ILO defines how policy and programs can help address youth unemployment

With global unemployment rates on the rise, youth today face an ever more difficult task in finding their place in the world of work

ILO defines how policy and programs can help address youth unemployment

Two out of every five young women and men worldwide are unemployed or working but living in poverty. This is according to the International Labour Organisation, which released a new publication on the issue of youth unemployment last week titled, Rising to the youth employment challenge.

“Unemployment rates are on the rise again – as are informal, temporary and other non-standard forms of employment,” said Niall O’Higgins, senior research specialist with the ILO and primary author of the new publication. “Young women and men today face an ever more difficult task in finding their place in the world of work.”

According to data from the Ministry of Manpower, young Singaporeans between the ages of 15 and 24 are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than the rest of the labour force.  Recent ILO reports found that Malaysian youth unemployment is more than three times higher than the national average. In Thailand, that ratio is more than four.

But the problem doesn’t simply end with employment. “Young people entering the labour market today face the daunting task of first finding decent jobs and then keeping them when they do,” O’Higgins said.

In high-income countries, the path to work for young people often involves temporary or contractual employment. In low and middle-income countries, three out of four young people are informally employed with no access to the protections and benefits afforded to formal workers – unemployment benefits, pensions, or health insurance.

“For highly-educated young people, temporary or informal jobs can be a stepping stone on the path to better-quality work,” O’Higgins said. “For others—particularly those with low levels of education—it is all too often a trap.”

According to O’Higgins, addressing issues on youth employment requires a comprehensive strategy, incorporating both policy reform and strategic programmes.

In 2014, the European Union launched its Youth Guarantee programme, which provides young people – who are neither working nor enrolled in school – with quality education, training, or work. It also includes government subsidies, available to companies willing to hire young people.  

Programmes like Youth Guarantee require cooperation between the public and private sectors in order to succeed. O’Higgins outlined some key points for designing effective youth employment programmes:

  • They need to last long enough to allow young participants to develop job-related competencies and to prove themselves in the specific work environment.
  • Subsidies have to be sufficiently generous to make them attractive to companies.
  • They should target specific groups of young people – for example, those at risk of becoming long-term unemployed.
  • They should prevent existing workers from being replaced by newly hired and subsidised young people.


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