16/02/2007 - According to a new report by the OECD, Belgium should do more to help young people get their working life off to a good start. The unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds was about 20 per cent in 2005, i.e. almost identical to 10 years ago and around seven percentage points higher than the OECD average (see table).
The report, “Jobs for Youth: Belgium”, found that unemployment affects primarily young people with few educational qualifications, especially those living in the Brussels and Wallonia regions. A particular cause for concern is that 12 per cent of young people are neither employed nor in education. Another is that first jobs for young people are more often temporary or part-time than was the case 10 years ago, although job insecurity is still below the European average.
As in other OECD countries where the labour market is becoming more and more selective, the lack of relevant skills brings a higher risk of unemployment. Whatever the level of diploma, first experiences on the labour market have a profound influence on later working life. Getting off to a good start facilitates integration, while a failure can be difficult to make up. Although recent reforms such as the activation of job-seeking behaviour or the inter-generational Solidarity Pact are steps in the right direction, they will not be sufficient.
The publication puts forward a series of recommendations in order to help the authorities develop a strategy with greater potential to promote youth employment. The four main thrusts of this strategy are to: ensure that young people leave school with skills certified by a recognised diploma; ease the transition from school to work; strengthen mutual obligations for young people; and, eliminate existing barriers to youth employment.
In order to achieve these objectives, the OECD’s recommendations invite the Belgian authorities, among other things, to:
take early, co-ordinated and sustained action. In Belgium, action is often taken too late, when young people have already begun to drop out from school. Co-ordinated action involving children, their families, teachers and social workers should be taken even before the end of compulsory education to prevent failure at school.
reform part-time education to attract more pupils, including the best pupils. In Belgium, part-time secondary education is a stream to which pupils are relegated if they have failed to do well in mainstream education. This is not the case in many other OECD countries, which have successful apprenticeship systems, such as Germany, Austria or Switzerland, or which have managed to upgrade alternating education, such as France.
ensure that young school leavers get selective and active support in finding a job and not primarily access to unemployment benefits. Belgium is the only OECD country which automatically grants young people under 30 years of age who have never worked an unemployment-insurance benefit (“allocation d’attente”) for an unlimited period, after a waiting period of six to twelve months. The OECD proposes that this benefit be abolished in the long term in order to improve work incentives. In the immediate term, it should be granted only on condition that the recipient is actively seeking work or participates in some other active measure for at least three months, and the duration should be limited to four years.
targeting subsidies for on-the-job training on the least skilled young job-seekers. This subsidy will be useful mainly for young people who rarely have the opportunity of on-the-job training. In Belgium, this is often a windfall for employers, who select applicants themselves.
The report, entitled Jobs for Youth : Belgium is the latest in a series launched by the OECD in some fifteen countries. To obtain a copy of the publication or for further information, journalists should contact the Media Division (tel. 33 1 45 24 97 00). The report can be purchased in paper or electronic form through the OECD’s Online Bookshop. Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the online version via SourceOECD.