Published on Jobs and Development

How can the blue economy drive development and jobs for youth?

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The people in the fishing village of Orimedu (Lagos State) have benefited greatly from Nigeria's Fadama II project Healthy oceans are an important source of employment and support goals for sustainability, contributing to climate change mitigation, carbon capture, and marine biodiversity. Copyright: Arne Hoel/World Bank

Climate change poses an escalating threat to environmental resources critical to numerous parts of the economy, undermining the creation of high-quality jobs and prompting a rethinking of traditional economic paradigms.  Embedding environmental sustainability into the process of structural transformation is increasingly urgent. At the same time, global employment prospects for youth remain uncertain, with young people 3.2 times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

As discussed in the Solutions for Youth Employment Note, Blue Economy: Structural Transformation & Implications for Youth Employment, the ‘blue economy’ – sustainable use of aquatic resources for economic growth, improved livelihood opportunities, and jobs that safeguard the health of ocean ecosystems  – can accelerate economic transformation and ensure growth that is sustained and inclusive for young people.

Here, we highlight four ways the blue economy can drive progress toward both economic and environmental goals.

1. The health of the world’s oceans drives economic gains and is crucial to sustained prosperity. Oceans are the lifeline for much commercial activity, generating up to $6 trillion (approximately 10% of global GDP) in global revenues annually and facilitating the transport of 80 percent of the world’s traded goods. Such economic value is projected to double by 2030. At the same time, oceans are an important source of employment. Over 3 billion individuals—some among the world’s poorest—depend on healthy oceans for their livelihoods, with oceans connected to over 350 million direct and indirect jobs.   Healthy oceans moreover support goals for sustainability, contributing to climate change mitigation, carbon capture, and marine biodiversity.

2. The blue economy can play a key role in initiating sustained structural transformation, facilitating the smooth transition of young people from education to employment. As GDP per capita rises, jobs grow more specialized, productive, and urban. Economic production becomes increasingly firm-centric and individuals specialize in more complex tasks.

Economic activities within the blue economy are pivotal in this process. As countries develop, employment in growing and harvesting food shifts from relatively low-productivity activities, like crop and livestock farming, to relatively higher-productivity aquatic food activities, such as fisheries and aquaculture. This sectoral shift is larger for young people (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sectoral transformation within primary food production activities by country income level

Figure ON Sectoral transformation within primary food production activities by country income level
Source: based on ILOSTAT data (2023) for 104 countries.

Moreover, as countries develop, there are sectoral shifts even within the blue economy itself, with employment moving from fisheries to manufacturing and service sectors of the blue economy. Technological innovation drives growth in fishery productivity, prompting increased demand for jobs as more fish need to be processed. In parallel, fisheries demand greater inputs from manufacturing (e.g., ships and fishing gear), while increased fish trade expands related service activities. As a result, employment in fisheries decreases for higher income level countries, but the remaining jobs in the sector become more productive and lucrative (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Structural transformation in the blue economy
Figure ON Structural transformation in the blue economy

3. The blue economy provides critical opportunities for youth in developing countries. On average, fisheries offer better compensation than agriculture and play a key role in lower-income countries. The share of young people in fisheries as a share of total youth employed is generally higher compared to adults; the youth employment rate in fisheries and aquaculture is more than double that of adults. Moreover, ocean-based economies provide productive employment opportunities for youth from rural and lower-skilled backgrounds, even during off-seasons, offering a pathway for more inclusive growth. And while digitalization and automation have raised the skill requirements for working in the sector, they can also increase the productivity of the blue economy while opening opportunities for youth who are more open to learning modern digital skills.

4. Coordinated action—guided by good data—is key to unleashing the jobs potential of the blue economy while addressing emerging challenges. Although sectors of the blue economy such as fisheries can accelerate structural transformation, they receive far less attention than primary activities such as agriculture. This is due in part to the lack of data and analysis on how the sector can create jobs and drive growth.

Further challenges impeding youth employment in this sector include low awareness of career pathways and difficult business environments. The increasing skill requirements of traditional and new blue economy sectors have also created skills gaps not yet bridged by technical and vocational education and training systems.

A multi-pronged approach is key to fully realizing the sector’s promise. Such an approach should feature policy interventions that: 1) deepen youth employment data analysis; 2) close blue skills gaps; 3) improve the attractiveness and awareness of blue careers among youth; and 4) promote youth entrepreneurship and innovation in the blue economy.


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Namita Datta

Program Manager, Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE)

Gianluigi Nico

Economist in the World Bank’s Jobs Group

Monica Melchor

Master in Public Administration in International Development candidate, Harvard Kennedy School

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