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A working solution for the world's youth

The Guardian, 31 January 2014 - With major economies and developing nations alike seeing growing numbers of jobless young people, youth unemployment needs swift and systemic action.
A working solution for the world's youth

A development scheme helped orphan Desire Sibanda (right), who was forced to leave school, set up his own business Photograph: Francois d'Elbee/Unicef/the Guardian

Desire Sibanda dreamed of being a pilot when he was a young child, but when he was six years old he lost his mother and father in the space of a year. He had to move in with his blind grandfather who lived in a small village on the outskirts of Chongwe, a rural community in Zambia. Unable to pay for his schools fees, he dropped out of education. Like millions of other young people around the world, Desire was facing a bleak future with little hope of earning a decent living.

Fortunately, Desire found out about building young futures, a development scheme that helps young people foster the skills they need to set up their own business or find work. Having used the training and mentoring he received on the programme to start building a poultry business, he is once again dreaming of the future.

But can Desire's story of success be replicated? What evidence is there that schemes encouraging collaboration between governments, NGOs and businesses to tackle youth unemployment can achieve results on a large scale?

These questions formed the basis of a recent seminar, hosted by the Guardian and held in association with Barclays. The seminar began with a panel of experts discussing the issues, before answering questions from an audience drawn from the development and youth support sectors.

Opening the discussion, panellist Azita Berar, director of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) employment policy department, highlighted the scale of the problem, quoting figures from the ILO's global employment trends 2014 report, which was published last week. An estimated 74.5 million young people – aged 15–24 – were unemployed in 2013, Berar said. "That is 13% of the labour force, three times the amount of adult unemployment."

However, youth unemployment is just the "tip of the iceberg", Berar added. The number of young people in temporary or part-time jobs is also increasing, so even when they do find work it is often in insecure positions.

It affects everyone

The problem is not limited to the developing world either, she told the seminar. The quality of jobs in the developed world is also decreasing, with a concentration of young people in low-paid employment.

"Europe is not doing well on youth unemployment. Only those with relatively high skill levels can hope to find a job – and often they are getting jobs beneath their skills profile, so they are pushing others down," she said.

"In the US we are seeing a rise in long-term youth unemployment," she added. In Africa, the waves of migration out of the country show the scale of the problem. In Asia, they are getting jobs but many are poor-quality. Latin America is doing better, as it has recovered from the global financial crisis more quickly than other regions, Berar told the seminar, but "no single country can say it doesn't have a problem with youth unemployment. It is an unprecedented crisis – action is needed now."

So what can be done to tackle such a huge issue? Panellist Lauren lannarone, Barclays' director of citizenship, told the seminar that the nature of employment is changing, as digital jobs and self-employment become more common. As such, universities, NGOs, governments and other organisations need to collaborate more effectively to ensure young people are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in this environment.

Developing systemic solutions – instead of one-off interventions – that prepare young people for this changing employment landscape is therefore key, said Iannarone: "You have to look at the whole system, from education to work experience, to work placements and all the support systems around that. You need to make sure you're looking at all the solutions across the board."

But Iannarone stressed that when you bring governments, non-profit organisations and corporates together to solve the challenge of youth unemployment you need to "align the objectives" of these organisations. "Some will do it for recruiting, some will do it for PR, others will get involved because they really want to understand what their future talent will be," she said.

Panellist Jill Huntley, Accenture's global managing director for corporate citizenship, told the seminar that established companies need to support young entrepreneurs and bring them into the "eco-system of business". However, she added that the needs of young people differed from region to region, so it was important for companies to focus on where they can make a difference in a particular area and find ways to complement the work of other organisations, such as NGOs and governments.

Huntley added that while her firm does create in-house jobs, as a professional services business, it can also look at its supply chain and its partners "to see where we can offer opportunities".

Encouraging entrepreneurs

Berar used the example of a small project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a mining firm had introduced local suppliers into its catering supply chain, to illustrate how large companies could systematically engage local entrepreneurs.

Panellist Matt Wilson, global programme and partnerships manager at Unicef, also stressed the importance of collaboration, telling the seminar that youth unemployment "is an issue that is too big for an organisation to handle on its own". It was therefore vital, he said, for organisations such as Unicef to link up with private-sector partners in order to bring business expertise to development programmes.

Wilson went on to explain how many young people on the building young futures scheme, which Unicef runs alongside Barclays, come from vulnerable backgrounds and don't have mentors who can help them develop a business idea. "Bringing in a business means they suddenly have links to professionals who have a wealth of experience that can help them along that journey."

"What is crucial with these programmes is we're showing these interventions work – we're transforming the lives of young people," he said. "If businesses can help us scale this up across whole countries, the impact could be huge."

Asked by an audience member what the measure of success would be for Unicef, Wilson replied: "Helping build the capacity of our NGO, government and business partners to a point where they can do this on their own."

Another delegate told the panel about 2013's international youth job creation summit, where young people had put forward their own solutions to unemployment. The audience member said two major suggestions had emerged from the conference: embedding entrepreneurship into the DNA of education; and providing young people with access to capital. If young people don't have access to capital, they can't start enterprises, the audience member said, pointing out that in the developed world lenders were "making Wonga look generous" by offering only high interest rates to potential young entrepreneurs looking for business loans.

Iannarone agreed that banks "need to do better" when it comes to lending to young people, but said this was only one part of a wider problem: "You can lend all you want, but if you don't give people the skills to manage their money responsibly then you'll cause more harm than good. It's not just about access to capital, it is access to knowledge."

Gender inequality

Other audience members felt gender inequality needed to be addressed before youth unemployment could be tackled in countries such as Ghana, India and South Africa, where a lack of sexual reproduction rights was preventing women from gaining economic empowerment.

Yet it was clear from the seminar that the majority of audience members and panellists were in agreement over the best way to tackle youth unemployment. Targeted, collaborative interventions that offered a direct route to employment – such as the one that helped Desire create a future for himself in Zambia – offered the best hope. But such schemes could only achieve long-term, large-scale success if businesses, NGOs and governments worked together to develop systemic solutions.

"There isn't a single magic bullet to solve the youth unemployment problem," Berar said. "It is the combination of many interventions targeting specific disadvantages that make a difference."

Programmes to tackle youth unemployment

During the seminar, panellists and audience members highlighted a number of initiatives that have been set up to tackle youth unemployment, such as:

• Youth guarantee schemes

EU scheme that aims to ensure all young people under 25 find a job, apprenticeship, traineeship, or continue education within four months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. The total estimated cost of establishing youth guarantee schemes in the eurozone is €21bn (£17.3bn) a year. However, inaction would be much more costly. Young people not in employment, education or training are estimated to cost the EU €153bn.

• Get into work

Prince's Trust programme of short vocational courses that develop young people's skills in a specific employment sector.

• Skills to succeed academy

Online employability learning resource, created specifically to meet the needs of 15 to 24-year-old jobseekers by offering interactive online training and support materials.

• Building young futures

Partnership between Barclays and Unicef that aims to equip 74,000 disadvantaged young people in six countries – Brazil, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Uganda and Zambia – with the skills to help them fulfil their potential.

• Skills to succeed

Training programme run by Accenture that aims to equip 500,000 young people globally with the skills to get a job or build a business by 2015.

• Studio School Trust

Studio School is a new state school model for people between 14 and 19 that seeks to address the growing gap between what young people require to succeed – such as employment skills – and the knowledge provided by the current education system.

At the table

Joe Confino (Chair) Executive editor, the Guardian

Lauren Iannarone Director of citizenship, Barclays

Jill Huntley Global managing director for corporate citizenship, Accenture

Matt Wilson Global programme and partnerships manager, Unicef

Azita Berar Director, employment policy department, International Labour Organisation

Credits

Roundtable report commissioned and controlled by the Guardian. Discussion hosted to a brief agreed with Barclays. Funded by Barclays. Contact Rachel Joy on 020 3353 2688 (rachel.joy@theguardian.com). For information on roundtables visit: theguardian.com/sponsored-content

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/jan/31/working-solution-for-the-worlds-youth

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