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93rd International Labour Conference Promoting Youth Employment: The road to decent and productive jobs

In 2015, 660 million young people will either be working or looking for work - an increase of 7.5 per cent over the number of youth in the labour force in 2003 - and decent employment opportunities for young people will need to grow substantially to meet this challenge. Between 2003 and 2015, the growth in the number of young people looking for a job will be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa (28 per cent) and South Asia (15 per cent). Helping youth find new paths to employment will be among the issues being discussed by delegates to this year's International Labour Conference.

Article | 01 June 2005

NAIROBI - Wangari Maathai, last year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, expresses concerns about the growing numbers of disinherited youth and argues that they are "the ones who are refused everything. The schools have rejected them for want of space and they haven't found work. If the oppression continues, if we keep on killing our brothers, there will be civil war in this country".

Investing in young people means investing in the world's future. Decent work for young people has multiple effects throughout the economy, boosting consumer demand and adding to tax revenue. The demand for social services decreases significantly when youth have decent work, because their time is spent in productive, self-esteem building and healthy ways.

Successful early career development is correlated with long-term career prospects. It shifts young people from social dependence to self-sufficiency and helps them escape poverty and actively contribute to society.

Globally, youth unemployment has reached record levels in recent years. Youth employment is not only a challenge for developing countries. Across Europe, there are more than two unemployed youth for every unemployed adult. Halving youth unemployment - bringing it to the same level of adult unemployment - would add over US$2 trillion to the global Gross Domestic Product, which is close to the annual value of the third largest economy in the world.

For many young people in developing countries there is no transition from school to work, as many drop out of school early or never attend and they do not have jobs. According to a survey in urban areas of Zambia, 70 per cent of young men and 83 per cent of young women in the 15-19 age group indicated they were "doing nothing". The majority of young women in this age group said that they were "relying on the goodwill of their parents or friends" as their source of livelihood.

But youth unemployment is only the tip of the iceberg. The widespread prevalence of underemployment, informal, intermittent and precarious forms of work have also heightened concern in countries around the world.

Many young workers are engaged in part-time, temporary, casual or seasonal employment that does not value their potential. In the European Union in 1995, about 35 per cent of employees under the age of 25 had short-term contracts. Among the 15-19-year-old the rate was 47 per cent, compared with 14 per cent of all employees.

In many poor countries, young people simply cannot afford not to work. Some 238 million young people are living on less than US$1 day and 462 million on less than US$2 a day - most of them are working in the informal economy.

A notorious barrier for young people seeking to get a decent job is their lack of work experience. Many are caught in a conundrum: they can't find jobs because they lack work experience and can't gain work experience because they've never had a job.

Said one young woman graduate from Ethiopia, "I think I didn't get the kind of work I want because I don't have the experience required by employers… I asked in one organization if I could be an intern. They told me to first finish my undergraduate programme. So I did that and asked them again if I can be an intern. But they sent me a reply that I have to be enrolled in a second degree programme".

According to a recent survey, 22 per cent of jobseekers in Indonesia and 38 per cent of young male jobseekers in Viet Nam felt that "no work experience" was the main obstacle in finding a decent job.

In Africa as in many other parts of the developing world, widespread child labour is often a precursor of the youth employment problem. "The promotion of youth employment and the elimination of child labour are the only viable strategies for development, by better preparing the next generation for decent and productive work", says Jane Stewart, Deputy Executive Director and coordinator of the ILO's work on youth employment.

Pathways to decent work for youth

Is the situation hopeless? It may seem so on the surface, but an ILO report on youth employment prepared for the International Labour Conference ( Note 1) cites a number of regional and national initiatives that are creating pathways to decent work for youth. A coherent integrated policy approach - incorporating provisions for the creation of quality jobs for youth - is required in order to meet the youth employment challenge. This calls for interventions at the macro- and micro-level, focusing on labour demand and supply, and addressing both the quantity and quality of employment. Some of these initiatives are:

  • The Poverty Reduction Strategies are increasingly recognizing the need to embed youth employment into the macroeconomic, structural and social policies and programmes that promote broad-based growth. Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) of Senegal explicitly advocates youth employment through approaches that help increase capacities and the possibilities of access to employment for the poor.
  • The European Employment Strategy of the European Union centres on full employment, promotion of quality and productivity, and strengthening social cohesion and inclusion. Guidelines and national action plans incorporate youth-specific issues, including offering a new start in the form of training, work practice, a job or other employability measure to every unemployed young person before they reach six months of unemployment.
  • The one-stop service system that is currently being established in the Republic of Korea. This system provides job referral, job counselling and job guidance services through Youth Employment Support Rooms and the Employment Security Centres throughout the country. In Canada, Job Futures is an innovative tool developed by Human Resources Development Canada to provide up-to-date detailed labour market information, focusing on the link between educational system and labour market outcomes.
  • The New Deal for Young People in the United Kingdom, offers a package of services and support to young people aged 18 to 24 unemployed for at least six months, including job seeking and carrier advice, basic education, skills training, work experience or further learning options. As a result of the New Deal, 518,200 young people have moved into employment.
  • The Youth Employment Law of 1997 in Uruguay, promotes internships or apprenticeships in an enterprise for a maximum of one year, so that young people can overcome the work experience requirement. The same law also foresees grants to increase employment generation opportunities for low-income youth.
The ILO has taken the lead in promoting global partnerships for decent and productive work for youth, a commitment of the Millennium Declaration ( Note 2). It hosts the permanent Secretariat of the Youth Employment Network (YEN), a joint United Nations (UN)-ILO-World Bank initiative that was established in 2001 by the UN Secretary-General.

YEN provides a major opportunity to raise awareness on youth employment and integrate the ILO's values into the international development agenda and policy debate. Eleven countries have stepped forward to volunteer as lead countries for the YEN, including Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Sri Lanka.

The Commission for Africa, launched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has called on developed countries to provide an additional US$30 million over three years to expand the YEN to 25 sub-Saharan African countries. This is in support of the prioritization of employment, with youth as a key target group - agreed at the African Union's Extraordinary Summit in Ouagadougou.

The ILO assists governments and the social partners in developing integrated youth employment policies and programmes based on the principles enshrined in the international labour standards. Through this work, the ILO supports member States in the formulation of national initiatives and piloting of targeted programmes to promote the social inclusion of disadvantaged youth.

Note 1

Note 2 - This commitment is part of the Millennium Development Goals on global partnership for development, to be implemented by governments, employers' and workers' representatives, civil society, and young people themselves (MDG8).