Editorial: 34,000 young Estonians busy doing nothing

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Illustration: Urmas Nemvalts

A glance at the latest statistics seems to say it is all uphill on the labour front. And yet, in National Audit Office yearly report, the arrow this time points to structural labour market problems. Why? Is it justified? 

The slowing growth of the economy is not seen in the labour market statistics. What more? «Among those in working age, the number of the employed for the fourth quarter exceeds the boom times top figures,» wrote Eesti Pank (Estonian Central Bank – edit) economist Orsolya Soosaar commenting fresh economic statistics. But she does admit that slower economic growth coupled with increased employment levels means that the productivity is down. Thus, even in the recent statistics, the structural dangers are staring us in the eye.

Regional imbalance, «wrong» educational choices by the youth, the too slow growth of productivity etc – we are so used to hearing these keywords that we tend to forget what’s the point. For this is actually an issue of Estonia’s future: what will Estonia be like in ten years, in a quarter of a century – a briskly developing and joyful society of hardworking people, or a state caught in various downward spirals. Like Switzerland? Or something altogether sour? For optimism, however, we will only have a basis if the structural problems are dealt with right now, not pushing the complex and (politically) uncomfortable issues into the future.

Are we okay with the claim that Estonia has now indeed reached the peaceful (read: slow) economic growth phase? Probably, such soothing talk will not fuel our national optimism for long. Estonia still being far from the EU average, to say nothing about the richest. Our current strengths should provide credible hope that over here we have the rapid kind of development.

The bottleneck of our development speed is productivity of the labour force, says the audit office. The changes that need to be brought forth are of such magnitude that no enterprise – neither existing nor beginning – can do that alone. It’s an issue of steps by the government. It’s about how make the politicians in various domains joint servants to economic growth. Among other things, in how to motivate entrepreneurs to invest in (re)training of employees.

Too many young people neither study nor work, the audit office points to a structural ill. Last year’s statistics say we had 34,000 young people (14 percent of all aged 15–29) just hanging in that sense. This is fertile ground for all kinds of societal trouble which, on top of that, come with a calculable price. If these young ones won’t find prudent use in the economy, this is part of the downward spiral.

What to do that the youth would not drop out of schools but all would learn a fitting trade with decent income? Perhaps both government and entrepreneurs should seek an example in the very Switzerland where youth unemployment is remarkably low? Until these subjects are being treated as some political periphery stuff, and the full government won’t act as a forceful engine, changes are unlikely. 

On cartoon: piggy named Economy to lions: «Thanks for trying but there's still this productivity issue...»