Sometime during autumn 2011, the world’s population reached 7 billion. The birth of the 7 billionth baby that year has also produced one of the largest cohorts of young people in history. The median age of the global community is now just over 27 with about 1.2 billion people aged between 15 and 24.

This so-called “youth bulge” has produced enormous challenges for society. As the global economy continues to struggle with recovery, we find that more than half of these young people (600+ million) are unemployed or severely underemployed. The unemployment rate for young people in Latin America is 14.3%, two points higher than the global average. At least 21.2 million young people in the region are not in education, employment or training, while an additional 29 million are underemployed.

And as 120 million more youth enter the global job market each year, the problem will become worse. At risk is the creation of a “lost generation” and social destabilization as disaffected young people seek jobs that don’t exist. One need only look at the uprisings throughout the Middle East in the past few years to understand the profound implications.

It is essential that the business sector, civil society and governments come together to deal with this growing problem. Addressing the global youth unemployment problem (and it is, indeed, a “global” problem affecting developed nations as well as developing countries) will require a concerted and coordinated effort by all stakeholders.

The key elements of this effort must include at a minimum:

  • Entrepreneurship training and education
  • Experiential “hands-on” learning
  • Mentorship
  • School-industry partnerships
  • Training to employment programmes
  • Apprenticeship programmes
  • Creation of entry-level job opportunities
  • National action plans that promote job creation and reward youth employment
  • Support of youth entrepreneurs

Of these essential elements, youth entrepreneurship education holds particular promise. Organizations that teach entrepreneurship to young people cite sharp increases in motivation, self-confidence and willingness to take prudent risks. One study showed that 60% of participants in entrepreneurship education were likely to start their own company and 70% had more confidence in their workplace readiness. Similarly, training to employment organizations have achieved great success in securing hiring commitments from companies for students that they educate.

However, much more needs to be done. The sheer size of the youth unemployment problem demands highly coordinated and scalable solutions. It requires partnerships among multiple players to bring about sustainable results. And, most of all, it calls for long-term commitments from all sectors of society.

The waste of young talent, energy and creativity is something we cannot afford if the future is to hold promise for any of us.

Author: Sean C. Rush is President and Chief Executive Officer of JA Worldwide and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment, he will also be participating in the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2013

Image: Hundreds of job seekers join a line at a jobs fair in Costa Rica REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate