SANTIAGO (ILO OnLine) - A group of young people hang out in the courtyard of a large old house in the centre of the Chilean capital, killing time before class starts. But this is not a college. They are here because they need a job and they hope to improve their prospects of getting one.
"They're disillusioned because they haven't been able to find decently paid work. What we do here is to provide them with the training to ensure that they're better prepared when they go out looking for a job." María Luz Araya of the Prisma de los Andes (Prism of the Andes) school tells ILO OnLine. At this centre, young people receive training in administration or catering, before going on to do a two-month work placement.
But this is no easy task. Some suffer from stifling economic deprivation and leave before the end of the course, while others find it difficult to integrate into the world of work and end up losing their jobs. According to Araya, working with young people "who have very little hope" is the norm.
The school is just one of the initiatives run by the NGO Fundación Cristo Vive (Christ Lives Foundation). It is a part of a whole series of activities, both in the public and private sectors, aimed at providing the country's young people with decent work. According to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Labour, youth unemployment in Chile stands at 20.4 per cent, much higher than the overall unemployment rate of 8.5 per cent.
However, Chile is not alone in being affected by persistent youth unemployment. A recent report prepared by the International Labour Organization on this subject highlights the fact that the generation of decent jobs for youth seeking employment is a challenge facing both Latin America and the world as a whole.
The report, to be published in late October, warns that global youth unemployment has reached 13.5 per cent, more than double the overall unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent and far higher than the adult unemployment rate, which is 4.5 per cent. In a decade, the number of unemployed young people has risen by over 14 per cent. "We are facing a global youth employment crisis", the report points out.
The situation in Latin America and the Caribbean is even more pressing given that, according to the ILO report, youth unemployment stands at 16.6 per cent, double the overall unemployment rate (urban and rural), which was 8.3 per cent at the beginning of this year, according to ILO figures.
According to Sara Elder, an expert at the ILO and co-author of the new report, almost half unemployed workers in Latin America are young people - a heavy burden for this group to bear given that they make up only 26.9 per cent of the working age population.
The lack of jobs open to young people wishing to work is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Owing to difficulties related to the job market, people aged between 15 and 24 years are often forced to accept low-quality, low-paid employment in the informal sector.
According to this new report, 13.3 per cent of young workers in Latin America live under the poverty line of a dollar a day.
The ILO warns that youth unemployment and situations in which young people give up on the job search ("discouragement") or work under inadequate conditions ("underemployment") incur costs to the economy, to society and to the individual and their family.
The ILO adds that the lack of decent work early on in life can compromise an individual's future employment prospects and stresses that it is vital to adopt strategies that specifically address labour issues affecting youth.
In Chile's case, youth employment-related problems attract a lot of attention. There are currently a variety of programmes in place to tackle this issue on different fronts: employment programmes which encourage the recruitment of young people through the payment of subsidies; skills building and training strategies and labour information and intermediation services.
The Chilean government has set up a website with information on these plans (www.empleojoven.cl), which also includes data on youth labour exchanges, municipal labour intermediation offices and the contents of work contracts that employers may be offering.
The issue of youth employment appeared on a list of 36 priorities for the first 100 days of government announced by President Michelle Bachelet in March, when she took up office. A few days later, the most recent programme, consisting of an allowance of 50 per cent of the minimum wage as an incentive to employers who recruit young people, was unveiled.
The ILO report states that the Latin American region faces a number of significant challenges in this area: removing barriers that exist for young women accessing the labour market, improving the education system and class attendance rates, encouraging investment and job creation, expanding the formal sector, and improving the quality of jobs.
For video features on youth employment, click here.