BUDAPEST - Youth unemployment in Europe and Central Asia has remained at a very high level over the past decade. Young people almost everywhere in the region are more than twice as likely as adults to be unemployed. Youth employment is one of the main issues to be discussed at the 7th European Regional Meeting of the ILO in Budapest, 14-18 February. ILO online spoke with Jane Stewart, Deputy Director of the Employment Sector and Coordinator of the Youth Employment Team of the ILO.
1. Does youth employment in Europe follow the
worldwide upwards trend?
Jane Stewart: In the case of Europe, the original 15 countries of the EU have faired reasonably well over the past decade, with the lowest youth unemployment rate (14.5 per cent) and the lowest youth-to-adult unemployment ratio (2.15) of any group of countries. However, the economies of Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS show less favourable trends affecting several youth labour market indicators, including very low youth labour force participation rates and relatively high youth unemployment rates.
2. What about the quality of jobs for youth?
Jane Stewart: Young persons are more likely to work longer hours under informal and insecure conditions. While more flexible forms of employment may to some extent facilitate the access of young people to more permanent employment, questions remain as to the extent to which part-time and temporary employment are chosen by young people and the ease with which they can be transformed into long-term good quality employment.
3. What are the obstacles to ensuring more and
better jobs for young people?
Jane Stewart: Little success in improving the situation of young people in the labour market can be expected if the overall availability of decent work does not improve. The problems young people encounter in the world of work are closely linked to the general conditions of the labour market.
Young people are seen as a risk or they're seen as unqualified and inexperienced. They are the most exposed to the economic cycle, since they tend to be the last hired during expansionary periods and the first fired during recessions. On average youth unemployment is 2-3 times higher than adult unemployment. Even in the EU countries, which have the lowest youth-to-adult unemployment ratio of any group of countries, young people are more than twice as likely as adults to be unemployed, the exceptions being Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Ensuring a smooth transition between school and work remains a major challenge in many countries, both developed and developing. Although enrolment rates in higher education have greatly increased over the last two decades worldwide, youth unemployment rates still remain high. In many cases, education and training does not match with the requirements of the labour market.
4. What specific interventions are necessary to
improve the lot of young people today?
Jane Stewart: There is no single way to address the youth employment challenge; there is no magic bullet. But we do know a few things:
For one we should adopt policies which give young people both the skills and the experience required. Youth are often trapped in a "Catch 22" situation where they can't get jobs, because they don't have experience; and they don't have experience because they can't get a job.
The most important of these skills is the ability to respond and adapt to change. Therefore there is a move from training based only on technical skills to vocational education and training that incorporates other skills that are in demand. These skills include teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills. We also need to take a comprehensive approach: It is essential, but not enough to give young people the skills required for a rapidly changing labour market through education or active labour market measures or to help them set up their own enterprises. There must also be jobs out there for them to aspire to. Therefore, employment generating macro-economic policies are at the heart of the question of youth employment.
5. How is the ILO responding to the youth
Jane Stewart: The ILO has renewed its commitment to addressing the youth employment challenge by strengthening its technical programme. Its global strategy on employment - the Global Employment Agenda - goes beyond the scope of traditional labour market policies and places employment at the heart of economic and social policy. Youth employment is integral to this policy framework.
The ILO's activities on decent work for young people are centred around three major pillars:
- expanding the knowledge base to understand better the multi-faceted dimensions of the youth employment challenge, and devise coherent and coordinated interventions to meet this challenge;
- advocating decent and productive work for youth by building consensus and mobilizing partnerships at the national and international levels. In this regard, the ILO supports its tripartite constituency in building partnerships to tackle the youth employment challenge; and
- assisting governments and the social partners in developing integrated youth employment policies and programmes based on the principles enshrined in the international labour standards. The ILO is developing a set of tools that can be used flexibly and adapted by member States in the formulation of youth employment policies and programmes to bring young people into productive and decent employment.
Jane Stewart: Across the UN system there are many initiatives on youth employment but the lead response comes from the Youth Employment Network (YEN), a partnership created by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in 2001, as vehicle to implement the UN Millennium Declaration resolution by Heads of State and Government to "develop and implement strategies that give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent and productive work". The ILO hosts the permanent secretariat of the YEN and leads its work. This role provides a major opportunity to raise awareness on youth employment, and integrate ILO values into the international development agenda and policy debate. This partnership also brings together policy-makers, employers and workers, young people and other stakeholders to pool their skills, experience and know-how in an attempt to find new, durable policy and programme solutions to the youth employment challenge.
The European Employment Strategy (EES), launched by the European Union in 1997 is an example of regional response to tackle employment and youth employment. Three of the targets of the EES specifically address young people:
- every unemployed young person should be offered a new start in the form of training, a job or other employability measure before reaching six months of unemployment;
- by 2010, at least 85 per cent of 22 year olds in the European Union should have completed upper secondary education; and
- policies will aim to achieve an average EU unemployment rate among early school leavers of no more than 10 per cent by 2010.
Jane Stewart: The ILO and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) are working together within the framework of the YEN to better understand both the constraints faced by, and the incentives for, young entrepreneurs starting up businesses. Also asking its young members to participate in an ILO survey on entrepreneurship, the IOE is working with the YEN to develop a web-based community of practice to unite different local, national and regional entrepreneurs' networks within the IOE's membership, and possibly other youth entrepreneurship focused networks, into a global structure.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has recently joined forces with a number of international NGO's to launch a new campaign against poverty to coincide with the 5-year review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) scheduled for September 2005. Within this campaign the ICFTU will be highlighting the issue of decent work for youth since youth employment features in the MDGs.