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The future of youth work in the context of the Bonn process: the digital challenge

This is a guest-post from GEYC - Group of the European Youth for Change. GEYC is a Romanian youth organization founded in 2010 active at the European level. GEYC is the initiator and coordinating organization of PRISMA European Network, a European wide coalition aimed to raise the quality of youth projects through digital youth work.

In February 2020, the first cases of Covid-19 appeared on the European continent. More than twelve months have passed and situation in Europe still seems to be far from reaching its end. The economic crisis caused by pandemic and government restrictions is quite difficult to resolve. Young people, both students and workers, are among those who particularly suffer from the economic crisis, who have seen their uncertainties and fears about future amplified. Among new generations, there seems to be a good amount of awareness of the difficulties but also an understanding that creativity and the ability to reinvent themselves with innovative tools will be needed to respond to the challenges of the future. Young workers are the ones who will have to seize the opportunities for innovation to bring a political, social and economic change.

In this context, the Bonn Process represents the common effort to put the European Youth Work Agenda (EYWA) into action and make it become real. The European Youth Work Agenda is the strategic framework for strengthening and further developing youth work. The agenda was set by the European Union and the Council of Europe with the goal of promoting common work among all member states and developing community practice for all actors, stakeholders and communities.

As stated in the resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States on December 1st 2020:

“The process of implementing the Agenda, called the ‘Bonn Process’, should be shaped by the youth work community of practice, within their respective spheres of competence and their various mandates, roles and capacities. It consists of developing and proposing implementation strategies, measures and priorities at all levels to be carried out through activities from local to European level, across the entire spectrum of youth work settings and within the relevant spheres of competence.” [1]

It is important to understand which areas are essential to invest in to solve the problems of the present in order to build a brighter future for youth workers. One of the most important areas is the digital sector.

Youth workers are not necessarily digital workers

According to the European Commission, digital literacy and 21st century skills play a crucial role as part of modern-day citizenship and modern life in general. Youth work should be able to encourage this. Therefore, youth workers need an agile mind-set, willing to try new things, learn from both success and failure, and be supported to do so. [2] Youth workers are sometimes in a lot of pressure to adapt to the changing nature of the digital media and to keep updating their skills, in order to relate to their target group, so increasing their digital skills has been the focus of several projects that GEYC has been involved in, one of which being Youth Workers 2.0.

Today, there is still a belief that the generations that have grown up with the Internet are 'digital natives', perfectly capable of understanding and handling all digital tools. However, data show that this is not true. As reported in the November 2020 "Social Inclusion, Digitalisation and Young People Research study" by the European Commission and the Council of Europe, in terms of access to the Internet, only 1% of young people have never accessed the Internet, while 95% use it daily and 89% prefer to use mobile devices as access points. However, when it comes to the use of technology and the Internet there is a clear preference given to communication and entertainment activities, including participation in social networks, while engagement in more advanced tasks is rather limited. Only 13% of young people have engaged in programming activities, 11% have taken part in online consultations or voting to define political or civic issues and just 10% have done an online course, on any subject. [3]

Using smartphones and computers on a daily basis does not imply having the necessary skills to work in the digital environment or to understand the mechanisms behind technological evolution. This is a fundamental problem, considering that constant digitisation has a huge impact on the way we live, learn and work. One of the latest research papers from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focuses on the impact of digitalization: 14% of workers are at high risk of having their jobs automated in ten years. 32% will face a net change in the skills required to do their jobs efficiently and productively. [4] Workers, regardless of age, will have to adapt to succeed in the new digital workplace. In recent years the policy debate has focused mainly on the existence of low-skill adult workers and not enough on the young people who need to develop new skills. This is also one of the expectations of the GEYC Community members: to increase their digital skills in order to get them ready for the labour market of the near future (GEYC Consultation 2021).

The digital economy and society index (DESI) shows which EU member states have worked hardest to bridge the digital divide and have invested in the education system to promote digital skills in young people. Positive cases can be found in Northern Europe and in the Baltic countries. Significant investments have also started to be made in the historically less developed countries of Central and Eastern Europe. [5] However, this is not enough: in many countries, even the most developed ones like Italy and France, the efforts are still not sufficient. The education system has not yet been transformed to give young people the knowledge, skills and attitudes to emerge in the new world and to be independent. The gap between education and work is still wide and is reflected in the number of students who do not complete high school, because there is the belief that it is not the suitable place to learn the right job skills. Learning to use new technologies does not only mean expanding technical knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but also learning to solve complex problems, think creatively, drive innovation and entrepreneurship. It is crucial to increase the integration of young people into the labour market and enable them to develop their skills. The present and future digital jobs will be in high-intensity and high-productivity sectors. We cannot afford to miss this challenge.

At the same time, digital work brings new business models and a shift in the market towards jobs with different characteristics. Part-time jobs and temporary contracts are usually poorly protected and do not allow young workers to have the economic security to plan a long-term future. It is essential to promote a community movement that pushes national governments and European institutions to re-programme social benefits and employment rights for the new sectors of the digital economy. Doing so will help tackle all those problems of social exclusion that characterize even the most advanced societies. Youth workers’ rights need to be protected and brought into a fairer and healthier world of work to ensure a better future. This will also create the right environment to encourage young people to be active members in their communities.

Conclusions

All of this is part of the challenges of the Bonn Process. Students, self-employed young people, youth organisations, politicians, companies and the community itself must work to permanently include youth work in youth policy. We must expand educational opportunities and training courses to as many people as possible to promote common practices and cooperation. We must implement policies that involve constantly learning the right skills to ensure a higher quality of work and life. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital tools and skills to keep the economy alive. The need to have young people able to manage and use new technologies to increase innovation and productivity, to have a school system with teachers ready to change to respond to the new global challenges. It is therefore essential to promote and bring into schools, youth communities and state bureaucracies offices, courses, conferences and workshops to broaden awareness of the new problems and find solutions. The post-pandemic world will not be the same as the one we knew. Changes are inevitable and necessary. Only together can we forge alliances and continue the journey by communicating, cooperating and facing the challenges of youth work.

“The post-pandemic recovery is more about ‘us’ than about ‘I’. COVID19 showed us that we need to slow down, reconsider our priorities and focus more on youth work and solidarity.” (Gabriel Brezoiu, General Manager at GEYC and one of the facilitators of the EYWC 2020)

[1] Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council on the Framework for establishing a European Youth Work Agenda (2020/C 415/01)

[2] Youth Workers 2.0 - A guide to digital education for youth workers.

[3] SOCIAL INCLUSION, DIGITALISATION AND YOUNG PEOPLE Research study Council of Europe and European Commission

[4] OECD (2019), “Preparing for the changing nature of work in the digital era”, OECD Going Digital Policy Note, OECD, Paris,

[5] Countries’ performance in digitalisation


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