By Constantinos Psilides
LIKE THEIR relatives in the 1950s, 60s and 70s before them, Cypriot youth are being forced to leave the island in search of work.
In the European Union as a whole, unemployment for the under 25s averages out at 23 per cent. In Cyprus it is nearly double that. Around 44 per cent of under-25-year-olds are looking for work.
But unlike their predecessors who emigrated as far away as Australia and South Africa, young Cypriots are turning for help in the only direction currently available to them, the European Union.
Among a whole raft of measures the EU has announced to help young adults find work was a locally organised two-day job fair in Nicosia called Youth on the Move. Jointly organised by the European Employment Services (EURES) Cyprus and the European Commission Representative Office, the fair focused on job opportunities and living conditions in various EU countries.
The fair, which ended on Saturday, was attended by hundreds of young adults who had travelled from as far away as Paphos.
“I’ve been unemployed for a year. I came here to ask for jobs in Cyprus but mostly for opportunities in other countries,” said Valentina, 27, a mathematician from Paphos.
“When I started studying mathematics there weren’t a lot of us. Now the list for appointments in the public sector as a teacher is really long and we don’t have much chance for employment in the private sector due to the financial crisis,” the young scientist said, adding that if the opportunity arose she would most probably leave the island.
Chryso, 24, a graduate from Derynia is in her second year of unemployment. “I was just told that there job vacancies in my field of studies in Finland and Holland. I have a degree in psychology so as you can guess there are no job opportunities in Cyprus,” she said.
She said she was prepared to move abroad even though it would be hard to leave her family behind.
“Families in Cyprus are closer than families abroad. We have stronger bonds,” she said. “Leaving the country will take some thinking. But what can we do? If I get a job offer I’ll probably leave,” the 24-year-old said.
Andria, 23, was mostly interested in getting a job in Finland. “If I get a job there I’m leaving the next day,” said Andria, who is currently a part-time employee in a job unrelated to her studies.
“I studied business administration and I enquired about jobs related to my field. I wouldn’t mind being employed in another field though. What matters is employment and that things are better in other countries,” the 23-year old said.
While specific job opportunities were available at the fair, a major focus was on the practicalities and hurdles of living in another country.
Top of the list is the need to learn another language.
Chryso, who found job vacancies in her field of psychology in Finland and Holland, accepted this was a problem, but preferred to focus on the fact that job opportunities existed at all.
For 16-year-old Nikoletta, the issue of language appeared to be just a minor obstacle.
“I’m likely going to live abroad. Job opportunities and the job market is far bigger than Cyprus,” said the teenager from Paphos, expressing the preference for countries like Bulgaria. “There, the only requirement needed is knowing the language,” she added blithely.
She was among the many lyceum students were bussed in for the Friday session by the ministry of education which was a co-sponsor of the event.
Nikoletta’s friend Niki said she would jump at the chance of leaving Cyprus.
“I’ll do it in a heartbeat,” the sixteen-year old said. “I think I’ll have more luck there, a better chance to find employment, have better experiences and see new things.”
Twelve countries were represented in the job fair.
“I hope more people come and ask me for a job. We have them there!” said Niek Iversen the Netherlands representative, almost apologising for the fact that most vacancies were in engineering.
“It’s still a job,” he added, expressing his satisfaction that many people had come to his stand and asked about life in the Netherlands.
The man in charge for the event, Antonis Kafouros the EURES manager in Cyprus explained that providing guidance was a major part of the event.
“What we are aiming for here is to give them the necessary information to start looking for something else,” the EURES manager said recognising that moving to another country is hard. “We inform people on living conditions, about transportation and a variety of practical issues that may arise, such as taxation for example. People who decide to move to another country must be determined and most of all, properly informed.”
Other opportunities exist for those interested in starting off in the business world but lacking proper training and innovative ideas via the Erasmus Plus initiative which was passed by the European Parliament on Tuesday. The youth learning programme has set aside 14.5 billion euros over a seven year period to provide training and education opportunities. Each year Erasmus Plus will allow more than 400,000 students to go on internships abroad.
Cyprus representative Nadia Karayianni was at the jobs fair and explained just what the programme will offer.
“Let’s say a beautician is interested in opening up a beauty parlour but wants to be original and learn how to handle day-to-day problems. We can get her a job at a beauty parlour of another European country,” Karayianni explained, adding that the programme pays for transportation and living costs.
“It’s not a job. It’s a chance to learn from people who were at this job for years and know a thing or two” Karayianni said.
The Erasmus Plus programme is just part of a larger plan to fight youth unemployment. The EU has approved an eight billion euro plan for the next seven years to fight youth unemployment in the EU as part of its Youth Employment Initiative. The goal of the project is for any person under 25 to be able to secure a job or an internship position, four months after finishing studies or losing their job. Cyprus has been allocated 10 million euros.
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou told the opening session of the jobs fair that with these funds the government intends to unveil two more initiatives to battle youth unemployment in 2014, though she did not specify what those initiatives would entail.
“Our goal is to utilise all forms of funding the EU has to offer regarding youth unemployement,” said the minister.
But in the meantime, there was a sense that the government, like the unemployed visiting the fair, accepted the reality of looking abroad for work.
“Our goal is to inform people on the chances of securing a job in another European country,” said the minister. “We want to give them whatever they need to succeed in that endeavour, if they choose that path.”
The EURES operates a portal to inform people on job vacancies in the EU, found at www.eurescyprus.eu. More about the Erasmus Plus initiative can be found at www.ec.europa.eu/education