Jevgeni was 15-years-old when he had to drop out of school due to family reasons. He then started to work in industry and tried to get an education at night school. He has always wanted to study, but his path has been anything but smooth.
Reena, on the other hand, graduated from gymnasium, thereafter earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, one after another. She has always been a good student, but her longest working experience is related to writing her master’s thesis while working on a research project at the university, a job which ended with the projects ending. After that she has truly struggled with finding a job, because employers often deem her to be over-qualified.
These two stories are completely different, but both of them are from the real young people living next to us and actually indicate similar problems. Youth unemployment and insecurities in the labour market have increased significantly in Europe in recent years. Because of difficulties in getting and keeping a job, young people are becoming increasingly exposed to the risks of poverty, material deprivation, insecurity, lack of autonomy and social exclusion.
Looking for solutions
Therefore, the research project EXCEPT looked for real stories of young people in Europe and aimed to develop effective and innovative policy initiatives to help young people overcome labour market insecurities and related risks. As interdisciplinary and internationally comparative project, it strives to provide a comprehensive understanding of the consequences of youth labour market vulnerability to risks of social exclusion in nine countries in Europe.
“We tried to understand young European people who face difficulties in the beginning of their working life, how it affects their welfare and health, and their emotional and material emancipation,” the project coordinator, professor Marge Unt, explained, adding that both immediate and 5-years-later-effects were analysed and compared.
The method and approach were extremely thorough. A multidimensional dynamic perspective on both objective and subjective dimensions of the social exclusion of young people was adopted in order to identify the complex interrelationships and potential risks of cumulative disadvantages and possible compensatory mechanisms. Specifically, the implications of labour market insecurities for youth’s risks of poverty and material deprivation, their subjective well-being and health status as well as their ability to reach independence from the parental home were investigated in a mixed-method approach which included qualitative interviews, data, and expert interviews with policy evaluation analyses. Approximately 400 young people were interviewed, 50 of them from Estonia.
Difficult questions to answer
Unt underlined that it is extremely important to consider how to shape the environment in a way that future generations will not suffer due to the current labour market situation. “For example, our youth are travelling around and working all over the world. How can their pensions assets be secured?” she asked.
What is more, researchers have tried to define social exclusion to see who belongs to the support network of young people, as it is all interrelated. “We recognised a kind of downhill spiral – if a young person can not find a job, his or her material situation and social relations suffer. This, in turn, affects their self-confidence and ability to find a new job and so forth,“ Unt explained while adding that it is important to understand the ability of youth to create support structures that help them to find their own way.
Researchers Epp Reiska, Eve-Liis Roosmaa, Kaja Oras and Marti Taru analysed the results of qualitative studies in Estonia and highlighted many suggestions to improve the situation. For example: mentor services for young people; improving communication between schools, families and social workers; reviewing social support rules and systems; and increasing childcare availability.
Big step for Estonia
This project is special because it is one of the few Horizon 2020 projects coordinated from Estonia. The coordinator Marge Unt is a professor at Tallinn University. She said that it was a great challenge for her because it is quite an unusual situation for an Estonian and especially for a social scientist. “It was also very pleasant experience, because I had such a great support system: Professor Ellu Saar provided me with a good example and good team,” she happily declared and added that feedback from partners helped and inspired her a lot.
Also, as for Estonian science, Unt sees many benefits derived from the coordinating experience. “It endows self-confidence and the necessary inspiration for other scientists to give it a shot. Also, it has provided a wealth of new knowledge and contacts for the next projects,” she explained, noting that many new ideas, events and projects have already arisen from EXCEPT.
 Reiska, E., Roosmaa, E.-L., Oras, K. & Taru, M. (2018). Young adults in insecure labour market positions in Estonia – the results from a qualitative study, EXCEPT Working Papers, WP No 23. Tallinn University, Tallinn.
Written by Marii Kangur
This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.