Published on Jobs and Development

Underlying determinants: the starting point on the path to youth employment

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On May 1 st, the world marks International Worker’s Day. Sadly, hundreds of millions of young people have little to celebrate. Instead, they struggle to find work or secure a decent livelihood – and right now, their options don’t look to be getting much better.
Over the next decade, one billion young people will enter the job market.
As a multi-stakeholder coalition, the Solution for Youth Employment (S4YE)’s mission is to mobilize efforts to significantly increase the number of these young people who will be engaged in productive work by 2030.
As part of our strategy, we have developed a conceptual pathway to employment that shows how all stakeholders can work together to achieve youth employment at scale.  In our theory of change, there are a variety of actions that, when taken by both governments and the private sector collectively, can lead to a better chance of success for young people entering the job market. These include for example, strengthening skills; supporting job retention, self-employment and enterprise development; and facilitating job search and acquisition.
At the same time, our framework recognizes that youth take their first steps on the pathway beset with what we may call ‘ underlying determinants’ or characteristics that can shape choices or affect their opportunities. These determinants can play a significant role in how successful youth will be in the future. They can include gender norms, the culture a young person grew up in, access to employment resources, soft skills, as well as an individual’s social capital and aspirations.
To highlight how underlying determinants can impact a young person’s employment trajectory, our baseline report “ Toward Solutions for Youth Employment” puts the spotlight on two vastly different individual stories; that of a 15-year girl from Uganda and a 15-year old boy from China. The stories of these two young people are representative of millions of others worldwide and highlight the fact that for far too many youth, some of the key considerations noted above may be limiting.
For a 15-year old girl growing up in Uganda, her reality might include weak education, household responsibilities and limited cultural acceptance of women as an equal in the workplace, or restricted access to financial services and networks. Moreover, while farming or self-employment still account for the majority of work among young people, employment in the informal or agricultural sector is unpredictable; the environment makes entrepreneurship difficult and even more so in the conflict-affected regions of the country. As a result, employment prospects do not look good for her.
Given that our vision is to advance opportunities for all youth, we must be particularly aware of the kind of disadvantages outlined above.
Students at a vocational education and training center; National Initiative for Human Development Support Project (INDH). Photo: © Dana Smillie / World Bank

Mismatched expectations
The second profile brings us the story of a teenage male from rural China who recently moved to a large urban center. While his story may seem very different from a girl growing up in Uganda, many of his struggles will be remarkably similar. Likely arriving on his own without family or friends or contacts in the city, possessing an agricultural background, and with limited education or soft skills to work outside of his field, he may need to settle for part-time precarious, low-paying, unregulated work in the informal sector where he may be at risk of losing his job at any time.
His story shows us that one of the determinants we need to look closely at are the aspirations of young people. Many youth migrate to cities from rural areas with high hopes of success. But in reality, there is often a large mismatch between the expectations of youth, and the number and type of jobs available or their ability to secure higher paying, better work.
S4YE is committed to examining ways we may be able to close the gap between the aspirations of young people and realities of the job market. We will look into how we can better collect, capture and use data on young people’s and employers expectations and incentives. .
Many of the underlying determinants noted above - access to education, expectations and access to opportunities, among others - are intertwined. For example, lacking adequate education can lead to misalignment of skills which can further lead to inadequate access to career opportunities. In fact, youth may not place enough emphasis on investing in further education. When they do, the subjects they decide to study may not necessarily lead to success. As our baseline report notes ‘for huge numbers of secondary and tertiary graduates, this misalignment of preferences and demand results in the selection of courses of study that do not correspond with skills required by employers, as well as a lengthy and ultimately unproductive job search, hence prolonged unemployment.’
S4YE will continue to work with our partners to ensure that all youth, no matter what gender, aspirations, expectations or other characteristics they possess, will have the opportunity to excel. Today, in recognition of labor force around the world we recommit ourselves to search for and test solutions that deliver meaningful, empowering and productive youth employment for the one billion youth entering the job market over the next decade.
Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) is a multi-stakeholder coalition among public sector, private sector, and civil society actors that aims to provide leadership and resources for catalytic action to increase the number of young people engaged in productive work.  This is the first in a series of blog posts outlining the pathways to youth employment, S4YE’s thinking on how to provide young people with pathways to economic opportunity and employment. There are a variety of government and nongovernmental forces and intervention that can help share a young person’s trajectory. This first blog post looks at the role of underlying determinants, such as culture and education, on youth employment.


Matt Hobson

Coordinator, PSNP’s Donor Coordination Team

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