Barcelona’s Experience in Encouraging Youth Employment to Overcome the Effects of Covid on the Labour Market

Raquel Gil, Barcelona’s Commissioner for Employment and Policies Against Precariousness, writes exclusively for IPPO Cities on the city’s initiatives to encourage youth employment, training, and access to skilled jobs.

Raquel Gil

Young people have been one of the groups most affected by the pandemic in Barcelona. At the end of 2020, the youth unemployment rate in the city was 29.9%, having increased more than 54% in less than a year. In order to reverse the situation, in March 2021 Barcelona City Council put together a new Youth Employment Promotion Plan.

The plan includes a package of complementary measures to offer support to the young people who need it most including digitization and training in the strategic sectors that offer more job opportunities. The plan was aimed at young people who were unemployed or those who were active but in a precarious job, and had a total budget of 12 million euros.

With the onset of the pandemic, extraordinary funds were received from the Centre for Economic Response Coordination (CECORE) of Barcelona City Council, which allowed us to act more quickly and scale up the measures that had already positive results in fostering youth employment. In addition, the plan has been designed to look after the quality education, decent work, and economic growth points of the 2030 Agenda and be appropriate to the context of job opportunities for young people. It also complements the Barcelona Green Deal, which also foresees more opportunities for the creation of decent jobs.

The plan’s measures were worked up together with youth organizations,​ and the youth wings of trade unions, economic agents, and other stakeholders. It defines a package of measures in the short, medium, and long term, with the aim of improving the professional qualifications and prospects of the young population. It does this through new initiatives adapted to the pandemic and its economic consequences, as well as through reinforcing existing programs and policies. To curb unemployment and precariousness, the plan also ensures that employment in the city is maintained as part of its work on economic reactivation, and is committed to the strategic sectors of the future, them being those that help create quality employment in Barcelona.

Main headlines and measures of the plan include the need to improve digital training and reduce the digital gap which exists among young people as well as old. This has become evident in order to guarantee equal employment opportunities, access to occupational resources, and adapt to a world of work with increasing digitization in all sectors and occupations. Actions to accomplish this goal include digitizing advisory, training, and support services, disseminating and reinforcing digital training programs, and facilitating of connectivity elements to guarantee accessibility. Improving knowledge of languages is also an area of focus, with reskilling, learning support, and language certifications defined within it.

A further area of priority is to strengthen support and career guidance for young people for the school-work transition. This will help young people access the world of work and improve their prospects professionally despite situations of unemployment and insecurity. This reinforcement of the support and job guidance programs has taken place by encouraging the participation of young people between 25 and 30 years old – the age group most affected by unemployment. Existing services were expanded with a new canter in Barcelona’s Eixample district, as well as training workshops where self-knowledge and personal skills can be encouraged.

The pandemic had an especially negative impact on those groups that are particularly vulnerable, highlighting existing social inequalities, including in access to resources and successful career paths. One of the plan’s priorities has been to strengthen instruments and services aimed at young people who have special difficulties in accessing or remaining in the world of work such as young migrants, young people with disabilities, and the romany population, among others. The labour care service for young people with psychological discomfort has also been expanded with projects attuned to vulnerability.

Programs to give access to electronic devices under equal conditions were also instituted – especially important given the role of these devices for accessing training and job offers. This initiative helps reduce the digital gap within this group and works to reduce the inequalities generated by the lack of both tablets and digital knowledge.

Training and vocational education are also priorities in the Youth Employment Plan and promoting and strengthening work in these areas is a key element in improving the employability of young people. Actions have been taken within the framework of unique projects, upskilling (improvement of skills), training in emerging sectors, languages, and the promotion of Dual FP (vocational training), with vocational education and internships to improve their capacity and skills for taking up employment. More tailor-made training initiatives are also included, taking place face-to-face as far as possible, as well as online from the Barcelona Activa Cibernàrium, with reserved places specifically for young people in the virtual classrooms.

A further priority has been to recover employment and recruitment, especially among young people. The actions range from direct aid to participation in comprehensive recruitment projects, as well as mentoring programs exclusively for under-35s. The Crea Feina Barcelona program, which gives subsidies to hire new staff to companies affected by the economic crisis, will also have more resources for contracts for young people.

Before the pandemic, one of the main challenges was to achieve a labour market with decent conditions for young people. Although the current priority is to recover employment, it is important that this is of quality, with decent wages and less insecurity for youth, meaning less temporary hiring. To help this, including young people in social clauses is being encouraged, in addition to promoting their labour rights in specific sectors.