Jobs Wanted: Youth in Southeast Europe

October 21, 2013

A high-level Policy Dialogue on Youth Employment

VIENNA, October 21, 2013 – Today, the World Bank, in collaboration with the Austrian Ministry of Finance, the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, and the Global Development Network, held a high-level policy dialogue on ‘Youth Employment in Southeast Europe’.

Ministers of Labor, Social Policy, and Youth, and senior officials from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia gathered with representatives of international organizations, think tanks, and youth representatives to discuss ways to improve youth employment prospects in the region and unlock the potential of the younger generation.

The conference highlighted the persistent and high rate of youth unemployment in Southeast Europe relative to other countries in the world. In many countries, one in two youth are unemployed. Moreover, the conference called attention to the number of youth who are not only out of work, but also out of school. One in four youth in SEE is not working, not searching for work, and not studying. When young people find employment, they are often left with precarious jobs, part-time or temporary jobs, or informal employment, leaving them excluded from the benefit system and society more generally.

A video on youth employment shown at the conference emphasized the pressing situation. “I am not overly ambitious career wise. I would be very satisfied if my job would make it possible for me to support myself and my family,” said Dušan Nikolić (21), Student at the University of Belgrade, in the video. Gazmend Januzi (24), a construction technician from Sarajevo, said, “What would be good for me is to have a permanent job and insurance.”

Policy makers and experts alike agreed that countries are severely constrained by fiscal and foreign debt. Declining consumption and investments, and limited access to finance are exacerbating the current situation with dramatic impacts for the labor markets. Beyond job creation, issues related to labor regulations, taxation, and skills mismatches disproportionately affect the youth, particularly young women as well as youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, overall making it more difficult to fulfill their aspirations for good jobs.

“Employment rates among the young people are particularly low. Moreover, a significant share of young people who are out of work are not seeking employment nor studying. This pattern has been compounded by the ongoing economic downturn. As part of recovery efforts, it will be critical to lay the foundation for a more inclusive growth path in which youth are central to socio-economic development,” said Vladimir Gligorov, Senior Economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw).

The Policy Dialogue encouraged a very open discussion and allowed participants to take stock, and to discuss policies both successful and failed ones. The discussion touched upon macroeconomic policies, markets and incentives, as well as skills. Areas that needed further analysis, policy development, and action were outlined.

Addressing youth employment calls for a multi-sectoral agenda. What works, of course, depends on the country context, but we can learn a lot from the experience in the region and elsewhere. And we ought to be acting now in order not to miss out on the enormous potential of Southeast Europe’s workforce. The job challenge requires an improved environment for firms in order to thrive and create jobs. We also need to ensure, however, that workers are adequately prepared in order to be able to take advantage of job opportunities. Reforms require persistence, but they pay off,” said Ellen Goldstein, World Bank Country Director for Southeast Europe.

Addressing the participants of the Policy Dialogue, Harald Waiglein, Director-General in the Austrian Ministry of Finance, said, "We welcome today’s high-level forum on ‘Youth Employment in Southeast Europe’ with politicians from the region and international experts to discuss how to make progress on one of the greatest challenges of our times. Knowledge exchange and best practices must aim at the delivery of solutions for youth unemployment. We expect that the World Bank Group Vienna office will serve as a platform for intensive dialogue among practitioners, scientists, national, and international experts alike."

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Reinhard Haslinger
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In Washington
Kristyn Schrader-King
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