Jobs and the Future of Work

5 Ways to Tackle Youth Unemployment

Sean C. Rush
President and CEO, JA Worldwide
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Persistent jobless growth has reached crisis proportions, especially among the world’s young. The numbers are stark: in 2012, six out of 10 workers aged 15-29 lacked stable employment and earned below-average wages, according to the International Labour Organization. The global youth employment rate has reached 13.1% – almost three times that of adults.

But, while substantive intervention is necessary to tackle a problem of such massive proportions, there’s no silver bullet solution. My NGO, JA Worldwide, recently produced a report, Generation Jobless, detailing both causes of and potential answers to the problem.

Our conclusions: a toxic mix of factors has contributed to the crisis, from mushrooming youth populations in developing regions to a growing mismatch between the skills people have and those that employers need. Addressing the world’s youth unemployment challenge requires a multipronged, long-term effort involving multiple stakeholders, such as governments, employers, educational institutions and civil-society organizations – as well as families, communities and peer groups.

There are five basic strategies that could be pursued globally:

  1. Boosting job creation and labour demand
  2. Better preparing young people for the job market
  3. Illuminating pathways to productive work
  4. Improving financial well-being, both current and long-term
  5. Fostering entrepreneurship

Governments, for example, should develop national action plans targeting youth employment. They should establish enterprise incubation programmes and infrastructure projects that hire and train young people. They should also incentivize education institutions and private operators to do the same.

Employers can create entry-level job opportunities, implement school-to-work apprenticeships and on-the-job training programmes, as well as support young entrepreneurs through mentoring.  Educational institutions can incorporate entrepreneurship into the curriculum and work with employers to ensure they offer students the appropriate training.

At JA, our own approach rests on a heavy dose of collaboration. We work in more than 120 countries through over 450,000 volunteer teachers and mentors, who provide experiential learning to young people between the ages of five and 25. Some 3,000 JA employees work closely with educators, policy-makers and corporations to design programmes for young people in their countries. Most of these efforts are aimed at providing youth with hands-on experiences in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workplace readiness.

A case in point is the innovative ITS TYME (Immersion Training Strategy: Targeting Young Marginalized Entrepreneurs) initiative in sub-Saharan Africa. Working with corporations, government agencies, other local and international NGOs and individual philanthropists, the programme takes entrepreneurship training out of the classroom and into African marketplaces, motor parks, slums and other centres of youth activity. It‘s all focused on equipping underprivileged young people with the practical, strategic and tactical tools they need to become financially self-sufficient and contribute to the social, economic and political life of their communities. In 2013, ITS TYME facilitated over 500 start-ups and 300 mentoring relationships, with notable improvement in incomes across all four project communities.

Consider Tanzania, where, as in other communities, JA’s partners provide technical and vocational training, as well as seed capital, to people trying to start businesses. Through a partnership with Asylum Access and UNHCR/Tanzania, for example, a group of young urban refugees successfully raised capital to start a poultry production company. They found their initial financing of $82 over a period of four months – a major feat for young people whose average daily income is less than 35 cents.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, another noteworthy programme, called Women for Development, was co-developed with the Citi Foundation. It links entrepreneurship education and access to finance through local microfinance institutions, helping participants to improve their financial lives and, in turn, strengthen their communities. Since 2011, more than 5,000 women have benefited.

Mery Mercedes, who lives in the Dominican Republic, is one of those success stories. Unemployed when she started the programme, by the end she was able to launch her own business selling perishable goods. A year and a half later, the enterprise continues to grow steadily. What’s more, she recently qualified for a bank loan after being turned away before.

These experiences carry a clear lesson: that only through the concerted efforts of several parties – and a willingness to stick with it over the long-term – can we address the world’s youth unemployment challenge and achieve lasting change.

Author: Sean Rush is President and CEO of JA Worldwide

Image: Applicants fill out forms during a job fair at the Southeast LA-Crenshaw WorkSource Center in Los Angeles November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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