Jobs and the Future of Work

How to tackle youth unemployment

Holly Hickman
Writer, GE Look Ahead
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Jobs and the Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of Work

More than 150 years after Ivan Turgenev penned those words, millions of youths cannot go their way, and certainly not as if they owned treasure: some 200m young people, mostly in developing countries, earn less than US$2 per day.

The young are three times more likely than adults to be unemployed; joblessness stands at 13.1% for youths aged 15-24, an all-time peak difference. In 2010, 536m working youths in developing countries were underemployed. Taken together with the 75m without jobs last year, that’s about half the world’s 1.2bn 15-24-year-olds. A growing subset of these young people is the NEET group: Not in Education, Employment or Training. Stalled and hard to reach, these 357 million (97 percent of whom were in developing countries as of 2012) remain at particular risk of both social and labour market exclusion.

Tackling global youth unemployment requires countries to implement a multitude of initiatives and public-private partnerships. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, only 45% of global employers believe new graduates have adequate skills for entry-level jobs. As a result, even though jobs may be available, they remain unfilled. This “Talent Paradox”, as Deloitte refers to it, underscores the need for skills training that is relevant to industry and reduces time to productivity for any new hire.

Encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship is another way to productively employ youth. Microfinancing groups such as Kiva and Accion, for example, provide small loans so youths can start businesses or pay for vocational training. Last year, the Tony Elumelu Foundation launched a $100m project with the goal of initiating 10,000 start-ups, creating 1m new jobs and achieving $10bn in annual revenues. The American University in Cairo also leased its GrEEK campus to Sawari Ventures to create Egypt’s first tech park.

Motivated youth from emerging markets are also flocking to massive open online course (MOOC) platforms that offer free university courses. According to Anant Agarwal, the President of edX, a MOOC founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, a large number of registered students are from emerging markets . Since its inception in 2012, more than 4 million students from 196 countries have registered for edX courses, with 48% from developing countries, according to edX. While the majority of registered students in MOOCs don’t complete the course, the large numbers of registrations from the emerging markets is remarkable.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and other international organizations like the OECD suggest that world governments take seriously the youth unemployment crisis. In the short term, countries with an underemployed youth bulge are more prone to political and civic unrest . Examples include Egypt, where 60% of the population is under 30 , Nigeria, with 71% under 30 , and India, where half the population is under 25. For governments with aging populations like Germany and China, however, this youth also represents a formidable labor market competitor in the future. But whether emerging markets can develop their human capital potential depends on how quickly and effectively they close the skills gap.


This article is published in collaboration with GE LookAhead. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

 To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: Holly Hickman writes for GE Look Ahead.

 Image: Job offers are seen in this illustration in Milan April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

What can employers do to combat STEM talent shortages?

Timo Lehne

May 21, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum