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First Youth Employment Forum highlights challenges and solutions to address youth unemployment

arton3929A three day Youth Employment Forum was held at ILO’s headquarters in Geneva from 23-25 May 2012. The Forum entitled “What about young people?” received over one hundred young trade unionists, entrepreneurs, NGO members and activists to discuss how best to tackle the global jobs crisis, especially in terms of youth employment.


According to the ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012, there is an increase of four million unemployed young people since 2007 or 12.6%. Globally, the youth unemployment rate has remained close to its crisis peak in 2009 and is expected to remain at the same level until 2016. Ekkehard Ernst, Chief of ILO’s Employment Trends Unit, stated that the youth unemployment rate in developed countries has largely increased with 18%, and with 5% in North Africa since the beginning of the crisis. However, in Southeast Asia, a decrease of 0.7% was experienced. The emergence of the so-called “NEET” group (young people not in education, employment or training) remains a phenomenon that affectss mainly developed countries. In addition, many youth are concerned by temporary employment and part-time work, both non-standard jobs. The youth employment crisis, which affects both developing and developed countries, underscores the need for young people to get engaged and to mobilize for change.

The Forum is an initiative ILO’s Programme on Youth Employment that provides technical assistance to countries in order to help them develop coherent and coordinated interventions to stimulate youth employment. The Forum aimed to discuss and promote decent work for all by giving a voice directly to young people. It also aimed to find new solutions for youth employment; to give more visibility to their mobilization; to create a global youth network; and to raise the States’ responsibility for job and green job creation for youth.

Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General, opened the Forum recalling ILO’s history and its commitment to defend and promote workers’ rights and dignity. He highlighted that, in the context of the global crisis, it is necessary to work together for change and to share knowledge and experiences in order to achieve real and tangible results and improvements. He reiterated that the organization of this Forum was a way to allow young people to express themselves and for their voices to be heard and taken into consideration in ILO decision-making process. As an example of this commitment, the outcome document will be presented at the 101st session of the International Labour Conference.

Phindile Kunene from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Francisco Javier Ruiz Lopez from the Employers Confederation of Mexico (COPARMEX), and Romulo Dantas from Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), in their statements, stressed the importance of youth participation and direct dialogue with youth in order to find workable solutions for youth employment. “Nothing for us, without us” was the motto of this Forum.

During the three-day Forum, different activities were organized to promote dialogue among the participants. Different groups were created to address key issues such as: the promotion of decent work (in respect of working conditions and decent wages), social entrepreneurship, creating new jobs, and the importance of education and skills development of young people. These working groups considered the need to respect workers and social rights and put them at the centre of proposals to improve the employment situation for young people.

One of the biggest challenges to tackle youth unemployment seems to be the gap between work requirements and the skills of youth. It thus seems fundamental to ensure that in each country education policies match with the work requirement produced by the labour market and to shorten the transition from school to employment. Education and training are vital for young people entering the labour market as long as it is consistent with the employers’ expectations, participants explained.

The promotion of youth entrepreneurship, including micro-entrepreneurship and facilitating access to finance, was one of the solutions highlighted at the Forum for the creation of new jobs. Participating youth urged policy makers to guarantee an entrepreneurial dimension in school and university programmes; to engage youth in social dialogue; to promote green jobs; and to develop a legal framework against unpaid work (especially as regards the excesses of unpaid internships). In order to implement these recommendations, youth called for the promotion of a tripartite national dialogue between governments, employers and workers.

Participants also noted that youth employment should be considered as a priority for governments and treated as a structural and non-cyclical policy. Governments should ensure affordable access to quality education; a balance between theory and practice for better employability; a greater support to companies that commit to increase youth employability; and extend social protection to youth in order to address the uncertainties of the labour market.

It is thus necessary that the dialogue between youth and the ILO continues; that successful programme models are identified for reproduction; and that the ILO continues to give visibility to young people and guarantees their equal representation in this dialogue.

For more information about ILO programmes and actions on youth employment, click here click here.


This article is also available in Spanish and in French.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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