.

“I think it makes sense for employers to hire people with disabilities because it’s a chance for them to improve their image and demonstrate that they are socially responsible,” says Laura terBeeke, e-coach at De Realisten Project. Gillian, Marco, Ivo and Bastiaan all have something in common. Their country is fighting youth unemployment by investing in training, by creating strong links between education and the real world, but also by asking them to be more flexible. Figures show something must be working… a path to follow for fellow Europeans?To listen to the complete interview with Marco Florijn, Rotterdam City Social Affairs Councillor, please click here (English language): Bonus interview: Marco Florijn, Rotterdam City Social Affairs Councillor. To listen to the complete interview with professor WiemerSalverda, from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, please click here (English language): Bonus interview: WiemerSalverda

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