1. Skip to Menu
  2. Skip to Content
  3. Skip to Footer

Stay Connected:


The Challenge

More than 1 billion jobs (employment opportunities) need to be created between now (1998) and 2010 to accommodate young workers entering the labor force and reduce unemployment (UNFPA). If employment (wage or self) can be found for these young people in the labor market, the “workforce bulge” then can be the basis for more investment, greater labor productivity and rapid economic development. This will generate revenues for social investments like health, education and social security, to meet the needs of both old and young and secure the basis for future development.There are one billion young people (15-24 years old), eighty-five percent in developing countries, in the labor market with few skills, and even fewer opportunities for productive work. Nearly three billion people-that is half the world’s population are under the age of 25. They are entering the different sectors of society in large number, putting immense pressures on governments around the world to wake up and face new challenges. These include the increased need for jobs and livelihoods, the growing need for health care and education, increasing the stress on the environment. The social and economic disparities continue to grow, increasing the number of people living below the poverty line each day. Today, 1.3 billion people survive on less than a dollar a day and 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day. High levels of unemployment and rapidly deteriorating standards of living are resulting in destructive social unrest and dangerous levels of tension. This is most evident amongst the youth who make up 50 percent of the world’s population. Ironically, all of these challenges are exploding at a time when humanity is more prosperous that ever. The knowledge base and connectivity to create opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for the world’s youth are available. The challenge is to raise awareness and build an adequate understanding of the issues we face and collaborate in promoting youth employment. It is essential that knowledge is disseminated, capacity is built, and the will generated to resolve this crisis, and build opportunities for youth employment.

The Challenge

Access to quality education, decent employment opportunities and training, and a life without poverty is to a large extent determined by the ability of national communities to participate in the global economy. There are many youth (defined as those between the ages of 15 and 24 by statistical convention) who remain outside the realm of global economic activity and are being left behind; within and between countries, the income gap is widening (World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, 2004). About 2 billion people are not benefiting from globalization, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and the former Soviet Union (World Bank, 2004). A number of countries in these regions have experienced declining economic growth, employment loss, and persistently low incomes, poor education, and inadequate health provisions (United Nations, 2004b; Collier and Dollar, 2001).

Globalization has brought about substantial changes in the job market which young people, as newcomers may be particularly sensitive. There are still many youth, especially in developing countries, who lack the economic power to benefit from the opportunities globalization has to offer. They are left out of the modernization process and are simultaneously finding it more difficult to achieve independent, sustaining livelihoods.

Limited Youth Employment Opportunities 

Labor force participation rates among young people decreased by almost 4% between 1993 and 2003, much of which can be attributed to high overall unemployment rates and the fact that many youth have given up hope and dropped out of the labor market. Figures published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicate that global youth unemployment increased from 11.7% in 1993 to an all-time high of 14.4% in 2003. While some of the decline in labor force participation can be attributed to an increased number of youth in secondary and tertiary education, labor markets in many countries are presently unable to accommodate the expanding pools of skilled young graduates. In a number of settings, this can be attributed to a failure to coordinate education provision with labor market needs. It is also fundamentally linked to the fact that a very large number of youth are now coming of age and are trying to find work (51% of the combined population of developing and least developed countries are below the age of 25, and 20% are 15-24 years old (UN, 2005b)).

In the absence of opportunities in the formal labor market, many young people resort to “forced entrepreneurship” and self-employment in the informal economy, often working for low pay under hazardous conditions with uncertain prospects for the future. Together, these factors can cause disillusionment and alienation among younger workers. Additionally, there has been increasing concern among young policymakers that the frustrations accompanying long-term unemployment among groups of urban youth may feed political and ideological unrest and provoke violence (Commission for Africa, 2005).

Initial Responses

Over the past decade, the international community has strengthened its commitment to addressing youth employment issues. In 1995, governments called for special attention to youth unemployment in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Program of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (United Nations, 1995). Six years later, youth organizations adopted the Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy at the fourth session of the World Youth Forum of United Nations System (Dakar Youth Empowerment Strategy, 2001). The United Nations Millennium Declaration, adopted by the General Assembly in 2000, reflects the commitment of heads of state and governments to develop and implement strategies that give young people real opportunities to find decent and productive work. The objective was subsequently integrated into the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000.

The eighth Goal, which relates to developing a global partnership for development, explicitly refers to creating employment opportunities for young people. The Youth Employment Network (YEN), comprising the United Nations, ILO, and World Bank as core partners, was established following the Millennium Summit to initiate action on the ground, with the result that the youth employment issue has gained momentum at the national level. Recommendations based on four global policy priorities – employability, entrepreneurship, equal opportunities, and employment creation – were issued in 2001 by a team of youth employment experts appointed by the Secretary-General. The YEN is now supporting the efforts of 13 lead countries committed to the development and execution of strategies for youth employment, as well as those of a number of other countries currently at various stages in the planning or implementation of national action plans in this context. YEN’s focus continues to be on policy-making initiatives rather than developing in-country programming to support youth on-the-ground.


At the national level, developing countries have outlined youth employment strategies focusing on youth entrepreneurship training, micro-credit schemes, the development of vocational training and career guidance services, youth leadership training, youth-targeted labor intensive programs, and the acquisition of ICT skills. In addition, several national human development reports have been devoted entirely to youth, and others have included sections dedicated to national youth employment initiatives and policies.

Although many governments encourage entrepreneurship and self-employment among youth at the conceptual level, few initiatives specifically targeted at youth have emerged on the ground around the globe. A number of NGOs have set up programs to enhance life skills, provide job training, and develop some entrepreneurial skills among youth, but these efforts lacked the scale and resources to address the depth of the youth employment problem. As a result, there is a real need, at both the national and international levels, to scale up the successful aspects of these initiatives to have a real impact.