Youth Employment Programs: Do They Make A Difference?

If you use any search engine and type in „youth employment programs“, you will get a ton of articles, calls for applications, and even feedback blogs on certain programs. The idea of creating special strategies for youth employment has been in the spotlight for decades. One can even say that it is a phenomenon that has come to the forefront with the Millennials. In any case, it is undisputable that billions of dollars, or Euros, are being invested each year in these types of program worldwide, so several questions arise: do they really make a difference, which ones are the most successful, and do they truly make possible a long-term solution to the problem of youth unemployment?

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the youth unemployment rate is currently 13.1 per cent, and it is expected to remain at that rate through 2017. The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2016, Trends for Youth report has stated that the number of unemployed youth is expected to rise by one half of a million during 2017 and reach 71 million. On the other hand, one cannot neglect the billions of dollars/Euros that are being used by governments and NGOs worldwide to tackle and ultimately solve the issue of youth unemployment. Considering the fact that this issue is becoming bigger each year, multiple national governments have introduced and/or formed youth advisory boards or other forms of legal bodies that connect young people and their needs to local and national authorities.

Multiple efforts have also been made by NGOs to enhance government programs for youth employment. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has funded a report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings named “Youth summer jobs programs: Aligning ends and means”. Information and guidelines for city leaders, policymakers, and donors are presented in this report with the aim of improving the opportunities for young adults. Other reports, like the Canadian Government’s expert panel final report, also tackle the current possibilities offered to young people in order to improve youth employment programs. The main conclusions presented in this report state that the Canada Summer Jobs program needs to be accessible throughout the year, and it should be available for those who are not in post-secondary studies. While there is generally a lack of funds to do such surveys, they are truly necessary if our overall goal is to lower the number of unemployed youth. Surveys like these two always give crucial information needed to upgrade specific programs.

However, the first global systematic review and meta-analysis of youth employment interventions has been published after completing a revision of over 100 credible impact evaluations. It basically proves the positive impact of youth employment programs have had on the labor market. Not only are young adults given the chance to work for a certain period of time – mostly, summer programs are offered – but while working they are enhancing their skills, networking, learning about entrepreneurship and improving their chances of getting a job.

Based on this global review, it is evident that youth employment programs have had the best results in the low and middle-income countries due to the drastic difference in the skill sets of youth in less developed countries compared to economically advanced ones. The overall conclusions of this global review are:

  1. Investing in youth is sound policy. The outcomes of youth employment programs may not be completely visible instantly, but it is obvious that they do pay off. Youth participants in employment programs are introduced to a variety of options that could be very beneficial in the long run.
  2. Youth employment programs are not an instant solution. As stated in the previous paragraph, youth employment programs do not represent an instant solution. These programs should be viewed as long-term investments, and they should be approached strategically.
  3. Context and design matter! This report has clearly shown that not all intervention design programs work in all societies or all countries. Knowing the context of each country is really crucial in order to choose an optimal intervention design to tackle youth unemployment.

Youth employment programs may seem costly when you look at the numbers, but they should all be seen as an investment in the future – and our young people are our future. Financing these programs as well as reports on their success rate should be a priority of national leaders and major NGOs.

Photo: Shutterstock

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