Participation of young people in education and the labour market

From Statistics Explained

This article focuses on the complex interplay between education and labour market participation in the European Union (EU) and its Member States, supplementing a companion article on youth unemployment.

In the case of young people, participation in education and in the labour market interact in complex ways going beyond a straightforward one-way transition from school to work. In some countries, young people start working much earlier than in others, e.g. in the form of summer jobs or jobs for students. It is also possible to be in education and on the labour market at the same time, leading to an overlap. It is important to be aware of these issues when interpreting and assessing youth unemployment rates.

Participation of young persons in education and in the labour market

At age 15, nearly 100 % of the population in the European Union are still at school. As the young grow older, there is a gradual decrease in the proportion of young persons in education. Not all leave education at the same age, so there is a gradual change for the young population as a whole. Its pace is determined by national systems of education and training, as well as other factors.

In parallel to a decrease in the proportion of young people in education, there is an increase in those on the labour market, employed or unemployed. The pace of exit from education is not identical to the pace of entry onto the labour market, as some people are in education and on the labour market at the same time, while others move out of education and stay outside the labour market. There are a range of situations in which education and labour market participation overlap, as will be seen below. This overlap can occur at any age, but it is far more frequent for the young because of the transition from education to the labour market.

Figure 1 below shows the proportion of young people in education and on the labour market at each year of age (data for EU-28, 2012). Figure 1 is based on the EU labour force survey. It counts all those who state they have been in formal education or training during the previous four weeks as being in education, and does not include people who participated exclusively in non-formal training sessions such as attending a course, a seminar or taking private lessons.

Figure 1: Structure of the youth population by education and labour market status, EU-28, 2012

The overlaps between education and labour market participation correspond to a range of different situations. For some young people, employment is subordinate to education, for instance, in the case of a student who works for just a few hours a week. Others are employed and are only marginally in education, for instance someone who is employed but has occasional professional training, or who studies after work to qualify for a diploma. Education and work may take place at different times of the year (e.g. students alternating between their academic course and summer jobs) or in parallel (e.g. students working at weekends or in the evenings after classes). The same activity may count as both education and employment e.g. most formal apprenticeships in secondary education, paid traineeships, or specific vocational training phases integrated in some study programmes in tertiary education. In line with ILO guidelines, paid trainees are classified as employed, but unpaid trainees are not.

Figure 2 below further disaggregates the status of young people distinguishing those employed from those unemployed (EU-28, 2012 data). Those in education are colour-coded in blues of different intensity, depending on their labour status. Those not in education are colour-coded in pink. Note that there cannot be overlaps between employment and unemployment, as a person cannot be both employed and unemployed at the same time.

Figure 2: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, EU-28, 2012

Figure 2 shows that most young unemployed people are not in education, but many are (4.3 million and 1.3 million persons respectively, all aged 15-24, in the EU-28 in 2012). There are also many young people employed while in education (6.7 million). As can be seen, there are more young people who are employed while in education than young people unemployed (whether in education or not).

The rest of this article will analyse country differences regarding those patterns. The separate Statistics Explained article School to work transition statistics provides other information about this transition.

Country differences

There are significant structural differences among European countries in young people's participation in the labour market. The reason is a combination of institutional factors (e.g. formal apprenticeship schemes), cultural determinants, whether there is a job market for students, the role of professional training, etc. Differences in the national systems of education and training also play a major role. For details see Eurydice - Description of national educational systems and policies.

Each country's characteristics are unique, so charts such as Figure 2 are like a fingerprint. (download ppt profiles for all EU-LFS countries).

It is possible to create some country groups to identify common features. This is illustrated below using charts like Figure 2 (note however that while the focus here is on education and unemployment, the charts are much richer in terms of information).

The first parameter for country grouping is the degree to which those in education are simultaneously on the labour market. A second parameter is the level of youth unemployment, measured in terms of the youth unemployment ratio (for definition, see the Statistics Explained article on Youth unemployment). Figure 3 plots the situation of EU countries according to these two dimensions and suggests possible country clusters. These groups are analysed in more detail below.

Figure 3: Country groups by participation of persons simultaneously in education and in the labour market

Group 1. There is a first group of countries in which very few students are employed or unemployed. For countries in this group, the overlap between the labour market and education is very small. This could be the case e.g. if the young complete their studies before looking for a first job, and there are only few part-time or summer jobs for students. Countries in this group are Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia. Romania is shown in Figure 4 as an example. The defining feature of countries in this group is very thin bands of medium-blue and intense-blue, corresponding respectively to people who are in education and at the same time employed or unemployed.

Figure 4: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, Romania, 2012

Note that for countries in this group, the youth unemployment rate may be high even if the absolute number of youth unemployment is not high, the reason being a very small labour market for the young. See more details on youth unemployment rates in the companion article on youth unemployment.

Group 2. A second group of countries has two features: a) a moderate overlap between education and the labour market and b) youth unemployment levels around the EU average. This group includes Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Poland. France is shown as an example in Figure 5. The defining feature of countries in this group is thicker bands of students or apprentices in the labour market than in the case of countries in the group 1.

Figure 5: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, France, 2012

Those in education while employed correspond to three broad types of situation: they are either employed while attending professional training, or apprentices or paid trainees (which are conventionally considered as employed and in education), or they are students who work part-time. Note that the number of young people unemployed in education is marginal compared to the figure for young people unemployed and not in education (compare size of colour bands in intense red and dark blue).

Group 3. A third group of countries features: a) a moderate overlap between education and labour market (i.e. same as group 2); b) a very high level of youth unemployment. Countries in this group are Greece, Spain, Portugal and to some extent Ireland. These are some of the countries worst hit by the crisis. Portugal is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, Portugal, 2012

Group 4. A fourth group displays: a) high to very high involvement of students in the labour market; b) average level of unemployment. These are: Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, and, to a lower extent, Slovenia. These are countries with a long-standing tradition of students doing part-time or summer jobs (Nordic countries have strong seasonal unemployment among students as the season for summer jobs opens. This is not visible in Figure 7). Furthermore, some countries, e.g. the Netherlands, have dual study programmes in specific fields of tertiary education that include practical work phases. The Netherlands is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, The Netherlands, 2012

In this group of countries, young people start to look for jobs at a very early age, and as a result there is sizeable unemployment among students at 15 to 17 years of age. This declines steadily at higher ages, but is counterbalanced by a rise in unemployment among those not in education.

Group 5: There is a final group of countries with high levels of employment among those in education (same as group 4) but almost no unemployment among those in education. Germany and Austria are in this group. They have established apprenticeships systems or vocational training in secondary education. These factors explain the high number of young people who are both in education and employed.

Figure 8: Structure of youth population by education and labour market status, Germany, 2012


Young people are a priority for European Union’s social vision, and the current crisis compounds the need to sustain the young human capital. In November 2009, the Council of Youth Ministers adopted the EU Youth Strategy for 2010-2018 which has two overall objectives:

- To provide more and equal opportunities for young people in education and in the labour market

- To promote the active citizenship, social inclusion for all young people

The Open Method of Coordination supports the implementation of the strategy which should create favourable conditions for youth to develop their skills, fulfil their potential, work, and actively participate in society. In this framework youth statistics are an essential tool to support evidence-based policy-making in the various domains covered by the strategy.

The focus on young people was even reinforced with the adoption in June 2010 of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth which includes a number of concrete initiatives to support them in getting jobs and dealing with related challenges during this crisis. Quality education and training, successful labour market integration and more mobility of young people are key to unleashing all young people's potential and achieving the Europe 2020 objectives. Youth on the Move presents a framework of policy priorities for action at national and EU level to reduce youth unemployment by facilitating the transition from school to work and reducing labour market segmentation. Particular focus is put on the role of public employment services, promoting the Youth Guarantee scheme to ensure all young people are in a job, in education or in activation, creating a European Vacancy Monitor and supporting young entrepreneurs.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Dedicated section

External links