Youth Unemployment: Did Education Fail Us or Did We Fail the Companies?

When I was little girl, my parents told me I could be everything I wanted to be as long as I put enough effort in it and educate myself. I believed them, this is how things worked in Germany. You either chose the path of the apprenticeships or academia and afterwards you started to work. That simple. Now, things look differently. After six years of studying, I see how my friends worry about entering labour force or try to escape unemployment. I thought of my parents’ words. They hadn’t lied to me, but still, I felt betrayed by someone. Did education fail our generation? Did companies fail to recruit us? Or did we fail to adapt to the new competitive world order?

After discovering the ways of some recruiting processes, I stopped believing that the situation for young graduates is challenging solely because of the European financial crisis. This rather became a lame excuse for everything which does not function – at least in the countries which are not significantly affected. IQ-Tests and hiring without any personal contact at all seem to be the rule in many organizations. The expectations to have at least two years of practical experience for a basic assistance job, are not comprehensible.

If a company seeks for young talents who have an academic degree for a simple position, they should at least believe that this education served to learn working processes within a few weeks. Or is our current education worthless? Recently, the University of Göttingen (Germany) hired for one of the most basic occupations in their library – scanning documents and books. Most applicants had a university degree. It seems that the skills taught in university are not the ones needed in work life.

The German newspaper Die Zeit asked young graduates how they cope with the employment situation. Germany is still the economic driver of the EU and even seeks for specialists and new talents, nevertheless young graduates are worried. Regardless of the field of study, according to the newspaper’s study, short-term contracts, low-paid (often even unpaid) internships and lacking security determine the first steps into labour for many young people. Even in the areas of IT and Engineering, recent graduates reported how difficult it was to find a decent job and make a living. This is not only worrying for the ones affected by these circumstances, but as well for the German and European economy. By exhausting and squeezing the fresh minds of today, there is no way how innovation – one of the most important elements of global competition – can emerge in the future, if the main concern of all employees is their own survival.

In the recent years, there has been the attempt to frame the Generation Y as a spoiled bunch of hipsters, seeking the perfect work-life-balance and cool freelance jobs. In reality, one can only worry about work-life-balance and an exciting working environment, if there is financial stability or at least an alternative. Hardly anyone will decline a job offer if the own survival depends on it. Especially disappointed young people from Eastern and Southern Europe would agree even to poor labour conditions in order to find a job. Still, Germany has a recruiting problem even with foreign specialists.

Furthermore, it remains a myth that young graduates fight for flexibility – they are rather flexible in order to satisfy the employer. There is a reason why all over Europe, people again turn to Conservatism in politics – the young generation as well. Many seek stability and a long-term perspective, which can provide them security in order to be able to plan their future. There is as well a reason why birth rates remain low – it is surely not because all young people are egoists or only seek casual sex instead of commitment, on the contrary.

A ruthless culture of CV-optimization, internship-marathons in the semester breaks and the will to move to new places has determined the approach towards work of many students in the last years and still, this apparently is not enough in order to get a decent job. The atmosphere among most of my friends therefore remains sceptical towards their future, regardless if they are living in Germany, Spain or Romania. Much potential has already been lost in the recent years and the mismatch between education and hiring will perpetuate the vicious cycle many graduates are facing. Paradoxically, it seems as if they have to lie in the bed somebody else made in the past. In the long run, the European economy will suffer from this loss.

Photo: Creative Commons, Grant Hutchinson