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Youth unemployment — a social tinderbox
July 24, 2016, 9:42 am

The theme for World Youth Skills Day on 15 July, ‘Skills Development to Improve Youth Employment’, highlighted an issue that has often eluded policy deliberations. The theme helped draw focus on the need to provide training and skills development to support young people to gain meaningful employment and succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s labor market.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that globally there are around 73.3 million young people unemployed; millions of young people in low-income countries also leave school to take up precarious jobs in the informal economy. It is clear that for millions of young people around the world finding a decent job in the coming years will be a drawn-out uphill struggle.

The ILO defines youth unemployment as the share of the labor force, aged 15 to 24, who are without work but available for and seeking employment. It is projected that the global economy will need to create over 600 million productive jobs over the next decade to provide employment for the burgeoning number of young potential employees.

Though global unemployment rate among the young has remained flat at 13 percent between 2012 and 2014, this figure does not reflect the fact that more than 43 percent of global youth labor force remains either unemployed or are working but still living in poverty. The youth unemployment rate also does not reveal that young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and are continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labor market inequalities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. Additionally, the unemployment rate does not mirror the wide gender gap that exists in youth unemployment, with young women more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.

The global youth unemployment figures become all the more alarming when one realizes that nine out of 10 of the world’s young people live in the developing world. Unlike in advanced economies, where high unemployment rates coupled with longer periods of job search have discouraged many to give up job searching altogether, in the developing world, the challenges for unemployed youth include structural underemployment, informal employment and working poverty.

In the lead up to World Youth Skills Day, a report by the ILO titled ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015’ shows that that eight out of 10 young workers in the developing world are in informal employment; six out of 10 lack a stable employment contract and receive wages that are lower than average. The report also reveals that 31 percent of youth in low-income countries have no educational qualifications, compared to 6 percent in lower middle-income countries and 2 percent in upper middle-income countries. Additionally, five in 10 young workers in the developing world are either under-educated or over-educated for the jobs they hold.

This mismatch leads to the structural unemployment prevalent in many developing economies, where the skills that young workers have are often not the skills that employers demand. This structural unemployment impacts not only economies of countries involved but also remains an obstacle to realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as envisaged by the United Nations.

Not only are unemployed or under-employed youth less able to contribute effectively to national development, they also have fewer opportunities to exercise their rights as citizens, less to spend as consumers, less to invest as savers and often have no ‘voice’ to bring about change in their lives and communities.

A high level of unemployment and under-employment among young people also represents a waste of potential human resources and talent, and is a drag on future economic growth of the country. On the social front, unemployment could breed social exclusion that gives rise to higher crime rates, anti-social behavior and could lead to making societies more vulnerable to civil disorder and political upheaval.

Education, training and skills development to meet market requirements are key to providing youth the best opportunity to transition to decent jobs and livelihood. It also helps to provide them with a level playing field so that all aspiring youth can attain productive employment regardless of their gender, income level or socio-economic background.  

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