Youth at the centre of employment policies

The challenge of youth employment is not new.
  • Even in good economic times, young people experience unemployment rates that are 3-4 times higher than adults.
  • Around one-fifth of young people worldwide are not in employment, education or training (NEET). The NEET rate is particularly high for young women in lower-middle income countries where it reaches almost 40%.
  • More than three out of four of the world’s young workers had informal jobs in 2016 compared to around 59% of adults aged 25 and above.
As also witnessed during the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the numerous labour market challenges facing young people.The chief concern is scarring due to the crisis meaning that the effects will persist for many years to come; in the wake of the GFC, the youth unemployment rate never returned to the level before 2008.

For insights on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on youth employment and recovery trends, see ILO’s research and policy briefs on the topic: In a context of ongoing multiple crises, young people remain a key priority for ILO’s support employment policies due to the significant challenges they face in the labour market and their large share in the working-age population in low- and middle-income countries.

ILO and global frameworks on youth and employment policies

ILO’s focus on youth in employment policies is guided by the Follow-up plan of action on youth employment for 2020-2030, which was endorsed in 2020. The strategic framework merges the five pillars of the 2012 Youth Employment Call to Action (employability, youth entrepreneurship, employment and economic policies for youth, rights at work for youth and labour market policies for youth) with the human-centred approach as outlined in the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work 2019, which are guide response to respond to the future of work trends (demographic shifts, globalization, climate change and technological changes).

The global commitment on youth employment is outlined in SDG 8.b.1, which targets the development and operationalization of national strategies for youth employment as a distinct strategy or as part of a national employment policy.

For more information on the SDG indicator 8.b.1 on youth employment, see ILO’s methodological guidance.

Figure: ILO strategic framework on youth

Employment policy implications

Youth employment challenges are central to employment policies around the policy cycle including during employment diagnostics, policy formulation and implementation.

Employment diagnostics:

As highlighted in the Employment Diagnostics Toolbox, age disaggregation is crucial in order to understand how trends, challenges and impact of crises affect young people differently.
  • In this analysis, it is important to remember that young people are not homogenous and thus, understanding these issues requires further disaggregation by gender and other group dimensions.
  • For insights on young NEETs, see, for example, ILO/Sida Partnership on Employment Technical brief No. 3: Young People not in employment, education or training, Youth not in employment, education or training in Asia and the Pacific: Trends and policy considerations (
Policy formulation and implementation:

The design and delivery of employment policies requires the proper identification of goals, objectives, strategies and actions that support job creation, improved quality of jobs, and transitions and access to decent jobs that benefit young people.

Have a look at different youth employment strategies around the world in the ILO Employment Policy Gateway

Within a comprehensive employment policy framework perspective, some key policy entry points include:
  • Youth-inclusive social dialogue for employment policy development and implementation is key. Governments, as well as workers’ and employers’ organizations, should facilitate the inclusion of youth in their ranks. Where this is not possible, creative solutions should be made available to include the needs and perspective of youth.
  • Making youth employment issues an integral part of well-structured national strategies can help to reduce atomization, prevent overlapping and duplication and facilitate policy coherence.
  • Addressing youth-specific vulnerabilities and decent work deficits requires looking beyond narrow view of economic factors to also encompass their working conditions and rights in the labour market.
  • Macroeconomic and sectoral support should assist sustainable enterprises and boost labour demand. Enhanced international cooperation is equally important to address the fiscal and financial constraints faced by developing countries, in which the majority of young people live.
  • Youth employment policies and initiatives should include new investments in strategic sectors and economic areas with growing social demand, such as the green, blue, digital, creative and care economies.
  • Active labour market programmes (ALMPs), employment services and promotion of skills development and entrepreneurship are needed to support transitions to decent jobs for youth. An integrated approach is needed covering wage and hiring subsidies, job search support and public employment programmes, as well as supporting youth entrepreneurship and youth-led local solutions.
  • Investing in better institutions of work that address the youth employment challenges. Youth are disproportionately over-represented in the informal economy and in the NEET population. Appropriate outreach strategies and formalisation paths should address this reality.
The EU’s Youth Guarantee has been a key vehicle to promote an integrated approach to supporting and activating young people, including inactive young people. For more information on the EU’s Youth Guarantee, see ILO’s overall action in this area and implementation in the Western Balkans.

Need more information on youth employment?

Join the discussion on “what works in youth employment” through the YouthForesight Community Forum Group (requires signing up), 

Find more ILO-related knowledge resources on the YouthForesight platform 

Discover ILO’s training offer on youth employment at the International Training Centre of the ILO (ITCILO), Youth employment | ITCILO