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Youth employment: What works

International Youth Day – marked on August 12 – sets the spotlight on the pressing challenges faced by young people. ILO News looks at practices that can help turn around the dramatic youth employment situation.

Analysis | 09 August 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – Promoting youth employment has become a top priority for many governments at a time when 75 million young people worldwide are jobless.

The ILO has warned of a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.

International Youth Day, marked every year on August 12, aims at drawing attention to issues affecting young people worldwide. It is also an opportunity to highlight some of the policies and practices that can help tackle the youth jobs crisis.

Youth guarantees

Programmes that guarantee young people will get a job, education or training have shown good results in a number of countries.

In Finland, the success rate of the youth guarantee scheme is estimated at more than 80 per cent. A registered youth has to be offered a job, academic education, vocational training, or another measure to improve job prospects within three months of unemployment.

In some countries, similar programmes focus more on enhancing educational attainment to improve future employability. In New Zealand, the objective of the Youth Guarantee initiative is to improve transitions between school, tertiary education and work, by providing improved access to study to 16- and 17-year-olds not currently in education.

Vocational education and training

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) can play a central role in preparing young people for work, provided the programmes reflect labour market needs. Several countries have undertaken reforms to make the programmes more relevant to today’s world of work.

In China, more than 3,000 “skilled workers’ schools” offer comprehensive vocational training courses. Nearly 95 per cent of graduates – there were close to 400 million in 1998 – find jobs.

Viet Nam is diversifying its vocational training to include full-time and regular training, mobile training, and training in enterprises and in traditional craft villages - small communities whose inhabitants work together to make specific goods.

The dual system – which combines school-based education with in-company training – is typical of Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, and more recently Norway. Denmark and Switzerland are among the OECD countries with the lowest unemployment rates for youth, while Austria is well below the OECD average.

Anticipating skills needs

Anticipating future skills needs is the first building block of strong training and skills strategies.

The United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) provides labour market information and advises local governments on skills policies. It is a public body made up of employers, trade unions, government and civil society representatives.

The Republic of Korea’s sustained growth pattern has been attributed in part to a government-led skills development system designed to ensure industry gets the skilled workforce it needs. Investment in a well-educated and highly skilled workforce has been an integral part of encouraging the adoption of new technologies.

Expanded Public Works Programme

South Africa is plagued with 50 per cent youth unemployment, high levels of poverty and inadequate skills. In 2004, the government introduced the labour-intensive Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to provide income relief through temporary work. The programme helps develop marketable skills and entrepreneurship capacities among marginalized sections of society. In 2010–11, it created some 200,000 full-time jobs, half of which went to youth. The government receives technical support from the ILO in the design and implementation of EPWP.

Wage subsidies

Wage subsidies and other financial incentives - such as temporary social security exemptions - for employers who recruit young people can help improve school-to-work transitions. In France and Italy, financial incentives are granted to employers who recruit and provide on-the-job training to young jobseekers. Wage subsidies work best when they are designed to address specific labour market disadvantages faced by young people and when they are provided for a limited period of time.

Reforms to help transitions to formal employment

Following the economic crisis that rocked the country in the early 2000s, the Government of Argentina introduced reforms to address high-levels of informality. These included legislation giving small and micro enterprises a 12 month reduction in social security contributions for new recruits. Another law established sanctions for enterprises exploiting apprentices and young workers. Specific measures also were adopted to curb informality in the most affected occupations, such as simplifying the registration of domestic workers.

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