Reconsidering Education: Understanding Why Estonian Youth Drop Out and Delay Entry into the Labor Market

Pavel Smulski, Estonija

Nowadays, young people who are neither in education nor employment require support, especially if they find themselves in this situation involuntarily.

Parents dream that their children will become active members of society, find a profession they enjoy, and succeed in it. However, reality doesn’t always align with these ideals. Youth, opting out of education and delaying entry into the workforce, face a growing problem. In the European Union, the proportion of unemployed young people aged 15 to 29 was 11.7%, and in Estonia – 10.6%, which is still too high. In the Netherlands, with their highly organized education system, this figure is only 4.2%.

The secret to the Netherlands’ success lies in their educational system. Already at the age of 12, students’ abilities are assessed, and based on this information, their strengths are developed in line with the needs of the labor market. Vocational schools also enjoy high prestige. In Estonia, although the quality of education in vocational institutions is high, their prestige is not as high, and parents often do not advise their children to choose this path of education. However, after completing such schools, unemployment for young people is not actually a problem because they possess specific skills demanded in the labor market.

Young people who are neither in education nor employment require support, especially if they find themselves in this position involuntarily. According to recent data, there are about 19,500 such young people in Estonia aged 15 to 29. This is more than the entire population of the city of Viljandi. Social connections that arise in school or at work help a young person integrate into society. Disconnecting from these ties increases the risk of social isolation, which can lead to poverty, deterioration of quality of life, and health problems. Therefore, the sooner we provide support to young people, the better their chances will be to find their place in society and cope with life.

Possible Remedies Available

The latest research from the Department of Education and Youth Affairs identified nine main reasons why NEET youth (young people not in education, employment, or training) leave the labor market. Among them: inadequate knowledge of the state language, lack of work experience, and early parenthood.

Lack of proficiency in the Estonian language and belonging to another culture increases the risk of unemployment by almost 4 times. The solution may be the study of the Estonian language, supported by various organizations. Gaining first work experience can reduce the risk of unemployment by 3.5 times. Early parenthood increases the likelihood of being classified as NEET by 1.8 times, especially if it occurs between the ages of 15 and 23. Local self-government bodies support young parents by providing various courses and services.

To support youth and reduce the risks associated with their unemployment, local self-government bodies have developed a youth guarantee system. Well-being specialists help young people aged 13 to 29 with education and employment issues. Their contact information is available on the Social Insurance Department’s website.

It is important to remember that for young people, the first work experience is crucial, as it can influence their future careers. Support from specialists, family, friends, teachers, and employers plays a key role in this process. Therefore, the first step for a young person may be to contact a well-being specialist in local self-government. Every young person is valuable and an important part of society.