05/09/2013 03:58 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Young People Deserve a Better Start

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Young people have felt the brunt of the multiple-crises that have evolved since 2008's financial meltdown. Record-high unemployment levels, popular protests and the prospect of a lost generation have not yet elicited a coordinated and sufficient response.

The global youth unemployment rate is projected to reach almost 13 percent in 2013 -- the equivalent of 73 million young people, according to a new ILO report on Global Employment Trends for Youth. This is nearly the same rate as it was at the height of the economic crisis. Based on current projections, it is not expected to decline before 2018.

The situation varies between the developed and the developing world, but no country is immune.

In developed countries, many young people have given up looking for a job altogether or have lowered their expectations to settle for any job they can find. In addition, more and more young people are stuck with part-time or temporary contracts. Secure jobs that were once the norm for previous generations are a distant dream for many of today's youth.

The magnitude of the numbers suggests that we are looking at a generation at risk; millions of unemployed or underutilized young people, whose period of "youthful" dependency on parents and the state is being prolonged.

Through a partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, the ILO has designed and implemented innovative research in developing countries that goes beyond standard labour market indicators, to look at issues such as irregular employment, underutilization, job quality and satisfaction and labour market transitions. Findings from these school-to-work transition surveys reveal that young people face far more difficult challenges to entering the labour market than published unemployment figures suggest.

In the countries surveyed, up to two thirds of young people were either unemployed; working in irregular, poor-quality, low-wage jobs, frequently in the informal economy; or neither in the labour market nor in education or training. The findings demonstrate that competition for scarce jobs forces under-educated young people in developing countries into further vulnerability. Young people who live in rural areas or who are migrating to urban areas are especially affected. Without sustainable job creation and better access to education and skills training, progress on reducing poverty is at risk.

Creative and wide-ranging solutions are needed

The global economic and social crisis urgently requires collective action from public policy, the private sector, trade unions and other actors. Globally, we need a coordinated macroeconomic response that puts jobs first, especially for young people. Growth does not happen without people working.

In parallel, at the national level, a set of youth employment specific measures are required. These include interventions to ensure young people have the skills sought by employers; that small and medium sized enterprises have access to credit, allowing them to employ more young workers; and that young people have the same rights, working conditions and social protection as adult workers.

In countries with high numbers of unemployed youth, comprehensive packages of employment programmes and services that target disadvantaged young persons have generally done better than single measures. Successful interventions combine education and training with work-experience and job-placement support, including incentives for employers to hire disadvantaged youth, such as wage subsidies, tax cuts or social security exemptions for a limited period.

One example of a proven approach is youth employment guarantees, which provide skills' training, work experience, job-search support and/or a job placement. A study conducted in 2011 in Sweden, showed that unemployed youth, who benefited from such a guarantee, were able to find a job faster than those who had not. In Austria, 63 percent of young people found a job within a year of participating in a similar programme in 2010.

Apprenticeships are also a powerful instrument to achieve impact and scale on youth employment, reduce the mismatch of skills and promote efficient transitions from the world of education to the world of employment. The training initiatives that have proved most relevant to the jobs market are characterized by close collaboration between public policy, enterprises, social partners, training providers and young people.

In developing countries where young people may be working but in subsistence jobs in the informal economy, integrated strategies and programmes for employment and livelihoods are needed. Interventions can include training in literacy, occupational and entrepreneurial skills, as well as provision of support to youth-led micro and small enterprises and cooperatives to successfully access credit, non-financial services and markets. These measures can help foster a virtuous circle of improved productivity, better working conditions and sustainable enterprises.

There is no one-size-fits all solution but young people the world over share the same motivation -- to find a decent job so they can support themselves and their families. They are the engine of innovation and growth for the future but they are in urgent need of a "jump start" from the right kind of policy mix.