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Spain grapples with one of the European Union's highest proportions of young people who are neither employed nor in education, but what are the underlying factors behind this phenomenon?

Spain faces a significant challenge, with 17% of its population neither engaged in education nor employed. This figure surpasses the OECD average of 15%. But what are the key factors contributing to this situation?

Spain grapples with one of the European Union's highest proportions of young people who are neither employed nor in education, but what are the underlying factors behind this phenomenon?


In 2022, Jan's occupation involved trading products, but subsequent job searches proved fruitless. Faced with this challenge, he opted to return to school to complete his studies. At 21 years old, this young Spaniard is determined to shed the "nini" label, which characterizes individuals who are neither pursuing education nor employed in the country. However, his prospects have not been particularly promising. Despite actively seeking employment opportunities, he has not received a single job offer since finishing high school before the summer.


Spain has grappled with a persistent issue—having one of the highest proportions of young people, aged 18 to 24, who are neither enrolled in education nor gainfully employed in Europe. This stands at 17%, surpassing the OECD average of 15%, as per the latest Education at a Glance 2023 report. Compared to other EU nations, Spain's percentage is eclipsed only by the Czech Republic, Italy, and Romania (with percentages of 31%, 24%, and 22% respectively), while Greece shares a similar figure with Spain.


Conversely, Sweden, Norway, and Germany boast percentages below 10% for inactive individuals. Jan's experience in Spain highlights the employment challenge in the country, where many job openings demand prior experience, making it challenging for newcomers to gain a foothold. Additionally, the prevailing salaries in Spain do not adequately align with the rising costs of living, further complicating the situation.


In Jan's words, "Finding a job in Spain is a formidable task because most employment opportunities necessitate prior experience, and without an initial opportunity, it's impossible to acquire that experience. Furthermore, wages remain comparatively low, especially when juxtaposed with the escalating costs of everyday necessities.

Why does Spain top the ranking?

Nacho Sequeira, the Director General of the Exit Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing the dropout rate among vulnerable young people, sees the issue as a complex confluence of factors. He points to what he calls "an explosive combination" at the heart of the problem.


"Too many young people are leaving school prematurely. Spain ranks second in the European Union for early school dropouts, following only Romania. Additionally, the country is burdened with a high number of unemployed young individuals, making it the undisputed leader in youth unemployment," Sequeira highlighted in his conversation with Euronews.


In some countries, education is mandatory until the age of 18, but in Spain, it concludes at 16. Sequeira questions the rationale behind permitting students to leave school at 16 when, in practice, individuals under 18 are rarely hired for employment. He points out the incongruity of this situation.


One particular statistic in the latest OECD report stands out to Sequeira, representing what he views as a significant issue. He distinguishes Spain's situation from that of other nations. Within the group of "ninis" (those who neither study nor work), two distinct profiles emerge: the inactive and the unemployed. Both categories fall under the "neither studying nor working" umbrella, but some are actively seeking work while others are not.


Sequeira observes that, in most countries, the number of inactive individuals exceeds that of unemployed individuals actively seeking employment. In Spain, however, the opposite holds true—more young people are actively searching for work but struggling to secure it.


"This mismatch is a problem; there are young people eager to work but lacking the necessary training to capitalize on job opportunities," he remarks.

There is hope on the horizon, though. Gara Rojas, an analyst at the OECD who has spent years scrutinizing data across various countries, points to a noteworthy trend in Spain. She notes that the percentage of "ninis" dropped below 20% in 2017, further declining to 19% in 2021 and 17% in 2022.

The data reveals a positive trajectory over the past decade, with the 2022 figure marking one of the lowest since 2008, according to the OECD analyst. She adds that the future will determine whether this downward trend persists.


What is the secret of the Nordic countries?

While Spain is making efforts to improve its standing in these rankings, several other EU nations have been celebrating their favorable statistics for years. The challenge facing the southern European country stems from both an unstable labor market and instances of premature education discontinuation. In contrast, other countries' success lies in their commitment to nurturing students' development within the classroom.


"The Nordic countries have a rich tradition of offering second-chance education. One significant reason behind this is that the welfare state was constructed by social democrats, with providing working-class individuals access to education as a crucial objective," explains Per Kornhall, a Swedish education expert, in conversation with TrandingNews.

"This entailed establishing systems that allow people to commence their studies later in life or make up for missed opportunities," he adds.

Another noteworthy factor highlighted by this expert is Sweden's legislation, which assigns municipalities the responsibility of monitoring young individuals who have dropped out of school. Sweden also offers special upper secondary programs and vocational colleges for students whose academic performance doesn't meet the requirements for traditional university programs.

France is another exemplar of a nation that prioritizes education. "They are making efforts to support students in areas with higher dropout rates by organizing smaller class groups, thereby enabling more individualized assistance to students," notes Gara Rojas, an OECD representative.

She further emphasizes, "Moreover, teachers who work in schools with a higher risk of dropout receive higher compensation."

This emphasis on teachers is evident in other countries with lower dropout rates, where experienced educators are assigned to specific schools—a lesson that Spain may consider adopting.


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