Giving Youth a Fighting Chance at a Career

A recent study by ManpowerGroup pulls together evidence to make recommendations for the growing youth unemployment problem

Chances are you know more than one young adult fresh out of school and struggling to find a first job. She might have moved back in with her parents – or never left – to cut costs as she spends her days trawling job websites for entry-level positions whose required skills might only vaguely match her qualifications.

The evidence for this trend is clear. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that some 75 million young people around the world are unemployed. That’s a figure that has grown by a whopping 4 million since the 2008 financial crisis.

The situation is even more serious than it might sound. Discussing the issue, incoming ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said, “All of the evidence shows that if a young person is out of work for a year or more at the beginning of their career, that affects them throughout their working life. There’s no way back for most of them. So we have to act urgently, we have to act now and we have to target young people.”

While the global youth unemployment rate is 12.7% in 2012, the situation in Canada is even worse. Statistics Canada numbers for September show that youth employment fell by 70,000 jobs, or 2.8%, compared to a year earlier. Sitting at a 15.0% unemployment rate, youths are the only demographic group that has not recovered from job losses due to the recession.

In light of all this, the American firm ManpowerGroup has released a report, “How Policymakers Can Boost Youth Employment.” Based on research and interviews with an international group of academics, policy makers, employers, NGOs and researchers engaged in youth development, the report provides a series of recommendations and concrete examples.

The report’s first observation? Policy makers are starting to realize that the youth unemployment problem is more structural than cyclical. Simply put, not enough jobs are being created for first-time workers. What’s more, the new economy is creating qualification inflation. With traditional school-to-work channels no longer working for youth the way they used to, those with more relevant work experience are advantaged, at the cost of our well-educated but inexperienced youth.

Next, governments have a key role to play in fostering job creation. Skill enhancement and employability programs can go a long way, but they must be grounded in research on best practices, focus on specific outcomes, and include rigorous monitoring and evaluation. A recently created inventory of youth employment projects being undertaken around the globe by international organizations such as the World Bank, ILO and USAID will go a long way to decreasing mistake repetition and waste.

And last, youth need access to better career and labour market information and more timely training opportunities. Providing career guidance both in and out of school, including entrepreneurship training, is one vital step toward equipping young people with the tools to become savvier in the job market. Moreover, partnerships between government, educators and businesses, such as apprenticeship programs, can help link youth to real jobs.

In the end, any youth strategy needs to create interventions that are replicable, scalable, sustainable, and focused on outcomes that can be measured. Such strategies could go a long way to moving youth out of their parents’ home and onto their chosen career paths.

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