14th January 2014


Young Europeans have lived all their lives in times of mass youth unemployment, observes Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at Oxford University. Young adult unemployment did not fall greatly during the boom years and, in 2013, almost a quarter of all people under the age of 25 in Europe were searching for work.[i]

Organisations are the primary venue for our growth in adulthood.  Identity – the ‘central organiser’ – is evolving from infancy onwards.  When we reach our late teens and early twenties, we have developed an awareness not just that we are, not just of what we are, but an awareness of who we are.  As we enter the workforce, we find that the structured, regularised context of an organisational setting is ideally suited to supporting us as we affirm this independent selfhood.  It fosters us in our important exercises of self-discipline, personal achievement, pride in ourselves and ambition. Here we can fully immerse ourselves for it is the place where we can demonstrate and define ourselves, the place where are able to be the person we have become.[ii]

If we are denied the important developmental environment of an organisation, we face not just the practical difficulties of, for example, supporting ourselves without an income, or of missing opportunities to acquire work-related knowledge and skills. The real tragedy of youth unemployment is that it prevents young people from achieving their most important developmental task – to obtain group recognition of their just-discovered individuality – and numerous studies record the psychological distress that results.[iii]

The social psychologist, Kevin Durkin, observes: “Societies often arrange things so that the principal route to autonomy is getting a job”[iv]; and many parents and even more living grandparents of the jobless under-25s in Europe remember that we did not always treat the young like this[v].  The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who presides over the lowest levels of youth unemployment in Europe, describes this situation as the most pressing problem in the European Union.[vi]  As the economist, John Weeks, notes, until this problem is addressed, any prospect of a recovery in the EU is, demonstrably, ‘faux’.[vii]

[i] http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/08/generation-jobless, p1

[ii]Finding Merlin: A Handbook For The Human Development Journey In Our New Organisational World, Chapters One and Five, Kate Cowie, Marshall Cavendish, 2012

[iii] Cowie, op cit, Chapter Five, with reference to Developmental Social Psychology, from infancy to Old Age by Kevin Durkin

[iv]Developmental Social Psychology, from Infancy to Old Age by Kevin Durkin, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, p548

[v] Dorling, op cit, p2

[vi] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/02/angela-merkel-youth-unemployment-europe, p1

[vii] http://www.social-europe.eu/author/john-weeks, p1