A ‘lost generation’ was how young people across Europe and beyond were being described at a joint seminar of EU Agencies entitled ‘Working together for youth employment – from education to the workplace: a global challenge’. The opening premise and brief for attendees, of which I was one, was the need for European countries to focus on skills and to identify gaps, with the aim to try and shape the jobs of tomorrow.

There were some worrying statistics coming from the agencies. In 2010 the rate of youth employment reached an all time high, with an estimated 5 million young people between the ages of 16 – 24 out of work. However there is a discrepancy between the employment gap from country to country. Whereas the number of young people in employment in the Netherlands is 63%, this is sharply contrasted with Spain where only 25% of young people are working.

Never has this been such an important topic with a significant link to the viable recovery of economic markets within the EU states.
From a health and safety perspective however it means that not only is it harder for a young person to find a job than older workers but the jobs they do get are characterised by being less secure, simpler and yet physically more demanding. Sarah Copsey, project manager at the European Agency for Safety and Heath at Work (EU-OSHA) presented EU statistics that show that young workers under 25 are more likely to suffer non-fatal work accidents than any other age groups. Those starting a new job are perceived to be even more vulnerable.

There was a willingness from those present to seek a viable solution to both the unemployment trends and the health and safety education for the young workers, with good examples of best practice shared. Sarah Copsey talked about innovative features including; embedding risk education through curriculum; consultation and active engagement of young workers; mentoring to older and young workers; and combining the provision of risk education with the management of workplace health and safety in schools, with both staff and pupils being involved in hazard spotting. The latter proved to be the most successful and Copsey describes it as the ‘whole school approach’, where both parties also take joint responsibility for implementing solutions. My own organisation, the British Safety Council frames the education of young workers using a collaborative model with young people and teachers working together on a free entry level qualification portfolio and earning to recognise risks within their environment.

The education and training of young workers is a complex topic. It covers economic market dynamics that include social mobility and the possible cultural health and safety risks associated with movement between EU country states. As well as the viability and morality of changing labour and employment law to offer young people lower wages and shorter term contracts which can leave them trapped in a cycle of poverty and low-skilled jobs with little training or prospect of career up skilling.
As one audience member pointed out: “We’re not just talking about employment as an end goal, we’re talking about young people being able to have decent lives.”