Create jobs, and hope, for a vulnerable generation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am


Alongside the crisis in the euro zone, youth unemployment has been the hot topic of the news in these final weeks of this year. The BBC's 'The World Speaks' survey named unemployment as the world's fastest-rising concern. And people are right to be concerned, as the figures are alarming.

In Asia, young people account for around 20 per cent of the population yet make up almost half of the region's jobless. They are at least three times more likely than adults to be out of a job.

Globally, about 70million young people are unemployed, and if we add to that the estimated 152million young people living on less than US$1.25 per day, we have some 225 million people in a very precarious situation.

Those young people who are in work, whatever their pay, face more gloom. During a recession, young people are usually the last to be hired and first to be fired, largely due to lack of work experience.

When it comes to entering the job market, those who have been lucky enough to go to university face a difficult transition, either due to a skills mismatch or a lack of emphasis on employable skills. In the US for example, according to the US National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers have 600,000 unfilled positions due to a lack of qualified workers.

This is a huge waste of human capital. A scarred generation is in the making, facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, precarious work and increased inactivity in developed countries, and persistently high poverty in the developing world.

Against this background, it is no wonder that the young are angry and frustrated, and have played a highly visible and critical role in this year's protests for change.

Governments are struggling to tackle the problem. First, we need an integrated strategy for growth, with clear targets for investment, growth and job creation.

A second key ingredient is investment in quality education and training, and improving their relevance to market needs. We need to work with the private sector to reduce skills mismatches.

A third ingredient is providing a wide variety of incentives and services: hiring subsidies, training and retraining grants; and services to facilitate the transition to jobs.

Lastly, we need to promote partnerships: public employment services and private employment agencies, labour offices and municipal authorities, governments, employers and workers, international and non-governmental organisations, all need to work together.

The youth employment crisis is grave, but not unsolvable. We owe it to our children to make sure they get a fair chance at making a decent living. The world cannot afford a lost generation.

Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs is executive director, employment, at the International Labour Organisation