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8 February 2012

UN-DESA: World Youth Report 2012

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) released the World Youth Report 2012. This year’s report focuses on the disproportional rate of unemployment, underemployment, vulnerable employment and working poverty among youth across the globe.

The report, produced with inputs from young people and representatives of youth-led organizations, in particular highlights the lack of job opportunities for young people, their vulnerable working conditions, the education-employment gap, and the lack of government initiative as some of the main challenges of the youth labour market.

Each chapter of the report discusses a different stage in a young person’s work life. Although the first chapter focuses more generally on the current situation of the youth labour market, the second looks at the education phase, while the third considers the transition from the education phase to the labour market. The fourth chapter explores the quality and working conditions of the jobs held by youth, as well as the impact these conditions have on their lives and that of their families.

More specifically, the chapter on “employment and youth” finds growing gaps in decent work opportunities for young people. In developed countries, the global economic crisis can be identified as the main reason for this situation, as it brought various youth unemployment spikes. In developing countries, however, youth employment challenges are more related to structural underemployment, informal employment, and poor working conditions. The report highlights that it is important to keep these different challenges – faced by young people in developed and developing countries – in mind, as they demand different solutions. In developed countries, the challenge is to create new employment opportunities for young people so that they can enter the labour market, while in developing countries the focus should be on improving job quality and conditions and building social safety nets. The report also cautions that such decent work deficits can lead to social risks such as increased youth labour migration, or worse, increased youth exploitation. The latter is especially a result of young people’s limited bargaining power to demand better opportunities.

The second chapter on “preparing for work” finds that the education opportunities offered to young people do not always match with labour market demands. For example, young students generally complain that academic systems focus too strongly on theoretical learning while the practical skills are missing. Some youth recommendations in this regard include: the need to improve internship opportunities to get practical experience; to develop stronger linkages between the education and private sector; to enhance young people’s networking skills; and to provide them with better information at the start of their working life. More importantly, they call for increased quality of the education system and less focus on enrolment numbers, especially in developing countries, as “quality education goes hand in hand with decent work,” the report emphasizes.

The third chapter on “searching for work” underlines the lack of information and preparation offered to young people while accessing the labour market, as well as the lack of resources and services supporting youth in achieving their career aspirations. Moreover, it highlights the increasing length of the period in which young people have to search for a first job – a phenomenon that goes hand in hand with increased frustration and disillusionment among youth. Even if young people find a job, they are often faced by working poverty: meaning that they do have work, but their household income is below US$1.25 per person a day. The challenges that young people face in this regard are often triggered by socio-political factors and deep-seated exclusionary policies and practices, the report explains. The report also warns that the longer youth remain disconnected from the labour market, the more difficult it is to support their integration.

The fourth chapter on “youth at work” makes clear that “having a job” is not just about income generation; it is about broader social and economic development, a person’s self-esteem, as well as a person’s family and social life. “A badly paid, dangerous job at which workers’ rights are not respected will have a negative effect on personal development and relationships and will fail to contribute to the development continuum,” the report explains. It makes having a decent job all the more imperative. It further recognizes that there are many promising examples in the field of youth policy and practice on job creation and decent work. Nevertheless, young people continue to face barriers to meaningfully engage with policymakers and to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives.

To access the report, click here.

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