Youth unemployment? Let’s get down to business!

I recently attended a seminar in London on youth unemployment. Hosted by the Guardian newspaper, and with panellists from UNICEF, Accenture and Barclays (the latter two have youth employment corporate social responsibility programmes), the event aimed to explore the evidence around what really works for getting young people into decent jobs.

Youth unemployment is a problem of Titanic proportions for a huge number of countries. Last week, ILO released its latest Global Employment Trends report. It is not an uplifting read. The global youth unemployment rate has reached 13.1% - almost three times as high as the global adult rate. The ILO reports that the youth-to-adult unemployment ratio has reached a historical peak.

The global youth unemployment rate has reached 13.1%

So what ideas did the seminar propose as a solution? Entrepreneurship – a word ubiquitous in the youth sector  - was mentioned by most panellists as a key part of the solution. Yet, despite some vague murmuring from the panellists that multi-pronged approaches are necessary, there was little discussion of how entrepreneurship isn’t a silver bullet solution to youth unemployment, nor how entrepreneurship needs to be configured in different ways to meet the needs of diverse groups of youth, including young women.

...there was little discussion of how entrepreneurship isn’t a silver bullet solution to youth unemployment...

At ActionAid the focus is on community economic and social empowerment rather on individual entrepreneurship. While our partners may support individual women and men entrepreneurs, this does not substitute for the collective action, support and solidarity that being in a group provides.

And where was gender on the agenda at this event? Let’s not forget that in many regions, it’s young women who are disproportionately affected by unemployment or concentrated into the poorly-regulated informal sector. Failure to adopt a strong gender lens to tackle youth unemployment will be disastrous, yet the evidence base of what a strong gender empowerment approach might look like is meagre. Here at ActionAid, we’re making a unique contribution to this, with our Young Urban Women Project.

Finally, we turn to the elephant in the room – the role of big business in tackling this issue and the argument that multinationals have been instrumental in creating a youth jobs dearth in the first place. But that’s a discussion for a whole other blog…