What notable policy initiatives have cities used to tackle youth unemployment during the pandemic?

What notable policy initiatives have cities used to tackle youth unemployment during the pandemic?

Informing the recent IPPO event with Youth Futures Foundation on cities’ youth employment recovery strategies, here is a global scan of some city-level policy actions introduced during COVID-19

Carla Washbourne

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, young people globally were already suffering from gaps in training and employment. The International Labour Organization (ILO) notes that: ‘Even at the best of times, young people (aged 15 to 24) are more likely to be unemployed or in worse quality jobs than adults (aged 25 and above).’ The global youth unemployment rate in 2019 (13.6%) was well above the pre-global financial crisis rate in 2007 (12.3%).

The impacts of the pandemic have been magnified for those at an early and vulnerable stage in their careers. Specifically, the ILO has highlighted ‘disruptions to education, training and work-based learning; increased difficulties for young jobseekers and new labour market entrants; and job and income losses’. Intersectional effects on gender and other dimensions mean that young women have been particularly impacted.

As key economic and social hubs, cities have seen a concentration of these effects. Some cities have taken concerted policy action, with many working to support the retention of jobs and training programmes in an effort to ensure a swift recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

Policy approaches have included: direct wage subsidies; extension of training opportunities such as apprenticeships; increased flexibility of training and education programmes; new programmes of training and skills development; and projects that aim to support personal resilience, including mental and psychological health.

How have cities responded to these challenges?

In this briefing paper ahead of IPPO’s event with the Youth Futures Foundation, we summarise some notable city-level policy actions to support youth employment and training during the pandemic. The case studies are drawn from the work of Eurocities (a network of 200+ European cities) and the National League of Cities COVID-19 Action Tracker.

Note: while national level responses, at least in the initial stages of the pandemic, are relatively well documented, few detailed cases of city-level policies on youth unemployment and COVID-19 recovery exist in the searchable literature (see footnote). While employment- and education-related policy is largely made at the national level, these examples show that relevant interventions can be made at the city level.

Barcelona, Spain

In the early stages of the pandemic, Barcelona developed an Emergency Youth Employment Plan with private sector stakeholders to support both mentoring programmes and personalised support actions – ‘tailor-made training in line with the skills needed by emerging sectors and businesses’.

Barcelona also created the Activa Futur 2020-2021 programme: an emergency measure to respond to the increasing number of people in need of employment support, including young people with lower educational levels. This programme provided ‘emotional support, job orientation, reskilling and job-placement opportunities in a blended online and in-person format’.

Brussels, Belgium

Belgium has a range of youth strategies at the regional level. During the pandemic, the capital Brussels created an employment incentive scheme, Phoenix.brussels, through which employers could apply for monthly wage subsidies of up to €800 (for a maximum of six months) to hire job seekers without tertiary education (all ages), and up to €500 for jobseekers aged 18-30 with tertiary education.

Targeted actions were also undertaken in particular sectors. Actiris (the Brussels employment service) subsidised around 1,200 jobs in the social economy, with the subsidies targeted specifically to get young NEETs [people not in education, employment and training] into employment. Students disrupted by containment measures related to COVID-19 also had the option to extend their apprenticeships for up to three months.

Geneva, Switzerland

In Switzerland, cantons and other sub-national governments lead on youth policy. In May 2020, a new COVID-19 apprenticeship taskforce was set up to coordinate policies at the sub-national level; this was found to have ‘contributed to preventing any decrease in the number of apprenticeship enrolments in 2020, compared with the year before’. Commencing in May 2020, the city of Geneva provided lump-sum payments of CHF 3,000 (€2,810) for companies hiring apprentices, with the option to apply for three months’ reimbursement for each apprentice hired in case of economic difficulties, and a bonus grant of CHF 10,000 for establishing a new network of employers recruiting apprentices.

Houston, United States

The Houston Mayor’s Office of Education and Health Equity Response Task Force worked together to develop a new initiative known as the COVID-19 Community Health Education Fellows (CHEF) programme – which was designed ‘to educate and empower at least 100 youth and young adults to help the city fight COVID-19, especially in the most vulnerable communities’. Recruits had to be aged 18 to 30, and the scheme was targeted towards the city’s most vulnerable residents based on Centre for Disease Control (CDC) data on social vulnerability, health and accessibility.

Milwaukee, US

Early in the pandemic, various Milwaukee city funds were opened up to target youth employment issues in the short-to-medium term. The city dedicated around $4 million to bolster summer youth employment, with the goal of employing 1,500 young workers. Other initiatives included job training for lead abatement certifications, with lead pipes and paint being a large environmental and public health issue in the city. $2.7 million was allocated into clean energy jobs, and $3 million invested to help 18- and 19-year-olds in ‘skilful transition projects’ that identify work experience and translatable job skills.

Solna, Sweden

Established in 2017, the Delegation for the Employment of Young People & Newly Arrived Migrants (PDF) is a programme that aims to improve skills supply as part of the ‘Solna Model’ for labour market integration. During the pandemic, the programme was amplified from November 2020 to December 2021 through ‘new forms of cooperation to reduce unemployment among young people and newly arrived migrants’. The project is the result of an agreement between five Swedish municipalities, includes local businesses, and is administered by qualified Business Development Coordinators in the Solna Municipality Employment & Skills Office.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna has sought to directly help young people who were ‘severely affected by COVID-19 due to its impact on the labour market’ through investment in intra-company vocational training, ‘qualification passports’, and with assistance for catching up missed time in education and training. It also created specific offers to enter the health, care and IT professions that were ‘dedicated to the young generation’. In all, €17 million was committed to support more than 16,000 unemployed young people in the city, which was also part of an effort to support the mental and psychosocial health of children, adolescents and young adults through an emergency hotline, Rat Auf Draht (‘Advice on the Wire’).


Online literature, access date November 2021, English language sources, keywords: youth; young; employment; unemployment; training; skills; policy; COVID; COVID-19

This global policy scan was produced by IPPO Cities, a collaboration between the International Public Policy Observatory and the Bloomberg Cities Network. IPPO Cities focuses on city-level policies for COVID-19 recovery around the world, bringing an urban lens to IPPO’s thematic focus areas. For more information and to contribute to IPPO Cities, contact mike.herd@ucl.ac.uk