Part 2: The way forward
There is an alternative more pragmatic way forward that recognizes the limits of government programmes to create jobs, and instead tries to capture the political momentum in the employment debate to address the strategic long-term challenges that governments interventions do have the power to influence.
The first of these is social exclusion. This is a very real concern, with 5000 people under 30 permanently leaving the labour force every year, and with 10% of high school students having such poor educational record to be considered “at risk”. Social exclusion is related to employment. But the inability of groups ”at risk” to get a job is more a consequence of broader social and educational failures, than the result of unemployment. In simplified terms: it is not the inability to get a job that is the problem, it is the sense of exclusion that makes you stop looking for one. If this is recognised, new policy instruments, new actors and a new tools can be brough in to address the challenge. Furthermore, the business of social integration - alternative education, afterschool activities, etc - is in itself an emerging sector with large employment potential which must be encouraged.
The second question is the sustainability-imperative. We are facing a structural transformation of our economy of a dimension hitherto unseen in peacetime. But so far politics has failed to build anything even resembling adequate political support for the interventions required. And unless it can be shown that sustainability policies could be the way to provide the employment of the future, the support for change is certain to stay elusive.
Since employment is so central to people’s lives, that debate will always have the political centre stage. This puts a particular responsibility on politicians and interest groups to help frame the debate so that it also addresses long-term strategic issues. Politicians need to tell new stories that help voters see unfamiliar challenges in familiar terms. So far this is not happening, unfortunately.