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Galvanising global efforts to tackle youth unemployment


ILO Director-General Guy Ryder

The number of unemployed youths has been on a worrying upward swing in the last few years with Africa most affected.

However, while it could be argued that the dimensions and impacts may differ from region to region, the need to find a global policy mix to tackle the challenge is not lost on labour watch body – International Labour Organisation (ILO).

For the Director-General, ILO, Guy Ryder, who was the first ILO Scribe to visit Nigeria in 60 years, granting the hosting right of Global Youth Employment Forum to Nigeria could not have come at a better time.

Delivering a paper titled, ‘Today and tomorrow with decent jobs for youth’ at the global meeting, Ryder hinted that there were many good reasons the event was held in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular.


He added: “In my own experience as Director-General of the ILO, if I ask a Minister of Labour of any country what his or what her top priority is, nine times out of 10 the answer is generating work for our young people.

“And for young people the priority is almost inevitably that of attaining a quality education, and then the chance at a decent job.”

Ryder, who was the first General Secretary of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), another workers’ worldwide union, has brought his experience to bear in understanding the complexities that characterise the global work environment.

He submitted that there is no greater work confronting critical stakeholders in the world of work other than creating jobs for youths.

The challenge of occupying youths, Ryder stated, is even more compelling for a country like Nigeria, which is home to the most populous nation on the African continent, and by extension the most populous black nation on earth.

“ . . . Let us be reminded of the dimensions of this country, of its international protagonism, of its importance. And I want to say that all of us who have been in this country are aware of the energy, of the talent and of the vibrancy of Nigerians. We see them across the world, in international system, in politics, in industry, in finance,
in the world of culture, in sports fields, so we know very well the nature of the country which shows us today,” he stated.

Ryder argued that the vibrancy, energies and intelligence of youths must be synergised into organic bedrock upon which Nigeria’s greatness can sprout.

He maintained that while youths are the future of work, the world must pause to see a picture that is a disturbing reality – 225million people are not in employment.

Not only are they not in employment, they are not in education or training.

He then asked albeit rhetorically: “So we must ask ourselves: what is their future to be; included in our labour markets, or excluded? A lost generation in formation, and young people typically are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults. Even when they can find a place at work, it can often be in extremely difficult conditions, which fall short of the ILO’s ambition of decent work for all.”

Bad as this scenario looks, Ryder said there are another 136 million young people that are working, but often working extremely hard, andyet they are still living in poverty, with the majority located in

“These are the working poor, and in Africa that is the status of 60 per cent of young workers, often concentrated in conditions of informality and in the rural economy,” he stated.

Again, these are global realities.

For Africa, after failing to record appreciable feat in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the route to failure again to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come 2030 is systematically being charted.

Ryder reminded the continent once again saying, “when in 2015 it adopted the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The commitment then was to leave nobody behind. And it included the goal of inclusive growth and decent work for everybody, explicitly including youth. Last month, the United Nations took stock of the progress that we have made so far in delivering on this agenda. Here again the news is not good because we are way off track, and we are way behind.”

He charged the continent to do more and do better. And to do better, urged member states to prioritise five areas that include pro-employment macroeconomic policies that enable job creation amongst youth; policy for and investment in education and skills. Others are active labour market policies; promotion of youth entrepreneurship and
self-employment to harness the extraordinary energy and talents of young people and awareness of and respectful of the rights of young people.

Ryder added that the Abuja meeting was not a mere talk shop, but a platform that provides stakeholders the opportunity to take a further step with the establishment of a knowledge facility.

“It is a digital platform of tools, publications, databases and thematic curated resources that will help support the design, implementation and monitoring of youth employment policies and programmes. We hope this could become a novel valuable instrument to advance our goals. So, please do, engage with it, use it, contribute to it,” he stated.

In her keynote address at the forum, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, Ms. Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, who is a Nigerian, submitted that while the continent recorded impressive GDP growth rates in recent years, its young labour force is growing fast.

She said there are 200 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 living on the continent, a figure which is expected to double by 2040.

Her intervention titled, ‘Boosting youth employment through Structural Transformation,’ Samuel-Olonjuwon was quick to point out that indeed a young population has the potential to become a demographic dividend only when harnessed through proper investment.

Worryingly, she observed that the African region’s economic growth has so far not translated into sufficient job creation. “From 2000-2014, employment grew at an average annual rate of only 1.8 per cent, while the labour force grew at an annual rate of three per cent – almost twice as fast. If this trend continues, the African continent will have an additional 100 million unemployed youth by 2030,” she said.

She hinted that in Africa, the youth unemployment rate is expected to exceed 30 per cent this year, and young people will continue to be three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

She painted a more terrifying picture as underemployment, informality, and working poverty also remain formidable persistent challenges.

With ILO estimates that a staggering 95 per cent of young African workers are engaged in informal employment, bringing youth unemployment and other challenges together, around 38 per cent of African youth are in fact working poor.

She maintained that youths are at the receiving end of conflicts, disasters, armed struggles and civil strives rife in the continent.

Samuel-Olonjuwon noted that there are no fix-it-all solutions, as the continent and other areas of the world seek to tackle youth unemployment.

She argued that the youth employment crisis in Africa is one that affects the whole economy and community, not just youths, adding that due to the mentioned demographics in the region, it is the youth – and young women in particular – who are bearing the brunt and are disproportionally affected.

She admonished that Africa cannot solve the issue by looking at youths in isolation, saying all encompassing solutions are required that look at economies and societies in general, but that will benefit youths in particular.

Samuel-Olonjuwon said there simply are not enough jobs out there which calls for urgent need to stimulate labour demand – increasing the number of jobs on offer – must always be the starting point of any intervention on youth employment in Africa.

She mentioned pro-employment macroeconomic policies, sectoral and industrial policies, trade policies, investment policies, as well as employment-intensive programme and project interventions must all be used towards creating jobs and stimulating the demand for (young) labour.

She also added that skills development and other supply side interventions remain critical, adding that supply side interventions should always be designed to address a particular demand, especially with a view towards Future of Work opportunities in digital, green, rural, care, blue, creative and other economies of opportunity.

She stressed the need for expansion and improved employment opportunities in the rural youth, particularly in scalable non-agricultural and value-added sectors.

According to her, all must work collectively to transform Africa’s rural spaces from centres of misery, the poster child of poverty into economies that create sustainable wealth and decent jobs, saying the rural economy is a key pillar of the brighter future of work for Africa’s youth.


Samuel-Olonjuwon also called for structural transformation that brings young people into jobs and sectors with higher productivity and value addition.

She added: “So the aspiration is to have a sectoral pattern that is both high in value addition and labour intensity.

Structural transformation will produce net employment gains, and result in higher workers’ incomes and better working conditions more generally. That is why, the ILO’s call for action has been advocating for industrial and
sectoral strategies policies to facilitate employment-friendly structural transformation especially for youths.”
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, William Alo, said as a responsible government and a member of the Global Youth Initiative, Nigeria will strategically use the outcome of the Forum to create a database of international best practices that are proven in promoting decent work for young people around the world.

Alo, who spoke at the closing ceremony of the meeting that drew participants from more than 60 countries, this will strengthen initiatives in youth employment schemes.

On his part, the Nigeria Country Director of the ILO, Dennis Zulu, urged governments to ensure that the budgets that are provided by the development partners and the technical support are used to ensure faithful implementation of policies, programmes and activities towards meeting development goals.


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