Educational difficulties and youth problems entering the labour market are a challenge. European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) addresses this issue from the very beginning.

Policy Area (PA) Education is one of the 14 policy areas mentioned in the Action Plan of the EUSBSR. Action 1 of this PA is Preventing early school leaving and improving the transition from school to work. This action focuses on:

  • preventing early school leaving;
  • re-integrating young people in NEET situations (Not in Employment, Education or Training) into the education or labour market;
  • vocational education and training as an important vehicle to achieve the above.

I asked three education experts: Gunnar Anderzon, Anders Bergström and Lovisa Fransson about their opinion on the current situation in the Baltic Sea Region and the challenges related to the issue covered by the Action 1 of PA Education. They also explained what is “School to Work” flagship dealing with the education and labour market for young people in the Baltic Sea Region.

How “School to Work flagship” operates?

Priority areas of both the Baltic Sea Strategy and the overall EU 2020 strategy include preventing the early school-leaving and responding to challenges to the integration of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) into the labour market. There is also a particular ambition to reduce the proportion of early school leaving from the current level of 10 per cent to 5 per cent by 2025.  Against this background, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) launched the “School to Work” (S2W) initiative in 2012. In order to start up the initiative, SALAR received financing from the Swedish Institute and seed money from the Council of the Baltic Sea States. In 2014, S2W was the first flagship, understood as a policy-action process in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region The S2W platform has been financed by the European Social Fund and its participating parties since 2016.

The launching of S2W was in part a result of increased interest from both SALAR and from its collaboration partners in learning about and disseminating well-functioning methods and ways of working in other countries. For example, Finland was considered to be at the forefront in the prevention of early school leaving and Germany in the development of well-functioning forms of collaboration. It was also in part because funds had been set aside in the program period for the Social Fund to be used for the development of trans-national cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region and of already-established networks of organizations in these countries.

“School to Work” flagship does repeatedly mapping and reports on the state of early school leaving in the Baltic Sea Region. The flagship is a response to the 2019 European Semester Country Reports recommending: that investment needs have been identified in various BSR countries to promote measures to prevent early school leaving and improve transitions from school to work for youth in general and youth with migrant backgrounds as well as at-risk groups. Integrated support and services to unemployed and inactive, including young people as well as targeted outreach and individualized support, can help to improve access to employment.

Young people Not in Employment, Education or Training are a vulnerable group in our societies, which is a challenge. A diverse group, difficult to find, difficult to motivate to take the first step to ask for help, and when they are in contact with welfare services the needed measures are complex. Therefore so-called “Youth Guidance Centres”, providing multiple welfare services gathered under one roof have proved to be a successful model when organizing an effective answer to this societal and individual challenge. This low-threshold service provision has become increasingly common, particularly in the Baltic Sea Region with for example “Ohjaamo” in Finland, “Navigatorcentrum” in Sweden, “Ungevejen” in Denmark and “Jugendberufsagentur” in Germany.

Commonly, the centres gather multiple municipal and national public services responsible for educational guidance, labour market integration, social services, and health. The idea is to make it easier for the user to access available services while facilitating coordination and cooperation among authorities both on a case-by-case basis and on a strategic level. As new, cross-sectorial structures they face the complexity related to the needed collaboration between different authorities but also the need to provide individual guidance for users to the services offered by the centres. The key function in these centres is the coordinator charged with the responsibility to manage the centre including staff representing different organizational and professional cultures, often with varying mandates and missions. This is a demanding role that needs to be strengthened, as integrated services become a necessary response to complex and increasingly fragmented welfare systems.

Main results of “School to work” flagship

In the framework of S2W flagship with its NEET platform, it has been decided to define this new profession of a coordinator and develop and test it in the Baltic Sea Region. This is done within the Erasmus+ strategic partnership project. The partnership represents both practitioners and education providers from Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, and Sweden. The coordinators from all 8 Member States participate in the pilot action. This is an example of how a flagship delivers impact on a local level. Introducing, adjusting, and improving a well-functioning concept.

S2W’s primary target group are organizations which work in various ways with one of the following identified target groups: young people who risk leaving school or have already left school, young people who are not at work or study. This is connected to the pathways for success through improved systems of education and training (age group 15–29 years).

The activities currently being carried out can be divided into two main categories:

  • development and support for members. This includes, for example, study visits in order to identify work that is believed to have successfully inspired adaptation in other cities and countries. This category also involves international reconnaissance concerning, for example, possible collaborative organizations in other countries, information on potential financing, and support with applications for EU funding.
  • advocacy, for the purpose of preventing early school leaving and establishing young people who are not in work or study, as well as new arrivals to the country. Examples of activities in this category are workshops, lectures, conferences and flagship meetings within the framework of the Baltic Sea Strategy. Since 2017, there has also been a shared website for all knowledge platforms. The purpose of the website is to gather and disseminate knowledge about the work of S2W to member organizations and operators working with any of the identified target groups in the Baltic Sea Region.

The most common benefit for the members of the S2W Flagship is that they have access to networks and to the knowledge of well-functioning methods and ways of working with the target groups.

“We use S2W as a tool for inspiration for how to work. And to pick up ideas and good solutions from other organizations in other countries. We also found a good partner organization that we work with. They are very well organized, so we have much to learn” Member of the flagship.

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on S2W activities

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a number of implications in regard to activities in “School to Work”. Travel restrictions and lockdowns significantly affected both early planned and intended activities, such as study visits, seminars, lectures and various gatherings with members and other stakeholders. Consequently, many core functions and operations of the School to Work platform, i.e. to facilitate dialogue, networking, sharing of experiences and best practices, were put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the flagship adjusted and adopted a digital approach, which made it possible to resume many of the activities.

Digital-based activities have been easily accessible. The flagship has certainly reached out to more stakeholders at individual events than before. It has been a clear advantage in that sense. At the same time, it has been a challenge to get members and other stakeholders involved in the long term as before the pandemic. A combination of digital and physical meetings and activities is needed post-Covid 19, as they both hold benefits for the S2W flagship and complement each other well.

The main challenges in front of S2W, related also to the pandemic’s effects and the war in Ukraine causing the next migration crisis

To put it in a broader perspective on average across OECD countries, 14% of young adults aged 18-24 years old were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) in 2019.  Like the 2008 financial crisis, which left young people bearing a significant share of the economic and social consequences, COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated this situation. Disruptions in schools and training programmes have made it more difficult to keep more vulnerable young people engaged, especially as face-to-face supportive services have been severely curtailed. The overall economic downturn means that many young people are entering the labour market with limited prospects for finding a job, or even internship in the short-term. This could result in longer-term scarring effects over the course of their working lives.

However, the crisis has also increased innovation in young people’s access to education and training and pushed the youth issue back to the top of the political agenda. To build on this momentum, the OECD Local Development Forum proposes to organise a webinar with SALAR on “What works in local approaches to smoothing the school-to-work transition”. This webinar could build on the networks SALAR already has through its ongoing projects (e.g. Plug In, Flagship School to Work) by bringing together a wider range of local practitioners from across the OECD, including countries outside of Europe (e.g. Canada, United States).

It is too early to assess the situation regarding the Ukraine crisis however it will definitely have a deep impact on the education systems in all of the EU Member States. It is planned by S2W to conduct an investigation/mapping of the early school leaving and NEET situation in the BSR to be able to measure the situation in total.

By Rafal Rolka – “Let’s communicate!” Project


Anders Bergström Gunnar Anderzon Lovisa Fransson
The Norden Association, Sweden

EUSBSR Policy Area Education Coordinator

Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, Sweden

„School to Work“ Flagship Coordinator

Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions,  Sweden