Global Youth Employment Forum

The disturbing reality of youth employment

In a speech at the opening of the ILO Global Youth Employment Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said much more needs to be done to improve the employment prospects of young people.

Statement | Abuja, Nigeria | 01 August 2019
Mr Boss Mustapha, Permanent Secretary to the Government of the Federation, here in representation of His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
Mr William Alo Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment,
President of the Nigerian Labour Congress and all workers’ representatives present,
Director-General of the Nigerian Employer Consultative Association and all the employers here represented,
Former Minister Professor Chris Ngige,
Mr Edward Kallon, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Nigeria,
And all colleagues from the UN family here,
Youth representatives from the different continents of the world,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me in my turn add my words of welcome to this Global Youth Employment Forum.

And I want to begin, through you Mr Secretary, in thanking the government of Nigeria for hosting us here this week, for the excellent collaboration that we have received in the preparation to this Forum. And for the world class hospitality that we are enjoying here in your country.

Ladies and gentlemen there are many good reasons why we are holding this event in Africa, why we are holding it in Nigeria, why we have all come to Abuja.

In my own experience as Director-General of the International Labour Organization, if I ask a Minister of Labour of any country what his or what her top priority is, nine times out of ten the answer is generating work for our young people.

And for young people the priority is almost inevitably that of attaining a quality education and then the chance at a decent job. And I believe that there is no more important task than this before us all, in any part of the world, including Nigeria. This is the very task that we have set before this Global Youth Employment Forum, which meets on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the independence of this great country.

I am reminding Mr Secretary that the President of the Federation’s speech that he made last month reminded us all that Nigeria is the most populous of all the nations of Africa and, by mid-century, would have doubled its population to be the third most populous country in the world, behind only China and India.

So for all of us who have traveled to your country, let us be reminded of the dimensions of this country, of its international protagonism, of its importance. And I want to say that all of us who have been in this country are aware of the energy, of the talent and of the vibrancy of Nigerians. We see them across the world, in international system, in politics, in industry, in finance, in the world of culture, in sports fields, so we know very well the nature of the country which shows us today.

And let me add as well on behalf of the International Labour Organization that I am very proud to be the first serving Director-General of our Organization to visit the independent Republic of Nigeria. It has taken a little while, I hope that you take the view that is better late than never.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is also the Centenary year of the International Labour Organization. We are 100 years old. And we took the decision to dedicate our centenary not to looking back at a 100 year history, illustrious as it might be considered, but to look forward. To look forward to the future of work, and of course when you think of the future of work, automatically we think the youth. And the situation of youth in the world of work.

Now, we should be realistic. There are plenty of good situations that we can observe. A lot of positive stories to tell, and about this best educated generation of young people that the world has ever seen.

But, there is an overall picture which really require us to stop, to think and then to take action. Because the reality as captured in aggregated numbers is, I would say, a disturbing reality. Around the world 255 million, and I will repeat the number 255 million young people are not in employment, nor are they in education or training. These are the so-called NEETs. Young women are three times more likely to figure amongst that number than are young men.

So we must ask ourselves, what is their future to be? Included in our labour markets, or excluded? A lost generation in formation. And young people typically are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults. Even when they can find a place at work, it can often be in extremely difficult conditions. Conditions which fall short of the ILO’s ambition of decent work for all.

And think of this. Another number. 176 billion young people are working, often working extremely hard, and yet they are still living in poverty. These are the working poor, and in Africa that is the status of 60 per cent of young workers, often concentrated in conditions of informality and in the rural economy.

So ladies and gentlemen, whether we like it or not, these are our global realities. And accept those realities besides the goals that the international community sets itself, when in 2015 it adopted the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The commitment then was to leave nobody behind. And it included the goal of inclusive growth and decent work for everybody, explicitly including youth. Last month, the United Nations took stock of the progress that we have made so far in delivering on this agenda. Here again the news is not good because we are way off track, and we are way behind.

Therefore this is time for action. We simply have to do more, we have to do better, and that is why we are all here in Abuja.

Ladies and gentlemen, the ILO’s own commitment to young workers is, as it has been mentioned, 100 years old. Indeed the very first international labour standard that we adopted back in 1919, was for the protection of young workers. The reason here is that we have tried to step up our action.

In 2012, as you may remember, the world was still really noting the impact of the financial crisis of 2008. In that year, the ILO adopted its Call for Action on Youth Employment, which is pretty much the framework for the work of this forum. And that Call for Action sets out basically five areas of action.

These five areas are firstly, pro-employment macroeconomic policies that enable job creation amongst youth. That means that youth unemployment is not only a matter from ministries of labour or youth, but also the central banks, the ministries of planning, the ministries of finance and industries. This is a whole of government’s responsibility.

The second area is policy for and investment in education and skills. These are key so that the skills we provide young people with are those that our labour markets really need. And we talk frequently about the mismatch between the skills on offer and the skills that are needed. We need to do much better, and we need to make learning a lifelong process.

The third area of action is active labour market policies. This can vary from employment service provisions, to wage subsidies, employment intensive investments, all of which can ease the transition of young people from education into employment. These are the policies that allow the integration of young people into the labour market.

Fourthly, we have to promote youth entrepreneurship and self-employment to harness the extraordinary energy and talents of our young people.

And lastly, but it is not the least consideration, we have to be aware of and respectful of the rights of young people. Because young people are workers like any other and their rights need to be promoted and respected in that regard.

Ladies and gentlemen, in these circumstances, the ILO has been working hard with its Member States, including Nigeria, and we have gathered momentum along the way. We brought our sister organizations of the international system into our efforts. In 2016, the United Nations launched the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, set up to scale up action on youth employment under the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.

Today that initiative brings together more than 60 global, regional and national partners. And here in Abuja we will be taking a further step with the establishment of a knowledge facility for this initiative. It’s a digital platform of tools, publications, databases and thematic curated resources that will help support the design, implementation and monitoring of youth employment policies and programmes.

We hope this could become a novel valuable instrument to advance our goals. So, please do, engage with it, use it, contribute to it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have learnt a great deal from the work that we have already done together. And no doubt, we still have a great deal to learn. Because our task is far from finished.

From my part, I think perhaps the most important lesson is that we, and in the ILO, meaning governments, and employers’ and workers’ organizations, we are not simply called upon to work for youth. Of course that is important, it’s part of our responsibilities.

But we are also called upon to work with youth. In building a future that truly meets their aims and aspirations, how can we do that if we do not involve them fully in what we try to build? That’s why we are delighted this morning to welcome the representatives of youth from the different regions of the world. Your presence here is absolutely vital and your contribution will help to inform and to enrich the tripartite interactions that governments, employers and workers which is an everyday methodology at the International Labour Organization.

So, as I conclude, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Secretary, let me reiterate again, what is at stake in the discussions that we will undertake at this forum in Abuja. In the aggregate, it is about the future prosperity of our economies, the development of our countries. I also think it is about human security, in the broadest and most human sense because failure to provide a space in our societies, in our world of work for young people, would constitute and does constitute a challenge to the very welfare, sustainability and stability of all of our countries. None are excluded.

And beneath these aggregate considerations there is a human story that should not escape us. Because this is about the life experience of millions of young individuals, young women and young men, who depends so heavily on access to a decent job. It’s a question of young lives fully realized, or young lives frustrated.

And that is what this notion of leaving nobody behind truly means. And I want to finish by quoting the Secretary-General of the United Nations when he said “You know, the challenge we face today is not that of the danger of us leaving youth behind. Because if we not do what we have to do, youth will leave us behind.” And that is something that should focus our minds in the work that we have to do before us.

So, I wish this Forum the very best of luck. I thank you all for your presence and your engagement. Please be assured that the ILO will continue its partnership of course with Nigeria and its Permanent Secretary is right. Our presence here today is a reflection of the esteem and the respect that Nigeria enjoys in our organization, expression of gratitude to the contribution it makes and that partnership will continue.

But also the ILO will persist in itself on behalf of young people so that each youth in the world today will be able to realize that ambition at a decent job.

Thank you.