With the launching of the Commission for the Reform of the Public Administrations (CORA) in 2012, the Spanish Youth Council (CJE), almost disappeared. An amendment in the Senate in 2014 ensured that the entity continued to exist – although in intensive care – under a legal figure that has not been defined yet. Despite all the vicissitudes, the CJE still brings together several youth entities and is in permanent discussions with parliamentary groups, the government, and the trade unions to address public policies that affect young people. In addition, it is a member of the monitoring committee for the Youth Guarantee System and the Youth Employment Operational Programme (POEJ).
Victor Reloba has been the vice-president and head of the socio-economic department of the CJE for two years. Reloba has spoken with the Novia Salcedo Foundation about the Youth Guarantee System and the challenges facing this programme in the future as it contributes to reducing youth unemployment.
– What is the CJE’s opinion of youth employment policies and of the Youth Guarantee System?
There are some positive indicators since the programme was launched and the number of early school leavers has fallen, but working conditions have worsened and young people are at greater risk of poverty today. The Youth Guarantee is a great idea that arose thanks to the pressure applied by youth councils in the Nordic countries. In 1981, they managed to get their idea approved and it is now applied to all European countries. However, what is basically a good idea, has become a lost opportunity in Spain because, even having the funds to boost youth employment policies, we find that, in many cases, the policies applied are not new or are not consistent with the spirit of the Youth Guarantee. We are concerned because we believe that bonuses for hiring is not an effective policy. At the CJE, we want more social dialogue, smoother dialogue between the public administrations and social agents, more specifically with young people and we want personalised arrangements for young people so that the training, internships, grants, or jobs are in line with each person’s needs because, if not, the results will never be effective.
– What is failing in this initiative?
On the one hand, dissemination. They have copied the inertia of institutional communications that are too sober, too serious. We believe there are better ways, such as in Portugal, where they not only have a younger form of expressing themselves that is better connected to the lives of young people, but the channels used to reach young people are also more innovative; they organise concerts or campaigns through YouTubers. On the other hand, the coordination among the autonomous communities is very poor. Some autonomous communities are doing a good job and other recognise they are returning funds. This is why the best practices and experiences should be pooled to improve the implementation of the Youth Guarantee because, if not, there will be inequalities among young people. The policy of offering bonuses for hiring young people is a mistake. It provides companies with lower wage costs but does not really contribute to net employment and, what is more troubling, it cuts payments to the social security, thus affecting the sustainability of the pension system. Bonuses can be used in some cases, but most actions must be local, connect with the needs and the employment niches in each region, provide training and internship programmes that connect with young people.
– What are the CJE’s proposals to improve the Youth Guarantee System?
We believe we should enhance the role of employment services by providing them with more resources. We have a ratio of public servants per inhabitant that is lower than in other countries. In Spain, there are 3 to 4 public servants per every thousand unemployed people; in other countries it is per every 30 or 40 unemployed people. We believe that even the best Youth Guarantee plan would have its limitations if the public services do not have enough personnel. In addition, we think we need to innovate regarding dissemination to increase the number of registrations so that the message can reach more young people who need this programme. On the other hand, the Youth Guarantee monitoring committee should work more permanently on coordination. Employment programmes should reach the local level and stop dedicating about 70 % of the Youth Guarantee budget to bonuses.
We need to prepare customised plans that really respond to the needs of young people. It often happens that there are many private entities freely competing and offering their courses but there are no criteria. In the end, one offers to teach people how to prepare a CV, another offers an English course, but there are no criteria to decide what each young person really needs to ensure they join the labour market.
– And, to promote entrepreneurship among young people?
In this sense, we are all a bit critical. We believe that entrepreneurship may be necessary but the approach is wrong. If we look around us, the countries with the highest rates of self-employment are in Eastern Europe and Latin America, while the more competitive ones have large companies. Therefore, we must promote the type of entrepreneurship that leads to innovation, something that really contributes value. In other words, if we cannot get the people who are in entrepreneurship programmes to develop something that adds value, we will be creating new SMEs that will experience the same difficulties as those that already exist. We are seeing 60 % of new small companies in Spain disappearing after two or three years. We believe that youth entrepreneurship can be successful… there are successful cases of idea incubators, new methods, such as MediaLab, but this has to be well targeted regarding people and results, focussing on very specific niches with few people because, in the end, we shall be pushing people towards frustration if they embark on something as complicated as setting up a business without providing them with real long-term opportunities.
– What role do large companies that boast of having youth employment projects play?
There’s a bit of everything… there are companies with good and desirable initiatives and others with projects in appalling conditions. Just as Europe has implemented guidelines, such as the Youth Guarantee, there should be a quality framework governing grants and internships. This would result in more appropriate training, it would ensure we are not simply replacing jobs, and it would lead to some subsequent labour insertion. We would have to involve the educational system and the trade unions to oversee these grants and internships.