Lecture Series "Responsibility for the Future"

The Crisis Facing Young People in Europe

A Plea to Combine Educational, Labor Market, and Social Policies

Foundation Lecture by Prof. Jutta Allmendinger

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"A crisis is usually something temporary," stated Jutta Allmendinger, professor at the Social Science Research Center Berlin, at the beginning of her speech. She then continued with a personal example and a comparison between Germany and Spain to show why despite its temporary nature, we absolutely cannot neglect the crisis facing young people in Europe. While the youth unemployment rate in Germany currently stands at around eight percent, in Spain one out of two young people between the ages of 15 and 24 does not have a job. But Professor Allmendinger then reined this seemingly positive fact for Germany back in: despite commendable efforts to prevent youth unemployment, Germany could still do "much, much more than we currently do."

For example, young people from different backgrounds do not have the same educational opportunities, and this particularly applies to being selected for a vocational training program - which she illustrated by speaking about the lives of her son’s boyhood friends. When it comes to children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds or families with foreign backgrounds, significant potential remains unused. She called for the "elimination of the extremely disparate level of educational opportunities" in Germany, a stronger focus on democracy and dealing with diversity in classrooms, a rich variety of activities at daycare centers and all-day schools, and assistance for inner city schools - for example through joint federal and state financing programs. "Too often we bash the teachers and parents. Instead we need more social pedagogues and psychologists, and we should strengthen teachers’, parents’, and students’ feelings of self-worth at these schools."

The dual education system is Germany’s "only 'export hit.'"

But above all, to combat youth unemployment in Europe we need to start with the vocational training system: "Education in Germany and Spain is not that different, but it doesn’t lead to employment in a similar manner," says Professor Allmendinger. The dual education system, a unique German invention that combines a degree with vocational training, makes it easier for young people to enter the workforce. When it comes to the "ability to transition into a career," this system is miles ahead of models in other countries and is Germany’s "only 'export hit.'" Companies and new employees can become acquainted with one other over the course of the training program, while the "parallel professional and academic paths" allow for a thorough and in-depth transfer of knowledge.

In addition, the professor advised against using the number of students attending university as the only figure to measure the success of a knowledge-based society. She laments the fact that, as a result of the new bachelor’s and master’s degree system, the Humboldtian educational ideal is being pushed aside in favor of degree programs with a strong career focus. "The more I work in Brussels, the stronger my criticism of this benchmarking at the tertiary level."

Professor Allmendinger simultaneously warned about the trends in the German labor market. Precarious working conditions and temporary, low-paying, or part-time jobs are the reality for many young people. In light of this fact, we “shouldn’t be surprised that birth rates are declining,” she said.

In order to prevent young people’s employment crisis in Europe from becoming a permanent condition, the sociologist recommended exporting the dual education system to other countries and setting up a "fund for transitional labor markets." In addition, we also need to place a stronger focus on the vocational training system and not only on "more" at universities, making educational offerings available at different educational levels. "The social state needs two legs," summed up the professor: "An invasive educational policy and a sound social policy." In addition, joint action is simply what’s needed in Europe. Being unemployed while young has more of an impact than it does later in life. According to Professor Allmendinger, "the scars do not heal for a lifetime. Responsibility for these 'excluded' young people lies in the hands of politics, business, and science - all three areas together."

(Julia Rommel, November 2012)