Youth unemployment is a huge problem for Latin America. Here’s how to solve it


Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing our global economy: today 73 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed, a 6% increase since 2007.

This issue is especially relevant in Latin America. Unemployed youngsters represent more than 40% of the total number of unemployed in many countries (a higher rate than in European countries) and the 14% youth unemployment rate is more than double the LATAM average rate of 6%. However, another fact leads to an even bigger risk: when young people do find a job, 6 out of 10 jobs are ‘informal’, with no contract, benefits or social security rights. The International Labour Organization states that only 37% of Latin American youngsters are contributing to social security schemes and only 29% are contributing to the pension system.

This situation is demotivating many youngsters who are confronted with the lack of labour market opportunities, and therefore decide not to study or actively search for a job, thus running a high risk of social exclusion. We now witness a vicious circle in which companies have no job offers fitting youngsters’ needs, while at the same time young talents end up working in precarious conditions or even dropping off the formal labour market. This is an unacceptable situation, both from an ethical and an economic perspective - young generations are the engine of our future.

Image: Statista

We face a huge challenge that can only be tackled by innovative policies and collaborative action. First of all, there is the urgent need to tackle the problem that most Latin American companies are facing: they fail to find candidates with the right skills to fill their vacancies.

Creating specific education and training programmes for youngsters, matching their talent with the market demands, is crucial. In other words, the education system based on theory is outdated: a step forward is needed to establish strong links between the world of education and the world of work, so that young people receive the training they need to meet the needs of the labour market.

Secondly, policies that foster work-based training solutions need to be more prominent. Hand in hand with creating opportunities for young poeple to gain the right technical or practical skills, it is essential that labour market entrants also learn more general skills to begin their job search. Basic skills like how to prepare a job application, write a CV, emphasise their strengths and prepare for a job interview are unknown to many.

Thirdly, beside the policy framework, it is crucial to activate and engage companies to reduce the gap between the backpack brought from school and the needs of employers. Only the active support from companies working on innovative schemes that bring corporations and students closer together will move the needle: apprenticeships, internships, as well as academies within enterprises, education fellowships, mentoring programmes, quality temporary contracts acting as a bridge to permanent employment … and all initiatives that focus on facilitating the transition of youngsters into the labour market.

Over the years, many companies have deployed important initiatives that made a difference for each and every youngster who benefitted from them. It is now time to pull these initiatives together and scale efforts made by business, with the support of the institutions and government bodies that look at employment, education and training. The Global Apprenticeships Network – GAN - is the only public-private coalition that unites key institutions and employers around concrete work-based training solutions.

In recent months, GAN has directed its focus to Latin America, with the set-up of a GAN National Network in Argentina in December 2015, and in Colombia in May 2016. In July this year, Mexico will see the set-up of the next GAN National Network. With the engagement of the Regional ILO leadership, the country employers’ associations, the respective administrations and key employers, these National Networks will pave the way to share and exchange experiences to support each other and search for efficient solutions to fight youth unemployment.

Only by fostering greater collaboration among companies, governments and society, can the foundations for a solution to tackle the huge challenge of Latin-American youth unemployment be laid. The young generation needs us: let’s work together to save a generation from losing their hopes and aspirations.

This post first published in the World Economic Forum Blog, on June 13, 2016.

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