What Does O Jogo Bonito Teach Us About Tackling Youth Unemployment?

Eddy Adams

By Eddy Adams, on July 3rd, 2014

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There’s something special about attending transnational meetings during the World Cup. It’s a stress-free experience if you’re Scottish, as we are never in the finals! So, in the evening after a recent My Generation at Work meeting I enjoyed watching the games with colleagues from the partner cities.

The meeting was held in Tampere, Finland, where we were surrounded by talented, enthusiastic young people from across Europe. It was a privilege to be there and to be part of it. And the experience confirmed something I already knew – that young people aren’t the problem.

Once the world returns to normal after 13th July when the World Cup ends, we’ll be back to the reality of city life in Europe. That means persistently high levels of youth unemployment in many cities. Even though the figures are not as bad as they appear on the surface – as Mike Campbell and others have pointed out – they are bad enough. Despite the fact that most European economies have turned a corner, the recovery is patchy, and employment growth usually lags behind the economic upturn.

One of the key ways that the EU is responding to this is by investing an additional €6bn  in the coming programme period to address youth unemployment.  But how do we ensure that this money will be well spent? Across Europe there are models that seem to work such as the Dual system, but these are not so easy to transplant. There are also initiatives – such as the Youth Guarantee  – which offer encouragement, but which are in the early stages. At the same time, there are still many things that don’t work well.

Education Can Lead Away from Strengths

A recurring theme in Tampere was the disconnection between education systems and the labour market. Too many young people leave school unaware of where their talents lie. What school gives them is an acute awareness of the things they can’t do – rather than what they can.

For those who become unemployed, many of Europe’s employment programmes do not perform terribly well. As Wingham Rowan recently put it in an excellent article brimming with fresh ideas, ” The reported success rate of less than 5 per cent of clients who end up in a sustainable job is considered a reasonable return in straitened times.” This does not represent a good investment, given the financial scale of most public employment services.

Passing is Anticipating

What’s all this got to do with football? Well, my point is about passing – the key component of teamwork. On the pitch, the perfect pass anticipates where the receiver will be. Ideally the passer puts the ball into space – an empty space that their team-mate will soon occupy, allowing them to take the ball without losing speed. In the same way, the ideal preparation for working life should take account of how the future world of work will be. Except it usually doesn’t. By and large, we are still preparing our young people for a world of work that no longer exists. Our juggernaut systems assume that young people will enter full-time jobs and largely remain in single career paths, despite all the evidence to the contrary!

You wonder if supply-side planners ever look out of their office windows. If so, they will see zero-hours contracts and portfolio working the norm for many labour market entrants. Keep looking out and they will soon see driverless cars, 3D printers and drones reshaping the labour market even further. And that’s not even taking account of the impact of the Sharing Economy – airband, UBER and so on.

No doubt, the relentless pace of change is proving a challenge to many education and training systems. It feels that someone, somewhere has turned the conveyer belt up several notches. At a recent OECD event future employment guru Denis Penel reflected on this, pointing out that in the 1930s the average lifespan of a French business was 75 years, whereas now it’s 15. So we’d better get used to it.

How Can Cities Respond to these Challenges?

And how can we make sure that additional resources for young people are optimised?

I got four take-aways from our Tampere discussions. The first was that in many cities the map of supply-side support remains messy and congested. The second was that not all of these interventions are effective. The third was the need for better evidence so that commissioners can make informed investment decisions. The final one was about the need for fresh approaches, co-designed with employers and young people.

My Generation at Work will contrinue to address these issues, and we look forward to seeing their results. Meanwhile, at programme level, URBACT is building on previous work by launching a new suite of workstreams. One of these will focus on youth jobs, exploring the options for cities. If you want to contribute to this work, then you can e-mail coordinator Alison Partridge at Alison (at) aurora-ltd.eu to share your cities’ experience.

In the meantime, it feels like we are making slow progress in such key areas. In my more pessimistic moments I think there is more chance of Scotland winning the world cup, than of using the additional €6 billion wisely. Fortunately, spending a few hours with the youth of My Generation at Work usually lifts my optimisms levels!

1c99b3bBy Eddy Adams – URBACT Thematic Pole Manager. Follow him on Twitter!

3 Responses to “What Does O Jogo Bonito Teach Us About Tackling Youth Unemployment?”

  1. katalin says:

    nice piece of writing this is 🙂 about youth guarantee, Eurofound is currently assessing its implementation, and OECD has just published a draft report on the local implementation of youth guarantees in Europe, see

  2. Good blog – thank you – and agree that the OECD review is useful. We also need to think carefully about the JOBS angle – all the guarantees in the world are a bit hollow without (quality) job openings. That is likely to be the focus of the More Jobs for Urban Youth work and we are particularly keen to hear from cities with novel approaches to engaging employers in the youth employment agenda. So please do get in touch if you know of good city examples.

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