Investing in youth

The 101st session of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was held at Geneva from 30 May to 14 June 2012. The session was attended by about 4,000 delegates from ILO’s 183 members states representing governments and employers. The theme of the seminar was ‘building a future with decent work’. The session was addressed on its last day by Noble prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar, who appealed for help in boosting democracy in her country. Other special guests included the presidents of Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Tunisia, Zambia and Prince of Spain.

The session was held in the backdrop of a ‘youth employment crisis’. The issues relating to ‘youth employment’ were discussed by the International Labour Conference in 2005. The resolution adopted in 2005 highlighted the fact that ‘there are too many young people who do not have access to work’ and faced a challenge in the labour market. Some steps were then initiated. But the matter was put on the agenda of 101st session by a renewed sense of alarm at the unprecedented proportions that the youth employment crises have acquired. To have four out of every 10 young people unemployed is a social and economic catastrophe, observed the youth employment crisis: time for action, report V, which was on the agenda of the conference. It goes on to say that ‘over the last two decades youth unemployment on average has remained at three times of adult unemployment.’

Europe is in the grip of great uncertainty and the rate of unemployment is very high in some countries – Spain 24.6 per cent, Greece 21.9 per cent, Poland 12.4 per cent against the Eurasia average of 11.1 per cent. Among the Asian Countries, according to The Economist, [14-20 July 2012) India has an unemployment rate of 9.8 per cent against 4.4 per cent in Japan, 4.1 per cent in China and six per cent in Pakistan. The global economic and financial crisis and the global outlook for growth being gloomy, it is feared that labour markets will be further adversely affected.

But more alarming has been the rise in youth unemployment. It is believed that the rate of youth unemployment is more than normal rate of unemployment, being more than double in some cases. The youth unemployment rate has doubled between 2007 and 2011, particularly in countries affected by economic crisis. For example, it stands at 46 per cent in Spain and 42 per cent in Greece [the two countries which are in the focus of crisis in Europe] according to the youth employment crisis : time for action report. In Portugal and Italy it is over 25 per cent and in Cyprus, Estonia, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and UK it is over 20 per cent.

The other major aspect is the quality or lack of it. The ILO in 2005 highlighted the fact that several young people do not have access to decent work. The resolution adopted in 2005 called for an integrated and coherent approach that combines macro-economic and micro-economics interventions – including employment criteria, providing educational and vocational training opportunities and enterprises development programmes to encourage self-employment. All these programmes need to be carefully designed, monitored and evaluated to ensure high economic and social benefits. The ILO has always been at the forefront of issues relating to unemployment and has adopted four conventions and two Recommendations dealing with promotion of employment, advising the member States to attain full, productive and freely chosen employment as important tool for improving prospects of young persons. India has ratified three conventions – The Employment Policy Convention, 1964 [No 122], The Human Resources Development Convention, 1975, [No 142] and The Employment Service Convention, 1948 (No. 88). India has however, not ratified The Private Employment Agencies Convention, 1997 [No 181]. ILO in its 101 st annual conference held at Geneva had warned the countries to ‘invest in youth or lose a generation’. A document adopted by the conference, emphasised that the world risks losing a generation if it fails to urgently address the youth employment crisis. The document highlights the measures governments need to take, with the support of employers and workers which include addressing skills mismatch, improving apprenticeship systems and promoting youth entrepreneurship. The conference noticed with dismay that 75 million young people aged between 15-24 years are jobless and that six million of them have completely given up looking for a job. Of those who are working, more than 100 million earn less than two dollar a day. The Conference pointed out that ‘political commitment and innovative approaches are critical to improve the situation’. The key priority in policy-making should be the emphasis on job creation, both in government and private jobs. This may include measures such as providing tax and other incentives to enterprises who hire young people, efforts to reduce the skills mismatch, entrepreneurship programme that integrate skills training improvement of social protection for the young.

N K Kakkar is working as director general at Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies.
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