The challenges of school-to-work transition in Southern European countries

Francisco Simões, researcher at Iscte - University Institute of Lisbon is the author of a report prepared for the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) on the school-to-work transition in the context of the Resilience and Recovery Facility mechanism, specifically on active labor market policies for youth.


School-to-work transition implies a shift from the role of student to the role of worker, a pathway that is expected to lead young adults to decent jobs and independent living. However, this is a process influenced by several structural factors, such as the socioeconomic environment or access to institutional support. While active labor market policies for youth have been in place over the past decades, the COVID-19 crisis has increased uncertainty in the prospect of young people achieving independence. The pillar 6 of the European Commission's Resilience and Recovery Facility (RRF) mechanism focuses on policies for the next generation, presenting a package of reforms and investments that seek to address these concerns.

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It additionally contextualized active youth employment policies in Pillar 6 of the RRF through a qualitative analysis of Resilience and Recovery Plans (RRP) in six Southern European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Malta, and Greece), with the aim of highlighting the most relevant policy implications.

Overall, the statistics show that between 2012 and 2021, school-to-work transition trends have been quite positive, with a slight interruption at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. However, school-to-work transition indicators are worse in Southern and Eastern European countries compared to Northern and Central European countries. For example, the percentage of youth neither in Employment nor in Education or Training (NEET) in the European Union (EU) in 2021 reached 13.1%, with Italy having the highest figure of NEET youth (23.1%) and Sweden having the lowest (6%). Also in 2021 the youth unemployment rate in 13 countries, including Portugal (23.4%), was higher than the EU average (16.6%). The indicators also show gender differences in youth employment, with young women succeeding in education but struggling more to enter the labor market; young men enter the labor market more easily but are at greater risk of performing low-qualified jobs, due to their lower educational levels.

Regarding the qualitative analysis of the measures devoted to policies for the next generations in the RRP of the six Southern European countries, Francisco Simões highlights three main conclusions that, in general, seem to indicate an investment and/or legislative reforms more focused on education than on youth employment. Firstly, "reforms and investments are broadband, that is, they tend to cover the entire population, and are not focused on youth, although youth are more exposed to unemployment," he explains. Second, he adds that "when measures are focused on youth, they are not specific enough," that is, they do not seem to take into account the diversity of certain groups (e.g., women, migrants, NEETs) and their particularities, with the exception of one large group, students. Finally, he states that the measures also "do not seem to take into account the needs of the different territorial areas of the six countries analyzed", despite regional disparities in the assessed indicators.

In the report, Francisco Simões makes recommendations for public policy to address these issues. For example, to overcome vertical coordination caveats, he claims that more autonomy needs to be granted to regional government agencies/services to improve capacity on the ground to execute and monitor proposed programs. He also suggests to establish collaborative local/regional networks involving several public and private stakeholders trained in integrated governance pillars to reduce redundancies in programme implementation and a much needed efficient use of resources. As a specific recommendation, he proposes increasing the number of targeted measures under Pillar 6, meaning those aiming specifically at youth and vulnerable groups of young people. The full report is available in English on the European Parliament website or can be accessed directly here.

The invitation to prepare this report came from the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, based on Francisco Simões' experience as a specialist in the psycho-social analysis of school-to-work transition, in aspects such as social inclusion, well-being, access to education, and access to decent work for vulnerable groups such as young people neither in Employment nor in Education or Training (NEET).

Francisco Simões is a researcher at the Center for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte), co-coordinator of the thematic line "Promoting Inclusion, Equality and Citizenship" of the Associate Lab SocioDigital Lab for Public Policy, chair of the COST Rural NEET Youth Network action, funded by the European Commission, funded through COST Association (2019-2023) and principal investigator of the Tr@ck-IN project - Public employment services tracking effectiveness in supporting rural NEETs, funded by the Youth Employment Fund (EEA & Norway Grants, 2021-2024).