Despite public concerns regarding the diminishing value of educational qualifications, acquiring higher qualifications and skills is still the best bet for getting a job, experts said at an event on labour market opportunities for youth, in Thessaloniki.

The event, organised jointly by Cedefop, the City of Thessaloniki and the Regional Directorate for Education and supported by Europe Direct (Municipality), involved social partners and other labour market actors in drawing conclusions for future action. It was part of the European Youth Capital’s thematic focus on vocational education and training.

Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris thanked Cedefop for its cooperation, ‘which reinforces the targeted efforts of the municipality to address the problem of youth unemployment.’

He added: ‘We want to be have the role of a catalyst but also to be assertive so that the local vocational education and training system can overcome its established structural weaknesses either by becoming a pilot for the rest of the country or by enforcing the necessary changes on a national level.’

Cedefop Director James Calleja mentioned the longstanding relationship of the agency with the city, which he said he is determined to continue and enhance. He stressed that ‘one of the main reasons why Mediterranean countries are faced with the economic crisis is because we do not exploit enough the human potential we have.’

Mr Calleja concluded: ‘We have been talking about bringing the world of work and education together for years. Now is the time for action. I can understand the frustration of people who wake up in the morning and do not know what to do. This is the challenge. This is where the politicians have to work hard to attract investment, create the infrastructures so that people wake up and go to work.’

Cedefop experts Konstantinos Pouliakas, Irene Psifidou and Pedro Moreno da Fonseca made a presentation on the right skills for the right jobs. They highlighted that:
•    Over time, and also during the years of the economic crisis (2008-2012), individuals with higher qualifications were less likely to experience unemployment.
•    Even though individuals with tertiary education degrees were more likely to be employed during the years of the economic crisis, the limited job creation and the greater competition for jobs has resulted in a greater share of over-qualified workers mainly in Southern Europe.
•    Despite claims of endemic skill deficits in Europe, the share of young individuals that are studying has increased since 2008. Both in the EU and (even more in) Greece, we have the most qualified young generation in our history.
•    Because of the greater supply of individuals with higher qualifications in the labour market, employers are increasingly relying on the possession of generic skills (e.g. team-working, problem-solving, interpersonal skills) by young job applicants as a filter for recruitment.
•    Young Greeks are investing more heavily in the education and training process compared to their European peers. However, graduates in Greece are less likely to have accumulated work experience during their studies.
•    About 30% of young individuals (aged 18-24) in Greece are neither in employment nor in education and training (NEETs), which is considerably higher than the 17% average of NEETs in the EU28.

In the discussion that followed, it was stressed that there are no easy solutions but analysing the problem will offer better prospects, while some experts argued that in Greece today there is no skills shortage but rather a lack of jobs.