ILO Director-General Juan Somavia addresses the Global Youth Employment Conference
Dear friends, my warm greetings to all of you.
Congratulations on this initiative.
You have a practical agenda: Demand and supply side remedies, together with entrepreneurship, in order to galvanize private sector involvement by investing in young people. It couldn’t be better…those are the issues!
We know well that youth should be a time of energy and expectations; dreams about the future; a time of hope.
Many of us at this gathering were fortunate enough to have those choices, opportunities and people who believed in us; who gave us the chance to fulfill our aspirations.
The issue is, of course, that for too many this is far from the reality that they know today.
We are now facing not only an economic challenge but also a social crisis in the face of the deficit of decent jobs for young people.
A record number of young women and men – 81 million at the end of 2009 - are currently jobless.
Many more in involuntary part-time work or discouraged from even registering as unemployed.
A growing number, although they work, face economic insecurity and even working poverty. Working poverty is probably one of the biggest single problems for young people living in the informal economy.
And many will see no future beyond that informal economy in which they were born into, because their parents were there,
At the individual level, the result is reduced self-esteem, discouragement, diminished levels of well-being.
Not to speak of the great social and economic loss.
And yet, and yet, we know that the spark of hope is never lost.
The belief that things may turn for the better, never buried.
And the feeling that what you really need is a fair chance to prove yourself in life, never discarded.
But we must not weigh down the resiliency of the human spirit.
So, access to productive and decent work, the dignity of work, is indispensable if young people are to realize their aspirations, improve their living conditions and make a positive contribution to society.
Decent work – founded on work itself and social protection, fundamental rights, and social dialogue, defines a threshold for ensuring the dignity of work and workers that can be respected in diverse national contexts and circumstances.
The ILO emphasizes the quality of work, for without it, work becomes a negative experience rather than the positive social and economic force it should be.
Decent work for young people opens opportunities instead of closing doors.
It is enabling and empowering, putting young people on a path of opportunity and spurring them to invest in themselves, in society, and in political stability.
Productive young workers are savers, consumers and taxpayers who can drive economic growth. You know that well!
With the right policies they are rich resources of talent, skills and ingenuity.
So, I think we know the outcomes that are needed.
I hope this meeting will be rich in ideas about effective ways of encouraging enterprises to recruit young people. Also, the policies that are needed to ensure that young people are adequately trained and continue to receive training.
There is a cost to all of this – but abandoning youth brings a much, much greater cost.
At the policy level, youth employment cannot be pursued as a by-product of overall employment policy.
There must be targeted policies for young people.
These must be coherent policies, a range of policies that converge on the goal of getting young people into good jobs.
We, of course, need education and training policies that connect with the world of enterprise where present and future jobs are created, together with basic social protection to get through the bad times.
Let’s be frank, actually listening to the voice of young people, which is not done enough, is key to bringing about this policy convergence.
We all know that investing in young people is investing in our future. But we also know that we are not doing it well today.
So let’s make the right choices to do what is right by young people.
Thank you again for your initiative.