Catering to the needs of the market

The partial orientation of education toward the labor market could have a significant impact in reducing long-term unemployment. This was the conclusion of the seminar on «Tackling Unemployment: Linking Education to the Labor Market,» held in Athens on Thursday by the British Embassy in cooperation with the British Council. Hosting the seminar at his residency, the new British Ambassador in Athens, Simon Gass, referred to the so-called «British miracle,» that is, the fall of joblessness in the UK to just 4.7 percent, the lowest since 1975, by almost eliminating structural unemployment. Gass addressed his guests – in perfect Greek – to say that the reasons contributing to «the creation of 2 million new jobs in the last two years» are not associated only with a period of macroeconomic stability in the British economy; the rebound is also due to the combination of the mechanisms to discern and predict in time the real needs of the economy and the effective linking of education with the labor market. Education Minister Marietta Giannakou exalted the progress Britain has achieved compared with other European countries in dealing with unemployment and stressed the significance of flexibility in British law and the UK education system: «In universities and technical colleges, there are options offered to many people through the three-year undergraduate system and the flexibility of postgraduate programs,» she noted. Giannakou suggested that in Greece the European Social Fund’s large amounts of money had little impact on professional education, adding that Third Community Support Framework funds were mostly used to improve infrastructure and less to invest in human resources. «It is not a bad thing to consider the labor market when we provide education,» she said, warning that «if things and mentalities do not change, even with 200 budgets for education, we will have achieved nothing but a hole in the water.» Giannakou reminded the audience that Greece’s constitution does not allow private universities, and stayed firm on her position about not recognizing certificates from Greek «free studies centers» that are franchises of European universities. She added that the domestic economy cannot compete with countries like China for cheap labor. «The sole game that is winnable is the investment in human resources and the power deriving from knowledge,» Giannakou concluded. Labor and Social Security Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos mentioned the great delays by past governments in lifelong education. He added that «some issues have matured enough and must be resolved through dialogue, to allow entrepreneurship to broaden its productive base.» After all, he said, «unemployment is predominantly a demand issue. Without investment there are no new jobs created.» PASOK Deputy Christos Protopapas also agreed regarding readjustments in the labor market, once employers and employees have reached an agreement. He actually stated he awaits with great interest the start of the dialogue from the Labor Minister on a change of legislation on overtime work. Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) Chairman and Executive President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos stressed the need for reforms in the social insurance system and a restructuring of the job market. He explained why the creation of agencies to support and attract investors is required: «There are many obstacles to entrepreneurship in Greece, with new ones being added these days,» he said, referring to the new media law. He also reminded the audience that, according to a SEV survey among its member companies, there will be increased demand for senior and managerial staff over the next two years, and spoke of his positive experience from the entrepreneurship program at schools. The Labor Institute’s scientific adviser Giorgos Romanias referred to the newly coined EU term «flexicurity,» aimed to denote the transition from unlimited flexibility to a combination of flexibility with job security. The Labor Ministry’s Secretary-General Spyros Vliamos expressed his disagreement both with the views for the absolute adaptation of the education system to the job market, and with an underestimation of the structural unemployment rate by General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) representative Costas Dimoulas.