Helping unemployed young people during a pandemic

A Europe-wide project launched in 2018 was already helping disengaged young citizens to find training and jobs when the COVID-19 outbreak started, rendering the programme more difficult but also more necessary than ever.

According to Eurostat, 16.5% of Europeans between 20 and 34 years are NEETs, an acronym referring to those who are Neither in Employment, Education or Training. Spain, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria are particularly hit by this phenomenon. 

To help young people in those countries find a professional path or even start their own business, the education-oriented organisation Junior Achievement  Europe launched a project in 2018 targeting 1,600 NEETs in these four countries. 

The project’s goal was to provide those people with entrepreneurial education, pieces of training and support for them to acquire the skills needed either to find a job or become entrepreneurs.

The COVID-19 outbreak, which has heavily affected the participant countries, especially Italy and Spain, has created challenges and opportunities for the project, which seems more needed than ever as Europe finds itself on the brink of a socio-economic crisis. 

An opportunity out of the crisis

Alessandro Constanzo de Castro is the project manager of the programme in Italy. He explained to EURACTIV that the health emergency in the country had forced JA to quickly switch to an online version of the activities scheduled. 

The innovation camps that were foreseen for the next few months have been transformed into webinars whose goal is to prepare the students to launch their own businesses. On the bright side, as the courses are now online, restrictions on the number of participants or the territorial constraints have disappeared, widening the scope of action of the project. 

“NEETs are difficult to find and even more difficult to engage,” Constanzo de Castro explained, but by going online and due to the perception of a socio-economic crisis in the making, “it is much easier to spread the news and enrol people.” 

However, the project also contemplates an intensive five-day, full time, leadership programme that it is impossible to organise under current circumstances. “In the webinars, we teach how to be an entrepreneur; in the leadership programme, we develop the skills to become one,” Constanzo de Castro explained. 

“I can teach you how to develop a business plan, but I cannot work on your dreams, on your skills, on your qualities, on your fears… this cannot be done online,” he added. The goal though remains to go back to live meetings in September, if the situation allows. 

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