Youth unemployment in Serbia: solvable?

The Unemployed Workaholic By Laughing

Author: Greet Jans
This article is product of the project My Europe.
Reporting on European youth from the different parts of the continent. Young journalists from different countries and different media organizations are working all together to show how dynamic and innovative is the youth of Europe.
European media makers from Mladi Info (, Euradio Nantes (, Journal Europa ( and European Youth Press ( are reporting here on the topics of Gender equality, Youth unemployment, Volunteering and Intergenerational solidarity.
Let’s deal with the topics which were, are or will be in the European agenda. But… in a different way, showing our own vision on what the young people of Europe create and invent to answer those big issues. In a personal approach, our young reporters are analysing how is the youth involved in civil society, to create another way of building the continent.
Project is supported by the fund of Nantes Creative Generations
This is our Europe, this is My Europe.

Due to the global economical crisis the youth unemployment rate in Europe over the last years peeks historically high. Special care is taken of the youth unemployment rate, which is generally higher. In 2010, with the rate for the EU at 20.9 %, more than one on five young Europeans was not employed, but looking and available for a job.

Investing in youth is investing in the future and Europe has understood that since long. Inside the European Union a lot of efforts are made to increase the youth employment and the topic is listed as one of the priorities of the past year. But how is the situation in the neighboring and candidate countries? Are they at a similar level as the EU? We’ll try to briefly describe the current situation in one of the former Yugoslavian republics and current candidate for EU-membership, namely the Republic of Serbia.

The problem of unemployment

According to data of Youth, Employment and Migration (YEM), a United nations joint programme that has as goal increasing youth employment in Serbia whilst reducing the negative impact of return and irregular migration, the youth unemployment rate in April 2010 was as high as 46.4 %. This rate is incredibly high and exceeds more than double the EU-rate. Only a small 15 % of the population aged between 15 and 24 was listed as employed (in comparison with 47.2 % for the whole working age population).  (Source: Eurostat 2010)

“Unity, clear vision, and strong determination are needed to tackle youth unemployment in Serbia” was the opening statement of Miljenko Dereta, the Director of Civic Initiatives in November 2010 at the roundtable under the theme “From education towards the labour market”.  This event was just a small part of the awareness campaign about youth (un)employment, considered one of the vital challenges to the Serbian economy and society.

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Strategy for the future

The UN Joint Programme “Promotion of Youth Employment and Management of Migration” has build out a strategy to increase the activity of the youth by 2020. Based on statistics, growth models and expected economical revival after the crisis, they have come up with two key goals: reducing the unemployment rate of the youth (15-24 years) from 46 % in 2010 to 24 % in 2020, and increasing the employment rate of the young adults (25-29 years) from 48 % in 2010 to 68 % in 2020. (Sources: Serbia: Youth Employment Targets until 2020)
Behind these progressive goals lies a complex strategy to reach them. The programme believes that the start needs to be: to mainstream youth employment and migration policy objectives into national development strategies, to strengthen the capacity of national institutions to develop integrated labour market and social services, and to implement a package of programmes on employment.
These three objectives are being implemented by Youth Employment Fund (YEF) in the districts of South Backa, Belgrade and Pcinjski, where the rate of youth unemployment and poverty with its 20-30% above average is stunningly high which provoked an emigration of nearly 100,000 young people over the past 5 years. (Source: First Annual Report for the Youth Employment Fund)

Concrete actions

YEF implemented the Active Labour Market programmes (ALMs), which aim to facilitate the transition from education to employment. YEF supports them through a couple of initiatives such as work placements, trainings and self-employment grants. Where needed additional grants for child care, mobility and accessibility of the workplace are distributed.
The Active in the acronym opposes to the so-called passive measures such as unemployment insurance or financial transfers to the unemployed. Last year, the first annual report of the fund was published to provide an overview of the outcomes so far. They report the growing employment of the youth in companies in southern Serbia, where they were given the chance to build skills and to expand their professional experience. They call the creation of alike new opportunities beneficiary for the participants, their families as well as their local communities.

Awareness is the first step

When discussing the problem of growing youth inactivity one of the terms most used is awareness. Young people need to be made aware of their possibilities, their opportunities, their rights and their duties as part of the local and global community. Most youngsters are willing to undertake action but because of disadvantaged social and economical situations they don`t know where to start. In those cases both formal and non-formal education can offer a solution. While YEF is providing more formal trainings in enterprises and companies, NGO’s as People’s Parliament, one of the oldest in South Serbia, organizes projects and non-formal trainings with similar goals.

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Active participation of young unemployed

One of these projects was a training course called Active participation of young unemployed people. This project targeted young long-term unemployed living from social welfare or in some form of poverty. The main goal was to make these young people with fewer opportunities aware of the possibilities they have and to share their experiences with youngsters from the region who find themselves in similar situations. During an eight day training in Nis, Serbia, 28 people from Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia, normally without any opportunity to participate in this kind of non-formal event, were given the chance to listen, speak and learn.

The project mainly wanted to convert the passiveness of the youngsters into active participation and accordingly provided them with motivation and tools for that. These youngsters, paralyzed by economical and social obstacles, were taught to become more active citizens and job-seekers. Their awareness about the responsibility of every single one of us in tackling poverty and marginalization was raised by creating cooperation between people from different migrant, ethnic and religious backgrounds. They were shown that active participation in society can solve the youth unemployment issue and benefit their own by starting with overcoming their personal economic disabilities.


As can be seen a lot is undertaken to help Serbia to approach the EU-level in the area of employment and youth activeness. Nebojsa Djeric, active in several Serbian NGOs and trainer specialized in inclusion, is a good example of employment through youth activism. “Youth unemployment really is a big problem in Serbia and it‘s not easy to find a short-time solution. Young people live their lives without goals and motivation, they live only for today… A long time ago Nebojsa decided to devote his life to youth work and activism. He believes that the solution for beating youth unemployment can be found in youth activism and initiatives. “Young people should use the opportunities offered through non-formal education more. There exists a wide spectrum of youth programs, but unfortunately youngsters aren’t informed about them.”
He confirms that the government plays a crucial role in fighting youth unemployment, and states that they should strive towards inclusion into society for every single person. On the other hand, he feels that it’s not enough to just wait for something to be changed and blame the government for all the problems youth is facing with. The non-governmental sector offers many possibilities for self employment through different local, national, regional and international youth programs and projects as well.
In his opinion, the first step towards a possible solution must be taken by the youth: “by increasing their awareness and willingness to do something, to change something… to make a progress in their lives. If young people represent the future of Serbia than they should act as responsible citizens, future leaders, start to invest in themselves and take up responsibility for their lives and their actions.”

5 thoughts on “Youth unemployment in Serbia: solvable?

  1. Great article! I agree that activism is the solution. While you are waiting for your (first) chance to work you should not sleep until 12h, watch tv and facebook until 20h and than go out! It is really difficult to be motivated and active in this surroundings (Balkan, Serbia), but that's the only way. Usually the situation in Serbia is that active young people go abroad, because this environment do not give them opportunities to develop themselves. Than we have this 'scary' articles in newspapers like for example this one:

  2. “Young people should use the opportunities offered through non-formal education more. ” – very nice but almost nobody in formal sector cares a lot for this…. Either someone at Bureau for employment ask you for non formal education. So this is not recognized still as something useful and legitimate and although there is some law about volunteering people dont have volunteer booklet (such as Youth pass) so if you volunteer is not exactly sinonyme with work, in many cases.

    "On the other hand, he feels that it’s not enough to just wait for something to be changed and blame the government for all the problems youth is facing with." – but first we would have to feel that government REALLY did everything in their power to resolve problems and that is still far away from truth, unfortunately.

    I agree that people should be proactive, but how can you think about self employment if you just graduated and have no experience in job and no possibilities to gain it even through voluntary internship? And to acquire credit supported by state, if you do decide to self employ your self, you need again 3 years of experience as conditon to apply for it (just officially recorded years in your work book counts). So its a bit circular….

    Not to mention education that is in many cases non parallel to the needs of market, so your profession is not needed, or employer expects something different behind same job title.

    Its tough 🙂

  3. the funny thing is that in the post-communist countries everything is so deformed that even voluntary work for free is sometimes corrupted and you have to pay even for working for free

  4. This is a very good article with some good initiatives described. But it does not mention the biggest impediments to youth employment: businesses in Serbia are not in a position to increase employment because they suffer from a lack of liquidity in the economy, are choked by regulatory red tape, cannot get adequate finance, and deal with high employment taxes and contributions and a rigid labor law. With regard to the labor law, we have briefly pointed out the problems in two articles: Sustainable Employment Requires Improved Workforce Productivity and Dealing with the Tragedy of Unemployment.

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