School-to-work transition statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from September 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article presents European Union (EU) statistics related to the transition from initial education to the first significant job. It is based on the results of questions in an ad-hoc module on the ‘entry of young people into the labour market’, which supplemented the standard EU labour force survey (EU-LFS) carried out in 2009 in the EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Turkey and Switzerland.
Main statistical findings
First job within 5 months for tertiary graduates, longer for others
In 2009 the duration of the transition period from initial education to the first significant job was 6.5 months on average in the EU-27. The duration varied considerably according to both the country and level of education – from 5 months for tertiary qualifications to about 10 months for lower qualifications.
On average young people left formal education in 2009 around the age of 21, with an age range of 17 for lower secondary education to 24 for tertiary education. Taking a longer-term perspective – 5 years after leaving formal education – some 72 % of young Europeans aged 15-34 had a job in 2009 at the time of the interview. About two out of three of these had been employed for more than a year or had a permanent contract.
Young people leave formal education around the age of 21
An initial indicator of the diversity of transition patterns across the EU is the average age of people when they leave formal education for the last time.
Figure 1 and Table 2 highlight the following features across educational attainment levels:
- The average age of those leaving formal education for the last time was around 21 in the EU in 2009 (Table 2). The exit age of people having upper secondary qualifications was around 20, close to the overall average i.e. all education levels (Figure 1).
- People who obtained a qualification at tertiary level left the education system after the age of 24 on average. By contrast, those with at most a lower secondary education level left around the age of 17.
- In most countries the age of people leaving upper secondary education was close to the EU average (20 years old). The average age of people leaving upper secondary education was lower in Bulgaria, the UK and Turkey (18 years old).
- The age of people leaving lower secondary education was below 16 and thus well below the EU average in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey.
Average length of the transition from school to work: 6.5 months in the EU
The level of the highest educational qualification has an obvious impact on the transition from school to work. In the EU, the average duration of the transition period to the first significant job (defined as a job of at least three months' duration in the survey) was 6.5 months in 2009 for all educational levels. It was 5 months for people with tertiary qualifications but twice that for people with lower qualifications (about 10 months – Figure 2), and nearly 7 months for those with upper secondary qualifications.
Three main groups of countries stand out when considering the duration of the transition period in Figure 2 and Table 1. Germany and Switzerland cannot be considered in this section due to lack of comparable data.
Countries with a performance level above the EU average
Some countries performed consistently better than the EU average of 6.5 months across all educational levels. They are Iceland where the average length of the transition was 3.3 months, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (both 3.5 months), Ireland (4.3 months) and Sweden (4.4 months).
In these countries too, young people with a lower secondary education had the shortest transition period: Sweden (4.3 months compared to 9.8 months for the EU), Ireland (5.4 months), the Netherlands and the UK (both 6.4 months) as well as Iceland (6.7 months).
Some other countries such as the Czech Republic (4.1 months), Estonia (4.2 months), Lithuania (4.3 months), Denmark (4.6 months) and Austria (4.9 months) also had low overall average transition periods. However the transition periods were quite long for lower secondary education in Estonia (8.1 months), Denmark (8.5 months), Lithuania (8.9 months), the Czech Republic (10.6 months) and Austria (12.0 months).
In these northern and central European countries, the average duration of the transition period was also much lower than the EU average (7.3 months) for people with vocational upper secondary qualifications, the shortest periods being in Iceland (1.9 months), the UK (2.8 months), Denmark (3 months) and the Netherlands (3.1 months). In all these countries except the Czech Republic and Iceland, the transition was 1 to 2 months shorter for young adults with vocational upper secondary qualifications compared to those with general upper secondary qualifications.
Countries with a performance level close to the EU average
The average duration of the transition period was quite close to the EU levels in Belgium, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Finland and Norway (from 5.1 months in Luxembourg to 5.8 months in France).
The length of the transition period for young adults with a tertiary education was below the average except for Belgium. Transition periods for those with at most a lower secondary level varied substantially across countries, from 6.7 months in Portugal to 24.3 months in Slovakia.
In some of these countries, vocational upper secondary qualifications did not shorten transition periods compared to general upper secondary qualifications: Malta (9.2 months versus 5.7 months), Finland (7.0 months versus 5.0 months), and France and Portugal to a lesser extent.
Countries with a performance level below the EU average
The transition periods were longer in Greece, Spain, Italy and Turkey at all education levels (from 8.2 months in Spain to 13.1 months in Greece), including young adults with a tertiary qualification (from 7.0 months in Spain to 12.2 months in Greece).
Young people in some eastern and most southern European countries faced longer transition periods than the EU average for secondary education levels in 2009. This feature was particularly pronounced for people with at most a lower secondary education in Bulgaria (21.5 months), as well as in Poland (17.0 months), Cyprus (15.7 months), Slovenia (14.9 months), Italy (13.6 months) and Romania (12.5 months).
In these countries except Poland and Romania, the transition from school to work was shorter for young people with vocational upper secondary qualifications compared to those with general upper secondary qualifications. This was particularly the case in Spain (7.9 months versus 10.2 months), Slovenia (9.4 months versus 12.5 months), Italy (10.3 months versus 11.4 months), Greece (12.9 months versus 15.8 months) and to a lesser extent Cyprus (13.2 months versus 14 months).
One in eight young adults had limited or no work experience at all
Combining information collected in the 2009 LFS ad-hoc module and the core LFS enables experience in the labour market to be categorised over a longer-term period (five years) by four levels (Figures 3 and 4).
These four categories are based on employment status at the date of the interview (employed or not employed) as well as the time spent with or without employment as follows:
- Employed people with good experience in the labour market: people in this group have been employed for more than a year or have a permanent job. They had a relatively smooth transition.
- Employed people with jobs that differed from those in group 1 i.e. some work experience (category 'fairly good') gained through various contracts or jobs. Generally, they had few difficulties in the transition from school to work.
- Not employed people with a moderate level of experience: people in this group do not have a job but some previous work experience and therefore some potential to integrate into the labour market in the short or medium term.
- Not employed people with limited experience: this group concern people who are most at risk of exclusion from the labour market as they have not yet succeeded in their transition from school to work, and have either been outside the labour market too long or do not have enough work experience.
About 73 % of the people aged 15-34 who left education in the 5-year period 2004-2009 were employed at the time of the interview in 2009. This percentage varied from 45 % for people with a lower secondary education to 84 % for tertiary graduates. This pattern is similar to the analysis of the average duration of the transition period from school to work.
About six out of ten employed people were employed for more than a year or had a permanent contract. They are classified within the group 'good experience' on the labour market and probably had a smooth transition from school to work. About 15 % of young people had a different type of employment: they are assigned to the group 'fairly good experience'.
27 % of people aged 15-34 who left education in the 5-year period 2004-2009 were not employed in 2009. About half of these (12.4 % of the whole population, i.e. one in eight young adults) had little potential for entering the labour market i.e. had limited or no work experience. This was slightly more common among females (13 % versus 11.8 % for males).
Employment rate after leaving education over 80 % in nine countries
Employment and non-employment rates presented by country in Figures 5 and 6 as well as in Table 2 enable comparisons to be made with the information provided earlier on the basis of duration of transitions.
Performance above the EU average
This group consists of countries with employment rates above the EU average of 73 % for young people who left formal education in the 5-year period 2004-2009 (see Figure 5).
The highest values were recorded in the Netherlands and Norway where 88 % of young people successfully entered the labour market, followed by Switzerland (87 %), Austria (84 %), Luxembourg (82 %), Cyprus and Denmark (both 81 %), Slovenia and Germany (both 80 %).
In the United Kingdom, Sweden and Iceland, employment rates were around 76 % but transition to the first significant job was fast compared with other countries: it took as little as 4 months or less for young people to find their first significant job in 2009 in Sweden (4.4 months), the UK (3.5 months) and in Iceland (3.3 months).
In the Czech Republic, Denmark and Austria, results were significantly above average except for young people with at most lower secondary education (Table 1).
In Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Finland and Norway, high employment rates contrast with longer transition times from school to work at the beginning of a career.
The proportion of young people with a permanent job or job tenure of 12 months or more was lowest in Portugal and Sweden and highest in Malta and Austria.
Unemployment rates for young people aged 15-24 have increased significantly in some of the countries in this group since 2008.
While Belgium, Portugal, Poland, Sweden and Finland had persistently high youth unemployment in recent years (around 20 % or more – see Table 2), the 2011 rates in the Czech Republic and Cyprus were double those of 2008 (countries with levels below 10 % in 2008).
The rates increased by 5 percentage points or more in Denmark Finland, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK from 2008 to 2010.
Performance below or close to the EU average
This group consists of countries with employment rates below 73 % in 2009. Turkey (50 %), Italy and Spain (both 60 %) had the lowest entry rates to employment among those leaving education in the five years to 2009.
In the three Baltic countries as well as in Ireland, France, Hungary and Slovakia employment rates of young adults following graduation were below the EU average in spite of transitions usually close to the EU average or even lower than average in the case of Estonia and Ireland.
Bulgaria and Romania, as well as some southern European countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey, performed significantly worse than average for both the duration of the transition and the level of experience on the labour market.
Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Romania and Turkey had the highest shares of young people in category 4 'limited experience' (19 % or above, up to 33 % in Turkey), which comprises people without a job and limited or no work experience. Greece, France and Slovakia were below the EU average for this category but had persistent youth unemployment over recent years (around 20 % or more – Table 2).
Unemployment rates have increased significantly in many countries of this group since 2008. Apart from initial signs of improvement in Estonia in 2011, the 2010 and 2011 rates were as high as 26 % or more in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia. This suggests a further deterioration of the transition processes presented above.
Data sources and availability
The European Union labour force survey (EU-LFS) is a quarterly, large sample survey providing results for the population in private households in the EU, EFTA (except Liechtenstein), and the candidate countries. Conscripts on military or community service are not included in the results.
The sampling rates vary between 0.14 % and 1.68 %.
The figures in this publication are not seasonally adjusted. The concepts and definitions used in the survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation. Further information is available from the LFS dedicated section on the Eurostat website.
The 2009 EU-LFS included an ad hoc module consisting of 11 variables on the entry of young people into the labour market as defined by Regulation 0207/2008.
- Employment status
- Active population: the economically active population includes both employed and unemployed persons.
- Employed persons are those aged 15 years and over — except for ES and UK (both 16 and over), DK, EE, HU, LV, FI, and NO (all 15-74 years), and IS (16-74) (see country codes) — who during the reference week performed work, even for just one hour a week, for pay, profit or family gain or who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent due to, e.g. illness, holidays, industrial dispute and education and training.
- Unemployed persons are persons aged 15-74 — in ES, NO, UK and IS 16-74 — who were without work during the reference week, were currently available for work and were either actively seeking work in the past four weeks or had already found a job to start within the next three months.
- Inactive persons are those who are classified as neither employed nor unemployed.
- The employment rate is obtained by dividing the number of persons in employment by the total population. The non-employment rate is obtained by dividing the number of persons either unemployed or inactive by the total population. The unemployment rate represents unemployed persons as a percentage of the active population.
- Educational status
- Formal education is defined as education provided in the system of schools, colleges, universities and similar institutions that normally constitutes a continuous 'ladder' of full-time education. It normally leads to a certification recognised by national education authorities. Three main groups of educational attainment levels are used in this publication. They are based on the ISCED-97 classification: people with at most a lower secondary education (up to ISCED 3c short), those with upper secondary qualifications (from ISCED 3c long to ISCED 4) and those with tertiary qualifications (ISCED levels 5 and 6). The 2009 EU-LFS ad-hoc module provides breakdowns on the orientation of qualifications at upper secondary level (general versus vocational) except in NO.
For more information see ISCED on the Eurostat website.
- Transition from school to work
- The target group of the ad-hoc module comprises people aged 15-34. It takes into consideration people leaving education above the age 30 (e.g. students in long tertiary educational programmes). Focusing on people no longer in formal education avoids the need to consider employment during studies into consideration (especially in quarter 3 which covers summer holidays).
- The duration of the transition period from school to work is calculated as the difference between the date of leaving formal education for the last time and the date of starting the first job of at least 3 months. Results refer to people who had a first significant job.
- Most results in this publication are based on responses from people who have left formal education in the 5-year period 2004-2009 to avoid the problem of an inability to remember the dates of transition events. The 5-year period also appears to be the most appropriate threshold value given the sample size per country.
- Information on the first significant job was not collected in the same way in Germany and Switzerland. EU-27 totals on transition therefore excluded Germany.
The Europe 2020 Strategy sets ambitious objectives for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. 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.
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council meeting of May 2012 concluded that 'the current economic crisis accentuates the importance of the education to work transition. Ensuring that young people leave education and training with the best possible support to obtain their first job is critical. Young people who face unemployment or a slow transition may experience long-term adverse effects in terms of future labour market success, earnings or family formation. This may in turn jeopardise public and private investment in their education and training, which results in a loss for society as a whole. This is particularly true in the context of demographic challenges, which put added pressure on Europe's increasingly scarce young people to integrate quickly and effectively into the labour market'. This meeting allowed an EU benchmark to be set for the year 2020 which focuses on the transition from education and training into the labour market and facilitates policy exchanges under the Education and Training 2020 framework on measures to enhance the employability of graduates.
Further Eurostat information
- Educational attainment, outcomes and returns of education (edat)
- Transition from education to work, early leavers from education and training (edatt)
- LFS ad-hoc module 2009 - Entry of young people into the labour market (edatt3)
- Transition from education to work, early leavers from education and training (edatt)
- Europe 2020 - Headline indicators
- Employment and social policy indicators
- Education and training
- Employment and unemployment (LFS)
Methodology / Metadata
- Educational attainment, outcomes and returns from education
- Further information on the implementation and evaluation of this module is available from the 2009 Ad Hoc Module webpage and Statistics Explained on the LFS ad-hoc modules.
Source data for tables and figures
- European Commission - European employment strategy
- European Commission - Strategic framework for education and training
- European Commission - Youth policies
- Youth on the Move
- ↑ The LFS ad-hoc module asks for the date when leaving formal education for the last time. This avoids the need to consider short periods of interruption of formal education (e.g. short stay abroad or employment in between two formal education programmes). Consequently, the average exit ages in this survey may not correspond with the theoretical length of formal education at a given educational level.
- ↑ In some countries, compulsory military or community service contributes to a longer average transition period. This is particularly the case for Bulgaria (1.2 months), Greece (4.3 months), Cyprus (2.6 months) and Austria (1.5 months). Other countries have either no or few people in compulsory military or community service.
- ↑ By 2020, the share of employed graduates (20-34 year olds) having left education and training no more than three years before the reference year should be at least 82%.