University of Brighton heads €5m youth unemployment study


The University of Brighton has been chosen to lead a new European-wide research project examining ways of overcoming youth unemployment.

The €5m EU-funded ‘STYLE’ project (Strategic Transitions for Youth Labour in Europe) involves 25 research partners and over 60   stakeholder organisations across Europe, including, amongst others, the European Youth Forum representing 99 national youth councils across the EU, along with Business Europe, the ILO, the OECD and the ETUI.

Heading the research is Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly from the Centre for Research on Management and Employment at the University of Brighton Business School. She said: “Youth unemployment is hard to ignore, difficult to define and elusive to resolve. The problem varies between countries in terms of its causes, magnitude, and consequences.

“In the UK the problem is often expressed by government ministers and celebrity chefs as a problem of young people lacking ‘grit’ or being ‘work shy’ – Jamie Oliver recently launched a scathing attack on the work ethic of young British people compared to other young Europeans who work for him. In other countries the discussion is predominantly about how the education system has failed young people and why traditional stable career trajectories have disappeared. It’s a tricky problem to define, explain, or even attempt to solve, given this diversity.

“The STYLE project examines labour market mismatch in terms of education and skills, mobility and migration, as well as the potential for youth business start-ups. But our focus goes beyond the immediate sphere of economic production.

“One of the distinguishing characteristics of contemporary youth unemployment resides in family legacies from previous recessions and the inheritance of inequalities across generations. We are interested in understanding the interaction between the structures of economic production and social reproduction and how policy interventions affect these.”

Professor O’Reilly said: “Understanding what is happening to young people today is so important, and it ties closely to the ethos of the University of Brighton where we give particular importance to widening participation, making education accessible and by creating a synergy between what we research and who we teach.” (See: THES 27th February 2014)

Researchers from 19 European countries are joining the project that begins in March this year and will last for three-and-a-half years.

Professor Maria Petmesidou, from the University of Thrace in northern Greece, where  around 60 per cent of young people are without work, said: “The EU plays a significantly important role today in both funding policy initiatives and policy learning than was the case in previous recessions. The dramatic situation in Mediterranean countries has also been a catalyst for youth migration; the growth of European youth mobility has elevated the issue of youth unemployment from a national problem to one that needs integrated coordination with supra-national organisations such as the EU.”

EU funded initiatives include the Youth Guarantee scheme to ensure that within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed, all young people up to 25 receive a quality offer of  a job, continued education  or an apprenticeship or a traineeship.

Professor O’Reilly said the scheme has proved an effective way of integrating young people into the market, including those who are not in education, employment or training.

“However, in giving evidence to the House of Lords select committee in December, Kari P Hadjivassiliou and Stefan Speckesser, research partners from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), argued that ‘adopting Youth Guarantee schemes can be very expensive and not feasible in several member states, unless they can count on adequate EU funding’.”

Professor O’Reilly stressed that policy evaluation was an important part of the project. “But it is not just about using advanced statistical techniques and data analysis to identify effective measures to address these problems. Researchers will also study the attitudes and aspirations of young people themselves using a variety of innovative qualitative and quantitative methods.”

For example, she said, Professor Angie Hart, as part of the  University of Brighton’s Community University Partnership Programme ( ), will be involving young people with multiple disadvantages in creating resource materials for other young people on resilience and realising what helps them achieve their aspirations.

Professor Hart said the values and attitudes of young people were deeply affected by early transitions. “The increasing differentiation between those who make it and those who are left behind creates socially-divisive trajectories that are more difficult to repair in later life.”

Professor O’Reilly said the overriding aim of STYLE was to provide a comprehensive EU-wide analysis of youth unemployment that is “sensitive to gender, ethnic and class differences and the historical legacies of multi-level institutions shaping relevant policies”.

She said: “It involves an ongoing process of including a wide range of EU stakeholders at a local as well as an international level to inform the research and disseminate the results in different institutional conditions.

“We already have over 60 stakeholder organisations that have signed up to be involved in the project. It will help us provide a relevant, recent historical analysis accounting for factors prior to, and following on from, the on-going economic crisis. And it will aim to inform policy makers about what works for whom and why.”