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Youth employment: why Nikola can't afford to wait

The EXIT Festival, a major European music event, started out being against war but now turns on efforts to combat youth unemployment. A new ILO report says that one out of every three youth in the world is either seeking but unable to find work, has given up the job search entirely or is working but still living below the US$2 a day poverty line. ILO Online reports from Novi Sad, Serbia.

Article | 27 October 2006

 »  Video: Youth employment in Serbia (3.76 MB)

NOVI SAD (ILO Online) - When it first started, the EXIT music festival was about getting out of war. Nowadays, it's about getting a job.

The four-day summer event draws more than 300,000 youth from across Europe and some of the big names on the international pop music scene. And when they aren't rocking to bands like Franz Ferdinand, they're playing football with European Union Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn who talks about opportunities in an expanding Europe.

"Young people of this country, this region can travel more easily abroad, they can study and work in another country", he says.

But that doesn't mean young people can easily find work. "It depends on the work you seek", says Nikola, one of the youth attending the festival. "Some people find a permanent job, others don't. One problem is the way in which young people are seen: they are part of the employment problem, and not the solution…".

People like Nikola can't afford to wait. They need to make a living so take up any job available. Just out of university, he drives a taxi when he's not working in a Belgrade hotel. Sometimes he pulls 15-hour days.

Nikola's situation isn't unique. A new ILO report on youth employment provides growing evidence of a global youth employment crisis in which young people face increasing difficulties when entering the labour force.

According to the new ILO report, one out of every three youth in the world is either seeking work but unable to find it, working but existing on less than US$2 per person, per day poverty line or has given up looking for work at all.

"Youth unemployment is only the tip of the iceberg", says Sara Elder, co-author of the report. "Although more difficult to quantify, there are two other groups that together outnumber the unemployed youth but suffer from the same frustrations as the unemployed: the discouraged youth and the working poor."

The report makes for grim reading. It says an estimated 125 million young working poor, or more than 20 per cent of employed youth, were living in households with less than US$1 a day available per head in 2005. And approximately 300 million young working poor were living at the US$2 a day level - more than one half of all young women and men who worked - in the same year.

Worsening employment situation of youth

Little has changed in the general global trends for youth employment since 2004 when the ILO published its first report on the subject. Compared to 1995, however, the situation has worsened.

The global youth labour force, which is the sum of the employed youth and unemployed youth, grew from 602 to 633 million, or by 5.2 per cent, between 1995 and 2005 and is projected to grow by another 24 million to 657 million in 2015. On the other hand, the number of young unemployed increased from 74 million to 85 million between 1995 and 2005, or by 14.8 per cent. Compared to adults, youth today are still more than three times as likely to be unemployed.

According to the report, there are important regional differences in youth unemployment rates. The only region that saw a considerable decrease over the last 10 years was the Developed Economies and European Union (EU).

The highest regional youth unemployment rate can be observed in the Middle East and North Africa at 25.7 per cent in 2005. Central and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and the countries of the former Soviet Union had the second highest rate at 19.9 per cent. Sub-Saharan Africa's rate was 18.1 per cent, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (16.6 per cent), South East Asia and the Pacific (15.8 per cent), the Developed Economies and EU (13.1 per cent), South Asia (10 per cent) and East Asia (7.8 per cent).

Managing the school-to-work transition

The report also looks at school-to-work transitions in eight countries and territories around the world. The surveys show the need for new policies and programmes that lead to increased decent employment opportunities for youth and warn that failure to provide them can lead to a vicious cycle of working poverty.

"The objective of the surveys is to arm policy makers, employers' organizations, trade unions and youth themselves with timely information on specific youth labour market challenges so that appropriate policies and programmes can be designed in response to measurable needs", says Dorothea Schmidt, co-author of the report. "Without the prospect of starting out right in the labour market, young people are less able to make choices that will improve their own job prospects and those of their future dependents. This, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of insufficient education, low-productivity employment and working poverty from one generation to the next."

The report adds new urgency to the UN's clarion call for development of strategies aimed at giving young people a chance to make the most of their productive potential through decent employment. Youth employment is a major focus of the UN's Millennium Development Goals and was reaffirmed by the Ministers and Heads of Delegations participating in the High-Level Segment of the Substantive 2006 Session of the Economic and Social Council.

Recognizing that a failure to successfully integrate young people into the labour market has broader consequences for the future prosperity and development of countries, in June 2005 ILO constituents adopted a resolution on youth employment which spelled out an "ILO plan of action to promote pathways to decent work" ( Note 2).

"One element of this strategy is to expand knowledge of the nature and dimensions of youth employment, unemployment and underemployment. The ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth aims to do just that", concludes Elder.

For more video features on youth employment, click here.

Note 1

Note 2 - ILO: " Conclusions on promoting pathways for decent work for youth", paragraph 5, ILC, 93rd Session (Geneva, 2005).