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The European Youth Forum’s report on the Future of Work and some cooperative solutions

5 March 2019

In a 2014 study by IPSOS, a global market research firm, European youths are depicted to be quite pessimistic about their future – and for a good reason. Uncertainty about professional realisation, access to labour market and future career paths make young people resonate with Rihanna’s 2016 earworm “there’s something about that work, work, work, work/when you gonna learn learn learn learn?”.

A comprehensive report about the opportunities and challenges of “The Future of Work and Youth” was issued on the 4th of March, by the European Youth Forum, the European organisation gathering Europe-wide youth NGOs, political youth wings and National Youth Councils, in collaboration with CECOP, ETUC, CEPS and CSR Europe. A launch event was organised in Brussels at the presence of numerous stakeholders from both institutions and NGOs: after the Youth Forum’s Secretary General’s address, the participants actively engaged in several world café sessions moderated by the partner organisations. CECOP’s Secretary General Diana Dovgan facilitated the discussion on the “New Economy” as a possible solution for the Future of Work challenges.

The report extensively outlines four megatrends affecting the way work is changing: globalisation, climate change, demographic change and technological advancements. While the debate on new technologies is ever more present in the political and institutional arenas, other circumstances preventing young people from fulfilling their professional development are lower on policy-makers’ agenda.

Among the many challenges present in the current work landscape in Europe, the report focuses on the access to the labour market and the worrying youth unemployment rate which remains 16.8% on average (higher than 2008 pre-crisis figures). Furthermore, the transition from education to employment is characterized by serious precariousness in traineeship contracts and sometimes a plain lack of training opportunities. The loose labour laws that were passed in most Member States after the crisis with the aim of stimulating the economy resulted in reducing the quality of many jobs and young people are the most affected by this situation. On top on the above-mentioned difficulties, the continuously evolving labour market makes young people face new non-standard forms of employment (such as zero-hour contracts and on-demand work) de facto excluding them from social protection and workers’ rights.

On an encouraging note, the report proposes solutions for a youth-inclusive future of work.

Investing in young people’s skills is key to their access and development in the labour market: the idea that young people are digital natives is an urban legend and digital skills per se are not enough. A general increase of funding for the education system in Europe is needed also to face the skill gaps related to other challenges such as climate change and the so-called human skills (those that will hardly be performed by robots and computers).

As for the social protection aspects, there is a general need to adapt welfare systems to the current trends of youth employment. On the one hand, it is important to clearly define the employment relationship (what is a worker, an employee, an employer to better protect young people in non-standard forms of work) and on the other hand for example to improve social protection benefits by allowing greater flexibility when it comes to pauses in work. For instance, young people in bogus self-employed contracts (like platform workers), should ultimately be able to ensure for themselves the right to collectively bargain with the “real employer”.

To conclude (at CECOP we praise the European Youth Forum for putting forward an alternative way for young people to be protagonist in youth entrepreneurship), the report emphasizes that “other business models are possible”.

“Alternative forms of organisation that support the values of human and planetary wellbeing, such as the solidarity economy, are on the rise. The cooperative movement is one example. As a general rule, cooperatives aim to serve the needs of a wider community as well as those of their members, rather than maximise profit. Cooperatives […] are resilient to shocks, an important trait when faced with an uncertain future. […] Their democratic structure means that young people are able to gain a variety of skills in a hands-on way. Models of business and organisation based on democracy, participation and empowerment can help equip young people with the leadership skills that are crucial for both their career development and their active citizenship. […] Cooperatives can allow young people to integrate into the labour market, offering decent employment that many cannot access elsewhere. The formation of cooperatives among freelancers and the self-employed allows young people in these forms of work to access social protection. […] They have assisted in formalising informal work for many platforms workers by providing greater safety nets, as well as a space to organise with other workers, thereby increasing negotiation power”.

For more in-depth analysis and data and a wider perspective on youth cooperative entrepreneurship, we encourage our readers to dive into our CICOPA Global Study on Youth Cooperative Entrepreneurship.