The Great Recession that has engulfed Europe since 2008 has had a profound impact on the process of young people’s school-to-work (STW) transition, exacerbating the challenges arising from the long-term structural transformations affecting youth labor markets across the European Union (EU). However, despite the impact of the crisis having been felt everywhere, profound cross-country differences in the performance of STW transition regimes persist and the type and severity of challenges faced by countries belonging to different institutional clusters considerably vary. The challenges surrounding young people’s STW transitions that surfaced during the Great Recession have also acted as a catalyst for policy change in many Member States. Often following European Commission recommendations, numerous countries have embarked upon ambitious reform programs – such as the introduction of the Youth Guarantee (YG) and structural reforms of vocational education and training (VET) and activation policies – which have the potential to significantly alter the way in which STW transitions are structured.
This paper seeks to tackle two central questions pertaining to the performance and evolution of STW transition regimes in Europe during the Great Recession. First, what role have the institutional characteristics of distinct STW transition regimes played in mediating and structuring the impact of the crisis on young people’s labor market situation? Second, in what ways are the policy changes introduced during and after the Great Recession changing the structure and logic of European STW transition regimes? Moreover, what are their implications for our conceptualization of youth transition regimes and – empirically – for the quality and sustainability of young people’s STW transitions in the future?
Following an institutionalist approach, this chapter tackles these two analytical puzzles through a comparative case study design, drawing upon the typology of ‘youth transitions regimes’ advanced by Pohl and Walther (2007) as a framework for comparison. First, we investigate how country-specific institutional configurations that structure the STW transition process have mediated the impact of the crisis on young people’s labor market situation between 2007 and 2015 in a sample of eight Member States belonging to different clusters. We explore how performance varied between and within country clusters, focusing especially on the mediating role of labor market regulatory institutions and policy instruments in the fields of active labor market policy (ALMPs), education and training, including VET. Our findings show that institutional legacies mattered considerably in determining the type and severity of challenges that different countries faced regarding young people’s STW transition during the crisis. However, institutional factors interacted in complex ways with the broader macro- economic environment and availability of fiscal resources.
Second, we analyze the main changes in the design of regulatory institutions and policy instruments in STW transition regimes across five country clusters between 2007 and 2015. By reviewing the main developments in three policy domains – ALMPs and NEET policies, VET and employment protection legislation (EPL) – we assess the extent to which recent reforms have brought about substantial change in the underlying logic and design of STW transition regimes in Europe, as well as whether these are likely to lead to future improvements in performance. Our analysis identifies conflicting trends of convergence and persisting divergence in institutional design in different policy areas. Institutional configurations appear to be in a state of flux, blurring the distinctive characteristics and internal coherence of the STW transition regimes captured by Pohl and Walther’s (2007) typology. In terms of empirical outcomes, considerable challenges persist despite intense reform activity, and the post-crisis quality of STW transitions post-crisis appears to have deteriorated across all country clusters.
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