Employment Working Paper No. 7 - Improving Skills and Productivity of Disadvantaged Youth

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The human, economic and development impact of leaving behind large segments of each new generation is enormous. Young women and men who do not have adequate primary education, cannot read and write with confidence and lack the technical and vocational skills in demand in the labour market, find themselves unemployable even when economies are growing. This report follows several important examinations of skills and youth employment by the ILO, following the discussion on promoting youth employment at the 93rd Session of the International Labour Conference (June 2005). The Conclusions of that discussion call for targeted interventions aimed at overcoming disadvantages that hinder young men and women from attaining basic education and vocational training, which in turn lead to lifelong difficulties in learning, low likelihood of securing employment in the formal economy, and high risk of extending the cycle of low education, low productivity and poverty. The main problem examined in this paper is the insufficiency of formal education and training systems to reach substantial majorities of young people and prepare them for productive employment. There is therefore an urgent need for alternative, proactive approaches to education and skills development for disadvantaged youth. A review of such approaches was initiated in an earlier ILO Working Paper by Laura Brewer, “Youth at risk: The role of skills development in facilitating the transition to work” (Brewer, 2004). This paper focuses attention on the connection between skills development and early labour market success for young people and their ability to realize their long-term potential for productive and gainful work. One of the key findings from this review is that effective policies and programmes address specific sources of disadvantage. In some cases, this has required comprehensive rather than narrowly-targeted programmes in order to respond to the multiple and inter-linked sources of disadvantage. The report also emphasizes the importance of broad-ranging institutional support, including from workers’ and employers’ organizations, inter-ministerial collaboration, and public-private partnerships. The report also reminds us that youth employment promotion programmes, regardless of how well designed and implemented, will not be effective in the absence of effective sustained job growth.


David H. Freedman

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