Jobs and Growth in the European Union? Reflections on the 2013 European Employment Forum

Prof. Mike Campbell

By Prof. Mike Campbell, on November 21st, 2013

> Read Prof. Mike Campbell's articles

URBACT was heavily involved this year, for the first time, in the annual conference on Employment in Europe in Brussels on the 12th and 13th of November. Highly appropriate, as the Jobs agenda is an important part of URBACT’s  agenda, projects and capitalisation work and Urbact now has much to contribute to the job generation challenge. URBACT was  a major exhibitor, with 2 staff present at an attractive, large, well stocked and interactive stall, which attracted considerable interest. And, both Alison Partridge and myself spoke at the Plenary session on Cities and their increasing significance for the employment agenda. 300 people and over 40 presenters makes for an intense programme and extensive networking, even if it is leavened by a lively reception with a Roma band and a quality venue.

A blog cannot hope to give an account of such a wide ranging blizzard of content, but these are my reflections on the talks and discussions that I think are of most relevance to Urbact and Cities. The conference strapline was ‘growth through change’, recognising I think that ‘business as usual’ post the recession is not an option if we are to achieve sustainable, inclusive (and ‘smart’….we always now have to say this in the EU now, as if what we did before was stupid (sic)) growth and jobs. We will not achieve the Europe 2020 objective of a 75% employment rate: we need 18 million more jobs if we are to do so!

Flexisecurity and 3 legged stool agendas
The opening panel was a real clash between a World Bank view of what makes labour markets ‘work’ and what drives jobs growth (crudely summarised as ‘let the market rip’) and a European Green Party view, which challenged a ‘business as usual’ model based on consumption and which preferred one based on social and environmental needs. After that, we came back down to ‘euroearth’, with the Northern Ireland Minister, Eurofound and the Flemish Public Employment Service. This illustrated the differing balances possible within ‘flexicurity’, though it seems to me clear that we are moving more in the flexi than the security direction, for good or ill. But the policy debate is indeed around the degree and nature of regulation/intervention in labour markets, though the conference never really was able to get down to specifics, on this as on other issues, given its wide coverage. The NI minister had a memorable model of the jobs agenda (I declare an interest as having been a member of the NI employment and skills board) as being a 3 legged stool of: job generation; increased labour market participation; and improved matching between the skills of the workforce and the skills needed by employers. Though, personally, I find 4 legged chairs more stable and comfortable. Prizes are not available, I am sorry to say, for guessing the nature of my preferred fourth leg.

How far do we accept the demands of the current labour market and work from there and how far do we envision a different world order and start to inch towards it?
Much of the rest of the conference was organised around (many of the) key dimensions of the jobs agenda linked to EU wide action: Young People and the Youth Employement Package Opportunities Initiative; Exclusion/Poverty and the Social Investment Package (the Cities panel was located here, not entirely sensible); Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Action Plan; and the Digital Agenda. All very useful and informative, all highly relevant to the Cities agenda but necessarily rather brief.

The Youth sessions, inter alia, stressed the value of adopting a coordinated, integrated approach, in which action on both the supply and demand sides was necessary to achieve success (i.e. more young people in work or education). The newly proposed by the EC ‘Youth Guarantee,’ to address the needs of the 7.5 million young people not in education, training or employment (NEETs), is a useful rallying cry and policy package if adopted by Member States. But as Cedefop suggested, a more valuable long term approach might be to offer EVERYONE a minimum lifetime learning guarantee. Hey, perhaps we could even guarantee everyone a quality job?! We are back to the fundamental debates at the beginning of the conference and of this blog: How far do we accept the demands of the current labour market and work from there and how far do we envision a different world order and start to inch towards it? The knot can only be loosened, in my view, by building measures that can simultaneously achieve success in the here and now, whilst also prefiguring moves to a ‘better’ jobs market and economy. Do please let me know when you untie that knot!

Adressing economic and social and the growth and jobs agendas as a whole
The session on tackling Poverty and Exclusion outlined the new (February 2013) Social Investment Package, which whilst wide in coverage of ‘target’ groups, has a focus on prevention and early intervention where possible to reduce the fully one quarter of EU citizens (nearly 120 million people) who live in, or are at at risk of, Poverty. The Europe 2020 aim of reducing the numbers in/at risk of Poverty by 20 million, will be missed by a huge margin. At the risk of over simplifying, and connecting closely to the Conference theme, economic growth is key to making progress here – unemployment and low pay are twin drivers of Poverty, so Job Generation and access to those job opportunities for the more marginalised members of society is critical. But successfully getting more people into more and better jobs, also simultaneously generates prosperity and growth, producing goods, services and tax revenue and saving the ‘exchequer’ costs of (inadequate) poverty alleviation measures.

This is why, in my view, it is a policy mistake to separate out the economic and social and the growth and jobs agendas. To effectively tackle Poverty means we have to achieve growth and jobs, whilst tackling poverty also helps achieve that same growth and jobs. And, as the conference made (reasonably, but insufficiently) clear, investing in people, in their skills and capacities, is central to addressing this ‘holy trinity’: growth, jobs and poverty reduction… The Employment Package (not discussed at the Conference) as well as the Youth and Social Packages, are to be commended for increasingly recognising the pivotal importance of investing in Europe’s citizens, for a more successful, prosperous and equal future.

Much interest at URBACT contribution to the conferences
Alison Partridge and I then spoke in the Cities panel with Christian Svanfeldt, co-author of the Tomorrow’s Cities report. It was, of course, the highlight of the conference! It did bring together a range of the conference themes and drew on the experience of a number of URBACT projects as well as the capitalisation work on Jobs. There was much interest and the presentations and subsequent panel discussions, were well received. Many URBACT capitalisation reports were also taken away by delegates – both individually and in bundles.

Another successful session on Entrepreneurship
The session on Entrepreneurship, a vital component of future jobs growth, was also packed with information and insight. EY (Ernst and Young until this summer!) presented key results from their Entrepreneurship Monitor (which covers the G20 countries). They also set out their ‘Power of 3’ proposition, which includes a useful framework for entrepreneurship assistance: access to funding; culture/attitudes;  tax and regulation; education/training; and coordinated support. The Commission outlined the new Entrepreneurship Action Plan (and it’s eurobarometer survey) and officials from DG Education spoke about how education needed to adapt, to take this agenda seriously. The EC is working with OECD to develop a framework for enhancing entrepreneurship education in schools, colleges and universities.

ICT: 250,000 unfilled jobs in jobless Europe
The digital agenda is of growing importance to the Commission. They have recently established a Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. There are,according to CISCO,250,000 unfilled ICT jobs in Europe:  not only a crazy situation given there are 26 million people unemployed, but dangerous too, if business cannot fill the skilled, well paid posts it is creating. It is expected that within 2 years there will be a skills gap of 900,000 ICT posts across the EU i.e. posts that cannot be filled. Whilst I think this may be a serious overestimate, it is nevertheless the case that the digital economy is crucial to Europe’s future and that we are short of the skilled people needed. It is a major source of jobs…..but some of these could well offshore if skills development is not enhanced. Indeed, as Xavier Prats-Monne (DG Education) made clear, the market for high level skills is now global, both in terms of supply and demand. It is essential that education systems adapt quickly to the challenges of ensuring that we have the skilled workforce necessary to compete in the global economy. We need to create, retain and attract talent and we need a better balance between the skills we need and the skills we have available.

Much work to be done, but more knowledge than given credit for
There was more too, including discussion of measuring progress ‘beyond GDP’ where the OECD outlined their excellent work on wellbeing indicators developed through their ‘Better Life’ work. Indeed Eurostat have also just published a new suite of data tracking progress on the Europe 2020 agenda which, while having different objectives and approach to the OECD work, nonetheless enable us to track change since 2000 across the wide range of conditions addressed in the Europe 2020 strategy. All in all, this event was in terms of content, speakers and people to meet, I think well worth 2 days of anyone’s time, even if the format was quite traditional (not always a bad thing, per se). And of course, it was 2 days talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. So, of course, given my interests and experience, it has (nearly!) always been a good place to come. And this year was the best for some time. It also speaks, of course, to a topic of great importance for Cities, for URBACT and for Europe’s people: How to create more and better jobs and to ensure these are available to those who need them. There is much work to be done before we can fully answer this question, though we know more than is sometimes acknowledged. A larger question is whether we have the political will to turn ideas into action and action into success.



By Professor Mike Campbell
15 November 2013

3 Responses to “Jobs and Growth in the European Union? Reflections on the 2013 European Employment Forum”

  1. Mike has captured the conference perfectly. It was probably one of the most traditional conferences I’ve been to for a long time in terms of format and the most varied in terms of speakers and content and I think most people would have liked more depth in terms of the themes along with more structured time to (net)work with others and share ideas and experiences.

    BUT a couple of weeks on, I am still reflecting on some of the discussions so that’s got to be a good sign….

    For my part I came away thinking more about the role of employers in the employment agenda. It’s pretty obvious that they are key. Without them there are no jobs. But what are we doing differently now to support them with recruitment and retention. Steve Bainbridge from CEDEFOP spoke about how many employers have the same recruitment methods they had decades ago, often waiting for a candidate with relevant work experience in an identical role rather than appointing someone with the right skills and qualifications who can be ‘moulded’ into the role, with potentially more reward all round (but more risks for the employer). At the same time employers continue to report the importance of core skills (communication, team working, punctuality etc) rather than technical skills. And what about the SMEs – and even the gazelles? How can they be supported to grow their business in a flexible way which provides quality jobs and doesn’t lead to precarious employment conditions for their workers and high risk situations for their bottom line?

    The session on social media also provided interesting food for thought. It made me think about how many young people often never even get in front of a potential employer if they can’t ‘sell’ themselves on an online application. It is clear to me that non verbal recruitment is no substitute for face to face interviews. As I read on a university website recently: “electronic discussions do not have the benefit of the nonverbal and vocal cues that normally convey meaning in a traditional face-to-face conversation”. Social media has so many positives in terms of opening up potential networks and opportunities but we also need to stop occasionally to consider how to prevent it becoming unintentionally exclusive when it comes to recruitment.

    After the conference I also reflected on ‘the lost generation’ or ‘generation Y’ as it was often referred to. I’m not sure I really recognised the picture given of young people by some of the panellists (confident, dynamic, engaged, educated). As a volunteer Princes Trust business mentor myself I work with disadvantaged young people who are in the early stages of setting up businesses. They are taking a daring step into the unknown by trying to carve out a job for themselves rather than wait for one to land on their laps. They often lack qualifications, are disengaged and almost always have confidence issues and lack support from their peers and families. For me, EU employment and entrepreneurship programmes and strategies need to better align economic and social inclusion goals and recognise that many (young) people are considering self employment out of necessity. It would be interesting to have more debate on this issue at future events.

    On my way home from the conference I took a taxi in London and got talking to the driver who had fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. He used to be a senior civil engineer and had lost everything when he fled the troubles in Kabul. Ever since he has been seeking similar work – first in the Netherlands and subsequently in London. He told me he’d now given up hope of finding something skilled and accepted that earning money as a mini cab driver was as good as it would get in terms of employment prospects. The key issues entwined in his story – of migration and under employment – are for me amongst the real challenges for the recovery. Again, it is not just about any old job or any old employment. It is also about self worth, quality of life, geographical and occupational mobility, well being and community coherence.

    ….and this brings me neatly back to URBACT’s own intervention at the conference and to the need for policy makers and practitioners at all levels of government to break out of the traditional policy silos and to connect, integrate and mix things up to deliver better and more responsive (employment and economic development) agendas in our cities. Our Framework for City Action on Jobs provides a good starting point for structured dialogue on this point.

    I can’t finish without remarking upon the gender balance amongst speakers. Only 1 panel in the whole conference had an equal balance of men and women. I was shocked that the main panel on youth included no women at all – 5 men sitting in a row – and even more shocked to hear that this was because the women who had prepared the session did not want to be on the panel because they knew that the men ‘liked the attention’. Perhaps we also need more to be done on female inter- and entre-preneurship? Plus ça change…..

  2. Jenny Koutsomarkou says:

    Thoughts from a female person of the “why” generation- back to the basics
    Raised by two public servants parents, I remember my mum saying how much secure public sector is for people. That was a common belief and even the place to be from the 80s to just before-crisis Greece. I also remember my university professor saying to his students “be prepared to change 3 to 4 jobs when you enter the labour market”. This was in 2003-2004.
    I left Greece for France in 2005 for a Master’s degree, followed by a second one. Then 3 internships and 3 fixed terms contracts including the current one- all in different working environments. Like in many other countries, fixed terms contracts here are the trend. At the beginning change was hard, stressful, uncertain. Then I got to use to it and now I look forward to it…
    Generation “Y” stands for change, for getting bored when doing the same thing for a long time, for not being emotionally attached to a job because this will change, for being connected to the outside world through social media and internet, for learning new things, for getting richer in experience, skills and know how, for searching the added value a job has to give to individuals and not vice versa. I can certainly see myself in but sometimes I get scared when I see unemployment rates going up in many European countries – after all change is good when times are in favour -.

    But times don’t just come- we make them come. Take France for instance, have you heard of “travailler plus pour gagner plus” (work more to earn more)? Sarkozy couldn’t expect the criticism he received when he pronounced the phrase in 2009. One of the projects behind was a new status for people, for self-employed (autoentrepreneurs), to undertake a new or parallel activity with low risks and lots of advantages: simplified online registration to get the status, online declaration of income every three months, taxes from 13% to 23% to pay only when one has gained money during the three months, no VAT, predefined ceil of earnings to avoid hard competition with enterprises (in case one earns more than the ceil he/she needs to upgrade the status). Five years later and with a new socialist government France counts no less than 1,000,000 self employed people- including myself!

    Now take Greece, do you remember about public sector’s safety I was talking about in the beginning? People get sucked by hundreds now – a result of an unreasonable, non sustainable national/local employment policy started in the 80s. Things are not better in the private sector –where most of the unemployed are coming from. Despite some efforts to control tax evasion, many people still do it out of necessity – from a hairdresser to a teacher who provides services at home. If you ask them they will say they do not earn enough to pay their insurance and taxes and they are conscious that they will never retire. Unfortunately it is true: being freelancer or self employed is not easy in a country in crisis. You can of course see the cause and effect dimension or the side effects of austerity policies: no flexible tax system, one working but no paying taxes because cannot afford it, no retirement and no state money to pay (or serious cuts for) retired people.
    So how to change, become self-employed and develop entrepreneurial skills? One of the answers is back to the basics: rethink the regulatory and tax framework, and provide smarter, flexible national and local conditions to create more and better jobs and therefore a healthier State.

    Jenny Koutsomarkou- 26/11/13

  3. Alison is right on many things:youth,gender,underemployment and connecting policy silos.But most of all, she is right about employers.It is they who ultimately decide what jobs are created and which are lost.It is they who decide who to hire and to fire.It is their success and failure that essentially decide the volume and shape of job opportunities.So,the key to more and better jobs (and much besides) is getting closer to them,working together for inclusive prosperity.And the best place to do this,especially with smaller firms,is at the city level.
    Jenny’s experiences are interesting and increasingly typical of her generation and younger still.They are also ever more common across the EU member states.These more ‘flexible’ labour markets bring benefits but also costs.They,above all,create change and uncertainty.How to get the best within ‘flexicurity’?
    More and better jobs: surely the central priority for cities in the coming years?Which cities with what sorts of policies will succeed in the coming years and which will fail? Hopefully Urbact will track these changes and work with cities to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Leave a Reply