GENEVA - The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the oldest agency in the United Nations (UN) system, but a recent discussion at its annual Conference here had a decidedly youthful flavour. The young people at the meeting were here to discuss solutions to one of the biggest development challenges of their generation - the youth employment crisis.
"We must not allow for there to be a 'hope gap', where the youth fall into a cycle of unemployment and start to believe they will not emerge from it", said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in remarks to the youth during a high-level meeting of the Youth Employment Network (YEN) during the annual International Labour Conference (ILC). "Young people's involvement in finding solutions to unemployment is essential, and for that involvement to exist, the hope for a decent job must be kept alive."
The event, "Bringing Youth Employment into the International Development Agenda", was an interactive panel discussion involving labour ministers, members of tripartite delegations to the ILC, young people drawn from YEN's Youth Consultative Group and other youth non-governmental organizations as well as experts and practitioners on youth employment from international and civil society organisations.
An initiative of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the YEN is a partnership between the UN, the World Bank and the ILO, with the latter taking the lead and hosting the YEN Secretariat. The YEN was created under the impetus of the Millennium Summit in September 2000, the largest meeting ever of Heads of State and Government, which resolved as part of the Millennium Declaration to "develop and implement strategies that give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent and productive work."
The YEN brings together leaders in industry, youth organisations, civil society representatives and policy-makers to tackle the issue of youth employment at the global, national and local level. Specifically the YEN provides support to countries in the formulation of National Action Plans on youth employment ( Note 1) based on four global priorities: employment creation, entrepreneurship, employability and equal opportunities.
All participants at this high-level discussion agreed that young people today need decent work. The problem, however, it was determined was finding successful and replicable solutions. The added value of the YEN, as a clearinghouse and peer review mechanism, for exchanging experiences, emerged as a dominant theme of the discussion. Various speakers brought diverse interpretations of the problem to the table. Three key issues were discussed during the event:
- The broadening of partnerships, both in terms of technical partners and increasing the number of YEN Lead Countries - those countries which have publicly stepped forward to showcase the development of National Action Plans on youth employment.
- The involvement of youth more substantively in policy discussions affecting their lives.
- The catalysing of support of the international community around the importance of youth employment to implementing the goals of the Millennium Declaration and to the interrelated international agendas on development and collective security.
"The warlords have used young people to achieve their goals, and today we are seeing the consequence of that with a higher unemployment rate, a rate that is in fact higher than 80 per cent", said Boniface Bola Bolailoko, Secretary General of Labour for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The challenge of promoting youth employment in post-conflict countries was seen as a central issue by panellist Alice Mirimo, National President of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and National Secretary-General for the African Youth Network explained: "Youth employment and the participation of young people in the formulation of policies in the DRC must be considered as the only tools for success for the peace process and the reconstruction of the country".
According to Hanifa Ahmadou from the Ministry of Labour of Azerbaijan there are also greater challenges to formulating and carrying out youth employment policies in a country with a high number of refugees and displaced people.
"The most technically sound policies will fail if we do not listen to young people: to their expertise, expectations, frustrations and aspirations vis-à-vis the world of work", stated Somavia. An opinion reiterated by Dan Kidega, a Youth Member of Parliament in Uganda where young people are elected to represent the interests of the youth in government, who believes that "youth must be represented in all decision making organs" since as Galo Chiriboga, Minister of Labour and Employment from Ecuador, stated "no one understands the problems of youth unemployment better than the young people themselves".
Micro-finance and support for entrepreneurship are essential to the creation of jobs for young people. The ILO estimates that 88.2 million young men and women are unemployed throughout the world accounting to 47 per cent of global unemployment. Many more are underemployed. To combat this, Fahmi Idris, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration for Indonesia, a Lead Country of the YEN, called on governments to "support young people who the have motivation to be independent, not looking for a job but trying to create the job by doing business, whatever the scale".
This call for support was answered during the event by James Plaskitt, the Parliamentary Undersecretary for the United Kingdom's (UK) Department for Work and Pensions, who announced that the UK would become the first YEN Lead Country from Europe and the G8. He expressed his government's desire to ensure that there will be a strong focus on youth employment issues in the coming months when the UK will hold the presidency of both the European Union and the G8.
The YEN was further strengthened when the Syrian ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari confirmed his government's intention to provide a new boost to Syria's youth employment programmes by becoming the Network's 13th Lead Country.
The YEN has been active not only in supporting peer review and dialogue between youth, employers, labour representatives, governments and international organisations, but also in facilitating progress in policy formation and implementation at the country level.
Note 1 - Two UN General Assembly resolutions, Resolution A/RES/57/165 on promoting youth employment and Resolution A/RES/58/133 on policies and programmes involving youth, encourage countries to prepare National Reviews and Action Plans on youth employment and to involve young people in this process.