Young people from Youth Work Ireland services recently voiced their concerns and fears about the future challenges facing their generation, as well as their suggestions about the new strategy for youth at a EESC hearing in Brussels.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a hearing on the next EU Youth Strategy on 9 July, with the aim of collecting points of view on the new strategy for Europe's youth recently proposed by the European Commission. The EESC is currently preparing an opinion on the said Commission proposal and youth is one of the priorities of the EESC Presidency's programme. The hearing gathered youth advocates, students and youth organisations, representatives of trade unions and employers as well as representatives from the Commission and the EESC. It was opened by a women-only panel, giving the floor to the young activists who, in front of the policy-makers present, voiced their concerns and fears about the future challenges facing their generation, as well as their suggestions about the new strategy for youth. They stressed the importance of youth work and agreed that young people should be actively involved in decision-making processes in the workplace, but also in policy-making and in democracy in general, which includes participation in youth organisations or membership of unions.
"It all comes down to this question – are we just talking about engaging young people or are we sitting down with them at the table and seeing the value that they bring to our society and the value that they could bring into the future," the panellist Joanna Siewierska, youth advocate and former member of Youth Work Ireland's Voices of Youth told the hearing.
"Youth work should be all about making the most of our contribution and engagement, about bringing out the best in us. We need to understand our value in the workplace and our contribution to society," she said.
For the 17-year old panellist Deborah Fakeye, youth advocate and member of Youth Work Ireland's National Youth Action Group, youth work becomes very important when there is a need to address the fact that Europe and the world are becoming increasingly more diverse.
"While we all preach about togetherness, connectivity, respect and acceptance – are we actually seeing it in practice in the workplace or enforced in schools? In youth clubs there are people from different walks of life, people of different abilities, ages and races. It is a space where we all feel connected and where we are all on the same level and so there is not this huge imbalance that we might see in more formal settings like at school," she said. Yet it often seems that youth work gets ignored.
The young panellists also stressed the importance of quality and informal education, entrepreneurship and opportunities at the local level.
"It is important to transfer young people's energy and ideas into some policy-making or into some sustainable strategy. If we are not able to do this, young people could turn away from the EU and might be more attracted to anti-EU populist sentiment," said the EESC member and co-rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the n EU Youth Strategy, Adam Rogalewski. "To avoid this, the Member States must reach out to young people, to show they are included in policy-making."
"It is crucial to get out of the youth space and let young people have a say in other areas as well," said the rapporteur of the EESC opinion, Michael McLoughlin, Head of Advocacy with Youth Work Ireland.
However, it was also pointed out that young people should not be excluded from rights enjoyed by adult workers, such as, among other things, the minimum wage or protection against precarious working contracts. The new strategy should therefore be extended through more targeted protective measures.
"The new EU Youth Strategy should equally promote democratic values and industrial democracy. Moreover, the strategy is missing a significant element – PROTECT. Without it, the ENGAGE, CONNECT and EMPOWER dimensions of the strategy represent only a partial solution to young people's problems", said Victoria Nagy, President of the Youth Committee in the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), referring to the three areas of action identified in the Commission's proposal.
"We need to make youngsters dream, engage with them and make a good use of their energy and creativity. The EESC listens to them and mainstreams their ideas and concerns in all policies and through our opinions," Katherine Heid, member of the EESC president's cabinet, told the young participants at the hearing.
The EESC opinion on the Commission's Communication "Engaging, Connecting and Empowering Young People: a new EU Youth Strategy" will be discussed at the EESC's plenary session in October.