Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017

Slow recovery in European youth labour markets continues but more work necessary

Despite a significant fall in youth unemployment since the height of the economic crisis in 2009, persistent unemployment and a lack of quality job opportunities continue to hamper young people’s quest for decent work.

Press release | 21 November 2017
Alain Bachellier

GENEVA/BRUSSELS (ILO News) – Youth unemployment is expected to continue to decline in Europe into 2018, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017 report.

This is driven by improvements to the labour market in Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as in previously high-unemployment countries such as France, Spain and Italy.

But there has been little change in the youth-to-adult unemployment rate since 2012, and the ratio of young people in employment compared to the wider population is only improving slowly. And whilst the gap in labour market participation between genders has dropped significantly during the last 20 years in Western, Northern and Southern Europe, in Eastern Europe the gender gap has increased.

On a global scale, young people are estimated to account for over 35 per cent of the unemployed population worldwide in 2017. While the estimated figure of 70.9 million unemployed youth in 2017 is an important improvement from the crisis peak of 76.7 million in 2009, the number is expected to rise by a further 200,000 in 2018, reaching a total of 71.1 million.

Overall economic growth continues to be disconnected from employment growth, and economic instability threatens to reverse observed gains in youth employment. The youth-to-adult unemployment ratio has barely changed over the past decade, illustrating the ingrained and extensive disadvantages of young people in the labour market.

The report also highlights the continued vulnerabilities of young women in the labour market. In 2017, the global unemployment rates of young women are significantly higher than those of young men. Whilst in Europe the gender gap in the rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) is generally very small, globally, the female NEET rate is 34.4 per cent, compared to 9.8 per cent for males.

As of 2017, 39 per cent of young workers in the emerging and developing world – 160.8 million youth – are living in moderate or extreme poverty, i.e. on less than $3.10 a day. More than two in every five young people in today’s workforce are unemployed or are working but poor, a striking reality that is impacting society across the world.

“Addressing these persistent labour market and social challenges faced by young women and men is crucial, not only for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth but also for the future of work and societal cohesion ,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

Other findings

The report also finds that sectors with some of the highest rates of growth of youth employment in the last decade have included finance, trade and health. Youth are relatively more fluent in technology than older workers and are increasingly harnessing it to make a living, though there are differences across regions depending on the rate of digital diffusion and access.

Skills demands are also shifting. There has been a decline in middle-level skills while demand for high-skilled and less-skilled workers is growing, contributing to greater polarization in the labour market. The demand for high-skilled youth has grown strongly in high-income countries, whereas in developing and emerging countries there has been a rise in low-skill work. Employment of young semi-skilled workers contracted in most countries, across all development levels. This trend towards job polarization could be accentuated by new technology and could potentially exacerbate existing inequalities.

A growing number of young jobseekers and young entrepreneurs are taking to the internet – i.e. the platform and gig economies – where they find new and diverse forms of employment, such as crowd work, which can offer flexibility and expand income earning opportunities. There are however important risks, including low incomes, no guarantee of any continuity in employment or income, and lack of access to work-related benefits.

Young people often start their working lives in temporary employment with the knowledge that they may never attain ‘job security’. They are more likely to transition to stable and satisfactory employment in developed and emerging economies than in developing countries. Further investments in quality education and skills development are critical since the longer a young person studies, the shorter the transition time into employment, the report shows.

The report calls for policies that take into account the fast changing contours of the world of work driven by technology and that enable young women and men to be ahead of the curve. “Investing in lifelong learning mechanisms, digital skills, and sectoral strategies that expand decent jobs and address the vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged should be prioritized in national policies,” said Azita Berar Awad, Director of the ILO’s Employment Policy Department. 

The report calls for strategic multi-stakeholder partnerships in the framework of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, the overarching platform under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to scale up action and impact on youth employment.