1. Preventing and activating NEETs in Slovenia: Assessment and recommendations

In 2019, around 29 000 Slovenian young people were neither in employment, nor in education or training (NEETs). With 9.5% of all 15-29 year-olds in 2018 (Figure 1.1), the Slovenian NEET rate is lower than in many OECD countries (where the average stood at 12.8%), but it is still higher than before the financial and economic crisis hit the country at the end of the 2000s (8.9% in 2007). In addition, the Covid-19 crisis pushed the youth unemployment rate upwards, from 7.5% among 15-29 year olds in the last quarter of 2019 to 10.4% in the same period a year later. Among NEETs, the increase in inactive NEETs is lasting longer than the increase in unemployed NEETs, pointing to the importance of outreach strategies for those who are not registered with the Employment Service of Slovenia. NEETs who were already inactive or unemployed prior to the crisis are also among the ones who will remain most vulnerable in the years to come, making it important to understand who they are to design better support.

NEETs in Slovenia are more likely to be women, and are often older youth. An increasing share of NEETs are born abroad. NEET rates are also 3.4 times higher among those reporting poor health than among those who do not, though the NEET status itself may also cause health problems. Short bouts of inactivity or unemployment do not necessarily damage future employment opportunities and income. However, more than half of all Slovenian NEETs (53%) remain in this status for more than a year, which might affect their future chances of employment (Figure 1.2). The share of long-term NEETs is particularly high among 25-29 year olds in comparison with other OECD countries. Further analysis suggests that low education and being a mother are the strongest determinants of the NEET duration in Slovenia. Nearly four in five NEETs or their families receive some kind of social benefit; yet one in four Slovenian NEETs are poor. More than half of all NEETs (53%) were not registered with the Employment Service of Slovenia over the period 2011-2018 (15 600 young people) (Figure 1.3). This share is comparable with other EU countries for which data are available.

Educational credentials are the best insurance against long-term inactivity and unemployment. Making sure that students do not fall through the cracks of the educational system is one of the most important measures to prevent youth from becoming NEETs. This approach is all the more relevant in the light of the current pandemic. While many young people struggle to enter the labour market during an economic downturn, graduates with in-demand skills will find a quality job more easily than dropouts. Educational and other preventive policies can therefore play an important role in lowering individuals’ risks of becoming NEETs.

Most young Slovenians graduate from upper secondary school, but those who do not are at a much higher risk of becoming and remaining NEETs. School dropout is more common among certain groups of adolescents, including Roma youth, immigrants and children of immigrants, and youth attending short vocational programmes. Slovenia already has a strong education system that leads most students to an upper-secondary degree and a relatively smooth transition into the labour market. However, a few additional measures to address the sources of academic difficulties and prevent early school leaving could help to keep the highest-risk students in school.

Slovenia should also reinforce its procedures to follow up with former students who dropped out. Currently, schools are not able to inform the employment services, centres of social work or municipal authorities when a student stops attending school or drops out altogether, due to privacy regulations. Some young people fall into a period of inactivity that lasts several years and during which no educational institution or other government authority reaches out to them.

Young people who train or study in fields that are not in demand or that they are not interested in or suited for may not be able to find or keep a job. By helping students explore their interests and capabilities and their education options, career education and advice can contribute to reducing those skill mismatches. In Slovenia, students in basic and upper secondary education can turn to different counsellors within and outside school for information on education and training options. Building on this strong basis, adjustments that include targeted counselling offers, more comprehensive training for counselling staff and educators, and deepened links to employers can further strengthen the career guidance offered to teenagers. Additional investments in skills needs forecasting could furthermore benefit current and future workers of all age groups by providing employment and career counsellors more insights about worker shortages in different occupations and industries.

While a general education curriculum offers the best basis for many teenagers, for some, work-based learning is more beneficial. Slovenia, like other countries in Central Europe, has a long tradition of having a strong vocational and technical education system. The resulting variety in educational options contributes to the high upper secondary graduation rates. But even good systems can be strengthened further; and the recent re-introduction of apprenticeships is one example of an initiative that tries to do exactly that. Possible areas for further improvement to the apprenticeship programme relate to the matching of employers and apprentices; helping companies become high-quality training providers; boosting student interest in apprenticeships; and systematically evaluating the outcomes of apprentices and apprenticeship-providing companies. Moreover, apprentices and employers may need additional support during the Covid-19 crisis.

Many Slovenian teenagers go on to university, but when they do, they often take a long time to graduate or do not complete their studies at all. Long durations of study, incomplete degrees and prolonged job search periods after graduation all entail economic costs, both for the affected individuals and for the government budget. Helping students complete their programmes and finding well-matched employment more rapidly are interlinked issues. Indeed, providing quality career advice and student support, incentives for on-time graduation and opportunities for field-related work experience can ease students’ university-to-work transition.

Successful engagement of young people in the labour market and society is crucial not only for their own personal economic prospects and well-being, but also for overall economic growth and social cohesion. Young Slovenians who are unemployed or inactive can count on support of the Employment Service of Slovenia and the Centres for Social Work to help them (re-)join the labour market or education. However, a unique anonymised data set based on various administrative databases revealed that more than half (53%) of all NEETs in Slovenia do not register with the ESS. Most of them are 25 to 29 years old, have no work experience, are inactive and still live with their parent(s). Family responsibility, illness and informal education are important motives for inactivity among unregistered NEETs. However, half of this group has been in contact with the ESS at some point in their career, which suggests that there is room to improve the support the ESS offers to young jobseekers.

Different approaches can be used to reach out to young people; countries’ experiences show that there is no single method that works best. Examples from other EU countries can provide ideas for Slovenia to develop an outreach strategy for unregistered NEETs, including peer-to-peer outreach in Sweden and Bulgaria, collaboration with associations and community-based organisations in Belgium, Luxembourg and Lithuania, national outreach strategies in Latvia and Portugal, institutional mandates in Denmark and Belgium, and monitoring frameworks in Estonia and Portugal.

Support for young jobseekers who reach out to the Employment Service of Slovenia improved over the past couple of years, in line with the implementation of the Youth Guarantee with reinforced early intervention measures and a range of active labour market programmes for long-term unemployed youth. However, Slovenia still devotes relatively few resources to labour market programmes compared with other OECD countries and the choice of programmes heavily depends on available funding.

The Covid-19 crisis further affected service delivery of the Employment Service of Slovenia, as caseloads rose and the digital services required for social distancing are still underdeveloped. The ESS is developing ways to organise counselling services via video calls and increase the number of young people they can reach per day. However, additional structural changes are needed to streamline and digitalise service delivery and help young jobseekers find their way (back) to the labour market.

The share of long-term jobseekers (i.e. for more than one year) among youth has been declining in recent years, but the groups that remain require additional efforts. While ESS counsellors have a range of active labour market measures at their disposal for young people, only one in three long-term unemployed youth make use of such measures. In addition, long-term unemployed systematically receive less employment services during their first four months of unemployment than short-term unemployed youth and their participation in active labour market programmes has been declining in recent years.

Certain groups face particular challenges in the labour market, including young mothers, migrant youth and Roma youth. First, young women with children have an increased risk of long-term unemployment, largely due to the weak financial incentives that parents of young children have to move into employment. For instance, single mothers who take up a low-paid job in Slovenia would lose more than 100% of their earnings to childcare costs, lower benefits and higher taxes – the average across OECD countries is only 62%. Out-of-pocket childcare costs are particularly high in Slovenia compared with other OECD countries and have been increasing in recent years for sole parents. Reducing those costs would not only help to bring young mothers (back) into the labour market, but can also help to protect children against poverty and strengthen equality of opportunity.

Second, the NEET rate among foreign-born youth is nearly three time as high as among native-born. While part of the problem relates to higher school dropout rates among migrant children, a significant share of NEETs with a migrant background do not register with the Employment Service of Slovenia. The ESS will therefore have to make major efforts to reach out to this group of unregistered NEETs with a migrant background. Targeted guidance or mentoring schemes for youth with a migrant background like in France or Germany could also help migrant youth in their search for a (first) job and can help counter the lack of relevant parental contacts or information about the host-country labour market and its functioning.

Finally, young people from Roma communities also have a high NEET risk. The Government of Slovenia introduced a range of measures in the National Programme for Roma for the period 2017-2021 to address the challenges and problems of the Roma community, including employment support. However, the Employment Service of Slovenia does not have a comprehensive approach in place to tackle the problem of high unemployment among Roma youth, comparable to specialised councillors for youth and long-term unemployed. Among registered young jobseekers who voluntarily identify themselves as Roma only a small share participates in active labour market measures (even though they are an explicit target group) and they are much less successful than other young jobseekers in obtaining employment mostly due to incomplete and low education attainment. Personal data protection laws impede a better understanding of their specific challenges, but the available scarce information suggests that significant efforts are needed to improve the labour market integration of Roma youth.

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