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Regional Meeting for the Americas 2-5 May: Youth employment in Latin America: Overcoming a lost decade

In Latin America, 9.5 million young people out of 57 million aged 15-24 are unemployed. Victims of the "lost decade", they were born between 1980 and 1990 and represent 42 per cent of open unemployment in the region. According to the report prepared for the ILO Regional Meeting for the Americas, the situation is even worse if we take account of the 21 per cent of youth in the region who "do not work nor study". And millions of youth are trapped in temporary and casual jobs that offer no labour or social protection and few prospects for advancement. ILO Online reports from Bolivia.

Article | 03 May 2006

LA PAZ (ILO Online) - The social reality of Bolivia can be seen in the urban landscape of its capital: high unemployment, a growing informal economy and grinding poverty. Hundreds of thousands of young people enter the labour market each year, but find few options for survival in an economy that is unable to provide them with jobs.

For the ILO, the promotion of self-employment and micro-businesses are integral to the stride to create more and better jobs for young people. "The idea is to generate a competitive business-oriented culture for young people entering the labour market", explains ILO expert Jorge Cabrera.

Faced with this challenge, the ILO through its programme for sustainable employment is trying to create a generation of young entrepreneurs among Bolivians. An army of teachers and professors seek to plant the germ of a business-oriented culture within youth. They use materials specially conceived for business education, and vocational trainers are working with universities, colleges, technical schools and even military bases that attract the young people of some of the poorest areas of Bolivia.

"The objective is to incite a business-oriented culture, so they are capable to become entrepreneurs", comments Cabrera.

Even though he is only eighteen, Miguel Limachi, a young soldier, seems to know exactly where his future lies. Within the confines of an army base, he participates in a vocational training course blending the collective discipline of the military with the individualism of an entrepreneur.

"An entrepreneur must be more than all these people who wish to create jobs. For me, seeing my mountain city, I see many people who want to work but there are not many jobs, that's the problem so that's why I want to be an entrepreneur", he says.

According to Luciel Rios, Director of Vocational Training, "not all those young men and women who receive vocational training will end up as entrepreneurs. But for some, these new business skills will open doors of opportunity wider than they ever imagined possible".

Decent jobs for young people

The report to the regional meeting explicitly refers to the promotion of youth entrepreneurship as a means to promote quality employment for young people. Bringing young entrepreneurs together and facilitating connections with government, service providers and other businesses may help in the very difficult first phase of building an enterprise.

"But this alone is not enough. Countries need to create the enabling business environment that makes it possible for young people to establish or join small enterprises, and helps young persons to move from the informal to the formal economy", comments José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO Executive Director, Employment Sector.

More generally, the ILO report proposes two major strategies to tackle the youth employment challenge and reduce the number of youth who neither work nor study by half within the next ten years: reducing the number of young people leaving the education system prematurely and promoting employment opportunities for young people.

Education for all is an effective means of combating child labour and reducing poverty. Access to universal, free and quality primary and secondary education and investment in vocational training and lifelong learning are essential to boost youth employability and to ease the transition to decent work. Measures are needed to link education and training with the world of work and to anticipate skills that will be required in the labour market. The report refers to a number of such training and employability initiatives in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Uruguay.

The report also mentions a number of other mechanisms to promote youth employment in the region, including measures which allow employers to reduce labour costs in exchange for vocational training. In some cases, however, these initiatives were only used to reduce costs and did not actually result in the capacity-building of youth workers. In others, they were lacking financial support from the state to sustain the projects.

According to Salazar-Xirinachs, "young people face specific problems on the labour market. Due to a lack of training and working experience, they often end up accepting precarious jobs".

The report to the regional meeting cites Peru where only 10 per cent of social security affiliates are youth aged 15-24, although they represent more than 40 per cent of employment. "Two out of three young people in the region work without a signed employment contract. The situation is similar in other countries in the region", comments Salazar-Xirinachs.

He continues by saying therein lies a kind of paradox: "Many young people now have a better education than their parents because education has been extended considerably over the last decades in the region. In theory, this should make them more attractive from a labour market demand perspective. In reality, they get precarious, unprotected and low-paid jobs if they find any. Countries need to match higher investment in and access to education and training with expanded job opportunities. The two go hand in hand."

"The formulation of youth employment policies and programmes should be conducted in close consultation with employer and worker organizations and should take into account the specific needs and interests of young people as recommended by the International Labour Conference in 2005", concludes Salazar-Xirinachs.

Note 1 - Decent work in the Americas: An agenda for the Hemisphere, 2006-2015, Report of the Director-General, Sixteenth American Regional Meeting, Brasilia, May 2006.