Youth unemployment: “Young people have the right to opportunities”


Fatin (not her real name) is in her twenties and is unemployed. She lives in the rural village of Al Tireh in the West Bank of occupied Palestine, where few job opportunities exist.

But having received skills training from a local charity, Fatin and some fellow local women are opening a children’s nursery this month and will earn their own money. “We really needed help to make the transition,” she explains. “We want to improve ourselves, village and community. We can make a difference with skills.”

Recent research published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows Fatin’s situation is typical of her region, and increasingly, of young people globally. Its 2016 World Employment and Social Outlook report states that just over 30 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region are currently unemployed – more than in any other region.

Globally, the ILO says the situation is set to worsen for young people. After years of improving youth employment rates, the number of jobless young people will increase by 500,000 in 2016 to reach a total of 71 million.

It blames the trend on deeper than expected recessions hitting key emerging commodity-exporting countries, as well as low growth in developing countries.

Women fare worse than men in the current climate, the ILO’s research found. Worldwide the labour force participation rate for young men stands at 53.9 per cent in 2016, compared to 37.3 per cent for young women – a gap of 16.6 percentage points.

Deep-rooted socio-economic and cultural factors can prevent women such as Fatin from entering the market. In the MENA region, the gap between male and female youth participation is 32.2 percentage points. “We can only do this if our husbands permit us,” says Fatin of her work.

Another worrying trend revealed by the report is the number of young people in in-work poverty. In 2016, 156 million – 37.7 per cent – of working youths are living in extreme poverty despite having a job. Two thirds of these are in emerging economies.


It starts with education

British charity Y Care International (YCI) provided Fatin’s skills training in partnership with a local branch of the YMCA. YCI delivers enterprise and employability training around the world. Chief executive Adam Leach says the ILO’s forecasts are unsurprising and the causes of youth unemployment begin at school.

“The disrespect for practical, business-oriented education is a universal problem,” said Leach. “Education universally is failing to prepare people for the world of work.”

Leach says this is what often leads young people to take informal jobs, particularly in developing countries. They engage in petty trades, such as street vending or informal agricultural work, but this does not provide skills development or opportunities to move into better, higher-paid roles.

In some areas, such as Palestine, Leach says young people can be highly qualified with tertiary-level education. Yet jobs are unavailable. Those that can afford it migrate to the US, Canada or the Persian Gulf. According to the ILO’s report, in 2015 almost 51 million international migrants were aged between 15 and 29.

Leach says cultural attitudes are one of the biggest challenges facing women looking for work. “It is underpinned that women will work at home and that’s where they should be,” he said of the West Bank. But the YMCA group Fatin joined has given her a stake in her community that will lead to economic independence. “Setting up the nursery project has won us respect,” she says.

“Even in a situation like this people have ingenuity and have found a way to deliver them,” Leach says of the people living in the occupied territory. He suggests the best way to help young people gain employment is to enable them to help themselves. “The biggest disservice we can do to young people is to treat them as if they don’t have opportunities or rights to opportunities,” he says.

Charity Youth Business International (YBI) also favours a youth-led solution to unemployment. Funded by bodies including the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) and USAID, it provides young entrepreneurs with start-up packages to found and grow businesses in more than 40 countries.

Communications manager Andreea Bordei believes through entrepreneurship, young people can both solve their own unemployment problem and that of others.

“Ideally every business we support aims to grow in a way that it will employ other people,” she says. “Young people are half of the world’s population right now. We have to help them now start and grow their businesses so that tomorrow the economy will be stable.”


From unemployed to employers

Turning young people into employers does not have to be difficult, Bordei says. YBI provides technical training, financial support and mentoring. It also targets specific groups and tailors its package to particular needs.

“There are specific countries where entrepreneurship is not well developed,” she says. “We work with those countries to raise awareness of entrepreneurship as an alternative to employment. For example, in Uganda there isn’t much of an entrepreneur culture for women. We emphasise the fact that entrepreneurship is for everyone.”

Bordei says youth unemployment can only be tackled if the private, public and third sectors work together. She believes this is happening. “In every country we work in we’re starting to see everyone we work with open up to the idea of partnering for impact, probably because of the way the world is evolving right now,” Bordei claims.

Youth Career Initiative is another youth-employment focused organisation dependent upon collaborative working. It offers young people 24-week employability programmes in hotels across the globe. Director Fran Hughes explains it uses non-profit partners on the ground to identify young people excluded from work, who go on to spend 60 per cent of the project time rotating around different hotel departments, and 40 per cent in the classroom.

“They get exposure to different types of work and see what they flourish at, to give them better choices going forward,” says Hughes. The classroom time is dedicated to life skills, which Hughes says makes the difference. “It’s taking people who are a little rough around the edges and putting them into a position where they develop their interpersonal skills, e.g. computer skills, putting together a CV, life skills, and personal finance,” she explains.

The ILO report’s co-author, Stefan Kühn told Equal Times using labour market policies to specifically target young people was a direct way to try and prevent the unemployment trend. He also agreed that young people needed to be part of the solution.

“Youth should be more represented in social dialogue as stakeholders because the social dialogue might forget they are part of the labour force,” he said. “Government representatives have to be clear that they are also representing the youth. The social partners – employers and employees – need to realise they also should represent youth.”

Fatin’s future looks different now she has the opportunity to be employed. By 2017 perhaps she won’t be among the 13.1 per cent of the global population the ILO says will be looking for work.