Remember those lazy summer vacations as a child, when daylight lasted forever? Afternoons at the beach, on soccer fields or baseball diamonds, or late nights playing games and watching movies? Then, just when boredom began to set in, came the start of a new school year.
For most youth in developing countries, education stops after primary school. There are no idle holidays. By age 15, children have already joined the labor force. But without vocational training, they struggle along at family enterprises, trapped in a lifetime of sub-par employment.
Economists call it the lost generation, the ticking international time bomb or the youth bulge. Our decade has the largest youth population in history, and the vast majority of young people live in developing countries, where their productivity is key to poverty reduction and sustainable development. A country’s prospects for youth employment are tied directly to its economic prosperity, social cohesion and political stability.
But opportunities for youth are severely limited. Worldwide, youth unemployment is rising.
On Aug. 12, International Youth Day, we consider the well-being and livelihood of young people currently in school-to-work transitions.
UNESCO estimates that, of children and youth not in school, 80 percent live in rural communities where they work the fields, often without pay. By contrast, a typical urban youth sells merchandise in the local market. The combination of abundant labor and scarce capital limits economies, keeping them traditional and unable evolve into dynamic marketplaces that could increase opportunity.
Youth in developing countries account for one-quarter of those living on less than $2 a day. Both over-qualification and under-qualification condemn them to the ranks of the working poor. It’s not merely a personal problem. In low-income countries, under-qualification equates to low productivity and less diversification — underdevelopment.
In Cambodia, where youth aged 15 to 24 comprise 21 percent of the population, ChildFund targets isolated, rural communities along the Mekong River. Cambodia, one of several countries featured in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 2013 report, Global Employment Trends for Youth, exemplifies the underemployment trap.
Informal employment accounts for 98 percent of the available work in Cambodia, and the ILO classifies two-thirds of the country’s working youth as poorly paid. Nearly one-third entered the workforce as child laborers. More than half are undereducated and vulnerable to job insecurity. Only 62 percent of children complete primary school; a mere 34 percent finish secondary school. Less than 5 percent graduate from college, and even fewer use the Internet — just 3 percent. A handful of Cambodian youth claim no occupation at all, but the employed nearly always profess job satisfaction. There’s little shopping around. The value of any work, it seems, outweighs monetary, stability or security considerations.
Young Cambodian men succeed in the job market more often than young women do. Skills mismatch — over-qualification — impacts highly educated women in particular, and women in general are frequently unemployed or temporarily absent from the workforce due to pregnancy and child rearing.
ChildFund’s programs have long taught youth — and especially young women — leadership skills, offering them roles in decisions and policies that affect their futures. In recent years, ChildFund has developed a Youth Employment Model that it is implementing in several countries worldwide to prepare youth for entering the work force. In the five-step program, young people are guided through creating a market survey, receive market-based technical skills training and production support as well as basic business skills training, and develop important “soft” skills through life skills training and ongoing mentoring.
ChildFund will continue rolling out this program in more areas each year, broadening our supporters’ investment in young people worldwide.