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Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013

Informal, poorly paid and unemployed: The reality of work for most youth in developing countries

School-to-work transition surveys of developing countries show that youth are far more likely to land low quality jobs in the informal economy than jobs paying decent wages and offering benefits. Access to education and training remains a major stumbling block.

News | 08 May 2013

GENEVA (ILO News) – Two thirds of working age youth in some developing countries are either unemployed or trapped in low-quality jobs, according to the ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 report.

In six of the ten countries surveyed, over 60 per cent of young people are either unemployed, working but in low quality, irregular, low wage jobs, often in the informal economy, or neither in the labour force nor in education or training. In Liberia, Malawi and Togo, the figure exceeds 70 per cent.

“The waste of economic potential in developing economies is staggering. For an overwhelming number of young people this means a job does not necessarily equal a livelihood,” says Sara Elder, co-author of the report and research specialist for the ILO Youth Employment Programme.

The school-to-work transition surveys go beyond regular labour force surveys to look at issues such as non-standard employment and labour underutilization, job quality, job satisfaction and transitions of young people to and within the labour market.

“The survey’s analytical framework has been built around disaggregated and nuanced indicators that highlight the specific labour market challenges of young people in developing economies,” said José M. Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO Assistant Director General for Policy.

The surveys also show that when unemployment counts those who are not actively looking for work, the unemployment rate is much higher than published figures suggest. For example, in Liberia, Malawi, Togo and Peru, the unemployment rate is more than double what published figures show.

Making the move from school to work in Malawi and Zambia
In some developing economies, unemployment can impact up to one-quarter of the youth population; yet, these young people have no access to social protection.

At the same time, those who are employed tend to work in the informal sector and receive low wages. In Cambodia, Liberia, Malawi and Peru, over 80 per cent of youth employment is in the informal economy and two thirds of working youth are poorly paid.


The labour market conundrum

“The fewer young people in decent and productive work, the less economic growth there is; the less employment growth there is, the fewer the opportunities to get youth into productive work,” Elder says.

“Such is the conundrum of labour markets in developing economies. Universal quality education and training, as well as infrastructure development and responsible governance are needed to break the cycle,” she added.

According to the report, “in developing economies, educational levels have increased but are still quite low, with only small proportions attaining a secondary education qualification.”

In Cambodia, for example, 62 per cent of young people complete primary level education, another 34 per cent go on to complete secondary education and only 4 per cent achieve a university degree.

"The report is a call-to-action to equip young people with skills that meet the needs of employers," said Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, which partnered with the ILO in the development of the new Surveys.

"The private sector, educators, and governments will need to collaborate to help young people secure stable employment," added Roy.


Low job quality but high job satisfaction

In developing countries, job satisfaction is surprisingly high, despite low job quality – an indication of the sheer absence of decent work opportunities that forces young people to accept any type of employment.

“Apparently, it takes a lot to make a young person in developing economies express dissatisfaction with a job. In fact, the seeming contradiction of a young person working in a job that brings little in terms of monetary reward, stability and security claiming job satisfaction, is likely to be a reflection of the optimism of youth and the ability to adapt to realities where so few ‘good’ jobs exist,” the report says.

The Work4Youth project
The surveys on school-to-work transition are a core product of the ILO’s Work4Youth (W4Y) project, which is a partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. The project aims to provide more and better labour market information to support the development of policies and programmes specific to youth.

Tags: youth employment, private sector

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

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