While school enrolment rates are increasing around the world, young people are still among the most affected by unemployment. How can this be addressed? Véronique Sauvat puts forward some solutions to make it easier for young people to enter the labor market.

What is the link between education, training and access to employment?

Education, training and access to employment are powerful drivers for the empowerment of people, social mobility and the reduction of vulnerabilities. These drivers contribute to the construction of common values and encourage the emergence of citizenship and social cohesion. They are one of the prerequisites for the construction of a sustainable world and green economies that are both low-carbon and prosperous. There can be no rapid change in behavior and consumption and production patterns without education and without training.

At the economic level, education and training are essential investments for building  competitive, innovative and inclusive economies and facilitating occupational mobility. It should be noted that an additional year in school increases the future earnings of an individual by 10% and even by 20% for women.



Youth unemployment remains endemic around the world, despite a sharp rise in enrolment rates. What are the main barriers to their integration on the job market in developing countries?

Indeed, there continues to be several barriers to the vocational integration of young people. I can see at least four. The first is the employability of individuals. They have inadequate skills or unsuitable qualifications due to an education with a quality that still remains too poor. The problem gives particular cause for concern in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to ILO data, over 60% of young workers do not have the level of education required by employers.

The second barrier, which we can see everywhere, regardless of the level of development of societies, is related to the aspirations of young generations which sometimes do not match up to the employment market. A large proportion of young people aspire to jobs that do not fit in with their skills or with what the local economy can offer them. This phenomenon gives rise to anxiety and frustrations.

The divide between training and the employment market is the third barrier. It is detrimental to the occupational integration of young graduates. How to enter the labor market? How to write a resumé? How to prepare a career plan? As training institutes often have few exchanges with economic stakeholders, young people are not sufficiently prepared and supported after their studies.

Finally, the fourth barrier lies in the difficulty experienced by economies in diversifying and creating jobs. Indeed, employment cannot be decreed. It first and foremost concerns companies and the outcome of multidimensional processes – financial, economic, technological, territorial, normative…   


North Africa and the Middle East have extremely high unemployment rates among 15-24 year-olds. How can this be accounted for?

The economies in the region are not dynamic and are marked by strong social disparities. Young people do not find the means in them to liberate themselves, despite major demands. This explains the scale of the frustrations, which were in particular expressed during the Arab Spring, and the mass unemployment: 40% of young graduates from higher education are unemployed.

In addition to this phenomenon, there is NEET (Neither in Employment, Education or Training) – these young people who, neither in training nor employment, are at risk of being permanently excluded from the labor market: over 30% of 15-29 year-olds in the Arab world. Furthermore, it should be remembered that North Africa and the Middle East have the most marked differences in the unemployment rate between men and women.



Are the challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa different?

With an unemployment level of below 11%, youth in Sub-Saharan Africa would appear to be less affected by unemployment than youth in the Arab world. But this figure is a smokescreen brought about by the scale of underemployment. The poverty of young workers is the result of this: in 2016, 70% of the 156 million young people living on less than USD 3 a day were living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite an annual growth of around 4%, it is likely that job creation will not be sufficient to absorb the new labor market entrants. Between 2018 and 2035, it is forecast that some 20 million jobs will be created in the region every year, i.e. double what it has created on average over the last 5 years.


What practical measures can be taken to tackle youth employment in these countries?

The key lies in strengthening the employability of young people. It means increasing their value on the labor market. But it is also necessary to strengthen the assistance towards vocational integration in order to take action on both labor supply and demand. The intermediation between the need for and supply of skills is still insufficiently developed, even if things are changing. For example, in Morocco, intermediation professionals travel in the regions to inform communities.

Finally, there is obviously a need for support measures to increase the quantity of jobs. This requires the presence of public services in rural areas in order to encourage companies to set up there, more effective systems to finance investment, policies to support entrepreneurship…


Do local economies have the capacity to absorb millions of additional young graduates?

It is difficult to achieve full employment. 340 million people are going to arrive on the labor market over the next ten years, whereas there are already 190 million unemployed in the world.

There are diverse forms of work: alongside paid employment, which is our implicit standard, masses of workers are self-employed or have multiple activities, in the formal or informal sector. 2.5 billion people today work in the informal economy. This is a strong trend which is set to increase and will require support to improve working conditions and the protection of these people.

The need for skills is expressed at all levels. In West Africa, 60% of the working population works in the agriculture sector: the development of rural areas and agricultural and farming-related activities is a priority for youth employment. In addition, new jobs are appearing related to digital technologies, the green economy and the expansion of services. The transitions raise major reconversion issues, the social impacts of which have not been measured yet. An entire environment taking the measure of these developments and supporting the transformations in work still needs to be set up.



Is it possible to reconcile quality job creation and social standards? What are the drivers for success?

This is exactly the aim of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) n°8, entitled “Decent work and economic growth”. As with all the SDGs, it sets a course, in particular for a development agency like AFD. Experience shows that countries which have invested the most in the quality of employment (safety at work, social protection…) have seen their standard of living improve more quickly.

In a context of the globalization of value chains, technological developments and ecological constraints, issues related to employment and social justice fundamentally refer to politics, power relations, regulation and societal choices.



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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