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Young blood's sweat, tears and fears

Published on Thursday, 05 Jul 2012
Young jobseekers queue at an employment centre in Paris. Nearly 75 million youngsters seeking work will not find a job this year.
Photo: Bloomberg

Across the world, millions of young jobseekers are struggling to find employment. Youth joblessness inched up this year, with the current levels moving closer to the 2005 peak, according to the latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) update on global employment trends for youth.

The report states that nearly 74.6 million youths, or 12.7 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 hunting for jobs, will not be able to find work this year – up from 12.6 per cent in 2011 and an increase of more than 4 million since 2007. Youth unemployment last peaked in 2005, when 77.9 million youths were out of work.

The immediate future offers little respite, with the trend of joblessness expected to hold strong until at least 2016. “Medium-term projections [2012-16] suggest little improvement in youth labour markets. By 2016, the youth unemployment rate is projected to remain at the same high level,” the report added.

East Asia’s robust economic performance has not helped spare its young jobseekers. This year’s youth unemployment rate for the region is 9.3 per cent, compared with 9 per cent last year and 8.9 per cent in 2010. Young men – 10.3 per cent of the total – were more affected than young women (7.1 per cent). The numbers are expected to climb to 9.8 per cent in 2016. Last year’s figure was 2.7 times higher than that of the adult unemployment rate.

The ILO placed Hong Kong’s youth unemployment rate at 16.6 per cent in August last year, almost five times the then total unemployment rate of 3.2 per cent. Young men (9.5 per cent) were more affected than women (7.1 per cent). According to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Board’s “Quarterly Report on General Household Survey”, the number of unemployed people in the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups stood at 11.2 per cent and 7.4 per cent in the final quarter of 2011, respectively, and 12.6 per cent and 7.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.

Elsewhere around the globe, the figures are particularly high in developed economies in the European Union, central and south-east Europe, North Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and South Asia. The developed economies and the European Union stood at 18 per cent in 2011, compared to 12.5 per cent in 2007 and 17.3 per cent in 2009, with that rate expected to gradually decrease by just one percentage point by 2016. In North Africa, the Arab Spring aggravated already high levels of youth unemployment by almost 5 per cent over 2010 and 2011, raising the figure from 23 per cent in 2009 to over 27.9 per cent in 2011. In crisis-ridden Spain and Greece, youth unemployment rocketed to over 50 per cent.

Not all employed youths could land their dream job, however. Many, especially in developed economies, have to make do with temporary, part-time and low-productivity work arrangements that do not require the skills they have trained in. Some, especially in developing countries, were doing unpaid work supporting informal family businesses or enterprises.

Theodor Sparreboom, senior economist at ILO, said the report had highlighted the deteriorating quality of youth employment around the world, in particular the pervasiveness in the developed world of part-time and temporary work. He said that although this type of employment is very important for young people who are juggling study with part-time work and studies, the prevalence of temporary and part-time work in developed economies suggests that young people do not really have an alternative and are forced into jobs that do not open up opportunities to move to more permanent, productive and better-paid positions.

The ILO report also revealed that there is a hidden aspect of youth unemployment that may make the situation even gloomier. As many as 6 million young people, especially in crisis-hit developed economies, have dropped out of work or decided to prolong their education because they are discouraged by the lack of prospects. Of special concern is the group known by the acronym NEET (not in employment, education or training) in many countries. They are the disconnected youth who have taken to idling because they cannot find jobs. The ILO warns that if there is no improvement in the jobs market soon, NEETs may not only be unemployed, but unemployable because their skills would atrophy from lack of use.

With the inclusion of these two groups, the 2011 global figure rises to 13.6 per cent, or 75.4 million unemployed youths. There will be further pressure on the job market when this group decides to enter it, warned the ILO, which suggested tax breaks and other incentives for businesses hiring young people, and offering more entrepreneurship programmes to help kick-start careers.

“The youth unemployment crisis can be beaten but only if job creation for young people becomes a key priority in policy-making, and private-sector investment picks up significantly,” said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, executive director of the ILO Employment Sector.

“This includes measures such as offering tax and other incentives to enterprises who hire young people, efforts to reduce the skills mismatch among youth, entrepreneurship programmes that integrate skills training, mentoring and access to capital, and the improvement of social protection for the young,” he added.

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