Youth Policies towards Inequalities in European Countries


The situation of young people in Austria and (innovative) policy answers

1. What are the three main urgent areas of policy action that you have identified in your research?

The success at school of youngsters remains to be highly dependent on parents’ ability to contribute in their children’s education. This is related to the fact, that in the Austrian education system children are channelled into different school types (Gymnasium (grammar school), Hauptschule (lower secondary school)) for secondary education 1 at a very early stage (at the age of 10). This represents a fundamental predestination of the educational path of young people. The implementation of a system of comprehensive schooling for 10- 14 year olds is still a requirement. The VET-training system, as well, is selective insofar as youth of migrant background have more difficulties in securing an apprenticeship.

It seems that the quality of VET trainings differ a lot according to apprenticeship places resp. programmes (apprenticeship with an employer, supra-company vocational training (SCVT), and entrance programmes ideally leading up to an SCVT). A federal system of quality assurance needs to be set in place to ensure the quality of all apprenticeships. An additional difficulty in SCVT reported is stigmatization: the idea that only VET with an employer means having managed to secure a “proper” apprenticeship

An expansion of the public pillar of the dual system will be necessary as recent data concerning the lack of apprenticeship places in the public sector demand a public solution to uphold a comprehensive VET system that leads to a certificate at apprenticeship level for every school leaver. It will be necessary to develop adequate measures to secure quality of public VET options, in order to make them transparent in particular to potential employers.

Furthermore, the focus on employability, VET and human capital formation will have to be complemented with support through social work and social pedagogy to help young people to cope with other aspects of transition to adult life.

The school system needs to offer tuition free all-day forms, ideally for all students within a comprehensive system. Given the cost of this alternative system, it should also be considered if it would not prove to be more effective to raise the age of compulsory schooling – with an adequate focus on vocational education that should build on the positive experiences with the traditional dual system – up to 18. Alternatively the end of compulsory schooling could be marked by the attainment of a certain level of competencies. This however must not replace the dual system. Rather entering an apprenticeship could happen some years later in the life course of young people. This reorganisation of the educational system up to the age of 18 could even offer opportunities to reduce the duration of some apprenticeships.

Systematic approaches must be created to cover those groups of young people who are not covered by standard programmes of PES and VET institutions, including young asylum seekers, ex-offenders, and other groups from NEETS studies that have "slipped out of" grip of the PES, such as young mothers and youngsters with psycho-social problems. Different approaches are needed which should feature low thresholds and incentives on one hand and opening up of channels and opportunities at the other.

More children and youth in Austria than expected suffer from financial deprivation. Symptoms of poverty and social exclusion such as lack of adequate/enough food, energy poverty, access to adequate clothing etc. must be identified. Strategies to tackle them through low threshold non-stigmatising approaches in measures and programmes, such as the re-introduction of school lunches must be created.

2. Are there examples of success or good practice that you have identified? What role does social innovation play in the development and delivery of youth policy?

There are several examples of good practice in youth participation which could be expanded upon. Youth parliaments give chances of participation to young people, if they are given a budget they can decide upon (otherwise such models are much more a simulation of participation, rather than actual participation). The federal youth representation has social partnership status and was present at 2013’s federal coalition negotiations; they could be included as full members of committees relevant to youth policy. The committee deciding on which apprenticeship are offered in the SCVT should include representatives of the youth.

The representatives/work councils of young employees (Jugendvertrauensräte) in both enterprises who employ at least 5 young people and the SCVT can have a quite supportive role for participants in apprenticeships (at least for a certain range of work-related problems). Apart from classic forms of participation in educational institutions, active labour market policies and employment, which often have a very limited scope, more open forms of participation in the context of low threshold open social work proved quite interesting. They offer free space for young people, on which they have opportunities to decide autonomously, and where they can experiment etc. Non-profit-organizations play a major role both in social work for youth as well as the emerging alternative system of VET-training by the Austrian PES. However these organisations, up until now, for the most part lack democratic structures of self-representation.

3. What should be the content of "new" policies (e.g. development of capability friendly policies) and what resources would be needed to develop and implement these policies?

Transition from education to employment should be identified as policy area-cooperation of many stake holders. The inclusion of youth (representatives) is needed, as is systematization. Youth should be given adequate time for this transition, and their decisions should be reversible to a high degree. An adequate tutoring, mentoring or ombudsman system should be developed to help young people through the transition process by supporting them in finding adequate programmes, learning them about their rights, etc.

4. Which actors should be responsible for the development and delivery of these policies and what role should young people play in this process?

Further re-structuring of the transition phase and the lifecycle phase of 15 to 18 year olds, will need to be addressed on federal level, as will a quality assurance system for both traditional as well as SCVT apprenticeships (e.g. in form of a federal agency which is commissioned by different stakeholders). Participation and basic needs can and should be addressed both on federal as well as on state level.

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