Questions and answers

The future of work for youth in Latin America

ILO News talked to José Manuel Salazar, ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, about opportunities and challenges waiting for young people in the world of work in the region.

Comment | 15 November 2016
© Jim

How do you see the future of work?

When we talk about the future of work, a determining factor is demography and this tells us that the young population (15 to 29 years) in Latin America and the Caribbean has declined since the late 1990s. This reduction has become more pronounced since 2010.

At present, young people account for 29 per cent of the total population and that is why we are talking about a "demographic bonus", but this proportion will drop to 22 per cent in 2050.

A second determinant of the future of work is technology. A new wave of exponential technological change is impacting on many fronts: information and telecommunications, automation of work knowledge, internet of things, etc. This is what the World Economic Forum has called the ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’.

They are in fact several revolutions that are having great impacts in the world of work and in all sectors. And they will certainly have a very important impact on employment opportunities for young people.

When one talks about the world of work, one must remember that we are also talking about the world of production, and in this area in Latin America we have several serious problems: a high productivity gap, lack of productive diversification, a great predominance of micro and small enterprises and low tech production. Unless one focuses on these issues, it will be difficult to have a more inclusive and diversified productive development, and consequently not only more jobs, but jobs of a higher quality.

What are the impacts of the fourth industrial revolution?

The fourth industrial revolution is producing an accelerated transformation of occupations and skill requirements: the demand for new skills increases, and the obsolescence of existing skills accelerates. In addition, many routine activities will be subject to robotization or replacement by intelligent machines.

The technological world that emerges requires new qualifications, which could be called new literacies where the skills of the 21st century are in the process of radical redefinition.

Although there are great opportunities that can be exploited with the right answers, it is a fact that disruption, the accelerated transformation of occupations, and the risk of greater inequality are also three major challenges when we talk about the impact of new technologies on the world of work.

What is the current situation of young people in Latin America?

There are approximately 108 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Latin America and the Caribbean, which represents 18 per cent of the total population.

Of these, 37 million only study, 35 million only work, and 13 million work and study. But a very high proportion of those who work or work and study do so in informal activities, about 56 per cent.

Twenty-one million young people are NiNis: neither study nor work. Of this total, 24 per cent sought employment and the rest, 76 per cent did not seek it. Of the total number of NiNis not seeking employment, 11 million were engaged in domestic chores - the vast majority (91 per cent) of them being young women. This is possibly related to cultural patterns that hinder the integration of these young women into the labour market.

This leaves 5.3 million young people who do not work, study, or do household chores; they represent the ‘hard core’ of excluded youth. In summary, more than one in four of all young people in the region are unemployed or are NiNis, and one in two who work do informal work.

What measures can be implemented to promote youth employment?

Quality education and vocational training to improve employability and facilitate the transition from education to work; active labour market policies, including employment services and programs, special contracts for youth and others; the promotion of respect for labour rights and the non-discriminatory treatment of young people; and policies that stimulate and develop the demand for employment by companies, ranging from development policies and productive diversification to support to SMEs.

What is the role of public-private partnerships and partnerships in youth employment training?

In all types of programs to promote youth employment, businesses and public-private partnerships have a vital role to play. It is a fertile ground for corporate social responsibility, but it is an issue that goes far beyond social responsibility. It is something that can and should be central to the competitive development of companies. For them, the challenge is how to incorporate new technologies into their business models to remain sustainable and competitive in a world of rapid innovation.

Can you give an example of how the International Labour Organization is promoting youth employment in Latin America?

Youth employment is one of the most important issues the ILO addresses in the region. This means there is permanent contact with member countries, as well as the constituents of our organization and youth organizations. We address issues such as developing policies and strategies to improve the employability of young people and increasing knowledge about the challenges of youth employment.

One area of particular action could be the support we offer from the Regional Office to the creation of local networks of GAN in Latin America. The GAN is the Global Distance Learning Network (Global Apprenticeship Network), an initiative, which was created by the ILO, and is now led by the International Organization of Employers (IOE). Several multinational companies are at the helm: Adecco, which currently holds the Presidency, Randstad, Samsung, Telefonica, Huawei, Erickson, Jindal Steel & Power, and others. There is much to do to establish good and large-scale learning systems in the region.

What are the characteristics of the production model in Latin America and how it can affect the future of work?

In terms of production, Latin America is characterized by a lack of productive diversification with a high degree of reliance on the export of a few primary products and raw materials, in addition to the predominance of micro and small enterprises, where informal employment is concentrated.

Thus, an important factor for the future of work is governmental policies fostering productive development which have been buried in the belief that the state should not intervene in certain ways in the economy.

But this ideological discussion is an obstacle to accelerating development. What is important, is to develop a pragmatic joint public-private and tripartite vision of the future concerning production and productive development, which is nothing more or less than a vision about the future of work and employment for young people.