The Challenges of Youth Unemployment in Spain

After four years of crisis, the deterioration of the labour market in Spain has reached dramatic proportions. This is mainly manifested in the situation of unemployment, which currently affects a volume of 5,69 million people (15-64 years) and recorded a rate of 24,8% (Labour Force Survey, National Institute for Statistics, second quarter 2012). The forecasts at national and international level indicate further recession in Spain this year and next, which will contribute to a worsening of unemployment.

The significant decline in employment in Spain has had varying effects across different age groups, with young people being particularly hard hit. Amongst those under 25 years old, almost one million (957,500) are unemployed and youth unemployment has risen to 53%. In the “young adults” bracket (25-29 years), the Labour Force Survey counted 802.000 unemployed and a rate of 31% (second quarter 2012).

Employment policies have a significant role to play in the present situation, as they have a positive – albeit limited – impact on the generation of jobs and the consequent reduction of unemployment. Their impact depends however on the development of other policies – such as the adoption of macroeconomic policies to stimulate the economy as a whole, as well as specific policies to boost industry, education and innovation – which all contribute to enhancing economic recovery in the various different productive sectors.

The objective of this article is to highlight some active employment measures which can contribute to boosting the creation of jobs for young people in Spain. These are based on two main principles:

Firstly, in the current scenario of budgetary restrictions, the design and application of measures should be based on a more precise identification of the target groups, which would permit prioritising and customising solutions by adapting the available resources to the specific needs and areas of vulnerability.

Secondly, to maximise effectiveness, the development of employment policies should be planned over two time scales: in the short term, by adopting direct impact measures aimed at mitigating the immediate consequences of the crisis which focus specially on the most vulnerable sections of the population; and in the medium term, by promoting a reorientation of these policies to improve their effectiveness – both at a national and regional level – and thus contribute to guaranteeing a more equal transition in terms of the impact caused by the multiple challenges we face in the coming decades ? demographic, social, environmental ? and offering new opportunities for the improvement of professional skills and qualifications, thereby helping to create an economy which is more productive, sustainable and inclusive.

Short-term measures

For two reasons in the current crisis, the most vulnerable group in society is young people with the lowest level of education or training: on the one side, because it is this group which has been most seriously affected by loss of employment whilst also suffering from a lower level of social protection (which is associated to their greater level of job instability). On the other side, because they are clearly going to be in a disadvantageous position in terms of accessing new jobs when the economic recovery becomes more consolidated (especially, considering the growing demand of high and intermediate levels of qualifications).

The main conclusion that can be drawn from this diagnosis is that it is crucial to prioritise measures aimed at this group in the short term. In order to do this, it is first necessary to reinforce and improve the effectiveness of the Public Employment Services (PES), so that rapid, individualised and comprehensive attention is provided to people who are looking for a job.

Secondly, the main objective of the measures put in place should be to broaden and improve the skills and qualification levels of this section of population.

Thirdly, it has been proposed that young people aged 16 to 18 who have left education prematurely mainly for reasons associated with the booming labour market during the pre-crisis years should be encouraged to go back to studying. If this were to take place, interesting and attractive alternatives would be needed to encourage them to return, by offering flexible training courses, with the added attraction of income support. There should also be a more personalised advice service so as to increase the possibilities of re-entering employment.

Finally, it is important to consider the needs of those who, despite being unemployed, have no desire to go back to studying. For this group, as is the case with those who gave up studying at an early age, the most effective tool could be educational and employment orientation and advice, with personalised programmes to encourage them to return either to the education system or the labour market.

Medium-term measures

In the medium term, there should be two general areas of focus: (a) improving the transition from the education to the productive system; and (b) reinforcing and improving active employment policies. The detailed analysis of the various measures would exceed the scope of this article, but it is interesting to note at least the main priorities for action.

Thus, there are two relevant objectives for improving the transition of young people into the labour market in Spain. On the one hand, reducing the high numbers of early school leavers which in 2011 accounted for 26.5% of all pupils (31% for males, and 22% for females). On the other hand, increasing the insufficient participation of young people in vocational training systems.

Regarding active employment policies, a key point is the strengthening of the budget and number of workers in the Public Employment Service (PES), because the ratio of resources allocated in Spain per unemployed person is much lower than that in the most advanced countries and clearly insufficient to meet the current and future needs of users. Also, it would be necessary to focus on ways of improving the performance of PES.

The career guidance and information service is of key importance too, because it is the first point of contact for the unemployed. Career guidance should therefore be treated as a general service that should be extended to young people trough a presence in education centres.

Support for job creation should be coupled with measures aimed at reducing the large number of unjustified temporary jobs, which still persist in Spain, despite the fact that figures have fallen over the past two years. This is a structural problem which affects young people in particular. It contributes to a deepening of the segmentation of Spanish labour market and has important implications both in terms of social cohesion and the competitiveness of companies themselves.

A priority of paramount importance in the current situation is the reinforcement and improvement of occupational training, particularly – as noted- for the young people with lowest levels of qualification.

Finally, it is equally important to reinforce some specific programmes aimed at young people which combine training with employment, and have had notable success in terms of labour integration in Spain (Workshop Schools and Craft Centres, and Employment Workshops).

Strengthening the role of social partners

It is essential to promote the role of social dialogue in order to avoid the unilateral labour reforms and economic and social measures popular to various European governments. This method would attract social partners and would be a step towards better European policies. This is absolutely fundamental in the particularly critical historical context in which the crisis – and the clearly unsuccessful efforts to find a consensual solution to it at a Community level – has contributed to increasing public disaffection among citizens with the European integration project.

Also, collective bargaining should play a greater role in the promotion of employment and the improvement of working conditions for young people. In this sense, it is possible to outline a series of objectives of special importance which include: (a) fostering job stability and eliminating unjustified temporary employment; (b) encouraging the implementation of plans aimed at maintaining employment and renovation of staff by means of the appropriate use of partial retirement schemes combined with replacement contracts; (c) encouraging the development of contracts associated with training or work placements as an alternative to the growing use of grants and non-remunerated work practice, as a means of integrating new graduates into the workplace. This should be combined with the improvement of the employment conditions associated with these contracts. The control of the fraudulent use of both training contracts and non-formalised types of work also needs be reinforced; (d) guaranteeing access to training programmes for young people in temporary employment whilst ensuring that the courses provided meet the specific requirements of real professional advancement (rather than limiting them to the improvement of skills for the post currently held); (e) improving working conditions especially in terms of payment, professional category and promotion, working hours and occupational health and safety; and (f) guaranteeing compliance with principles of equality and non-discrimination.

No decent jobs for youth in Europe?

Employment legislation in Spain has been subject to a continuous and intense process of modification since the beginning of this crisis, which has culminated in the “aggressive reform” ? the Minister of Economy dixit ? of the labour market approved by the current conservative government (Law 3/2012, of July 6, on urgent measures for labour market reform).

The various rules and regulations approved during this period are diverse in both character and scope, but essentially they have been aimed at one specific target: to promote greater deregulation of the labour market, based on the premise that this is an essential requisite to encourage the generation of jobs (particularly amongst the groups with higher levels of unemployment, which includes young people). Similar reforms have been promoted by other European governments.

The effects of policies to deregulate the labour market are particularly negative for young people, since –in a situation of protracted crisis such as the current one? they do not lead to a net increase of employment for this section of the population, but instead to greater precariousness and therefore greater social vulnerability.

As the ILO has pointed out, the difference between the youth employment challenge and the general employment challenge is that helping young people get the right start helps to ensure they follow a pathway to decent work. The longer it takes to get on that path, or if a pathway does not exist, the challenge becomes more difficult.

Based on this argument, the fundamental question which needs to be faced by European governments is whether the solution to this crisis for young people must necessarily imply worse conditions and more insecurity ? following the principle “any job is better than none? or if all possible means should be put in place to facilitate their emancipation and achieving of decent living and working conditions.

This column is part of a project on youth unemployment in Europe run by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Social Europe Journal.


  1. Penelope Othre says

    This seems to be a trending subject matter! I just read this piece yesterday (a more personal perspective, from the ground type of post mind you):
    and was wondering what the solution to such a vast problem could be and if there’s really a way out. I wanted to learn more, and found your piece. I love that your article has tackled the subject of youth unemployment in Spain head on, aggressively seeking solution to a very frightening situation. Most of the other pieces I’ve read only state the problem, without offering possible solutions. Thought provoking!