Of particular concern is the increasing length of job searches, which is not only leading to severe frustration and the disillusionment of young people, but also to increasing numbers falling out of the labour force entirely. The International Labour Organization recently reported that:
“In 56 countries for which comparable monthly/quarterly data were available, the youth labour force expanded by far less during the crisis than would be expected: …there were 2.6 million fewer youth in the labour market in 2010 than expected based on longer-term (pre-crisis) trends” (ibid., p. 2) .
These are precarious times for many young people across the globe. However, within this uncertain climate, there is growing political will to address youth development issues. Since the Africa Commission’s seminal report, Realizing the Potential of Africa’s Youth (2009), there has been increasing momentum in Africa to respond to alarming statistics: that globally, “by 2025, one out of every four young people under 25 will be from Africa” (Secretariat of the Africa Commission, 2009, p.12). This population explosion will have a dramatic knock-on effect on the labour market,where “there is a[n urgent] need to create 10 to 15 million jobs a year to absorb the huge number of young people becoming part of the African labour force” (ibid.).
Hence, since 2009, there have been several high-level policy forums that aim to tackle the growing “youth bulges” and soaring rates of youth unemployment. The High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Youth in 2011 emphasized the importance of youth employment, calling for targeted and integrated national youth employment policies for inclusive job creation, skills development and vocational training to meet specific labour market demands. At the 17th Ordinary African Union (AU) Summit, which was held in June-July 2011 under the theme, Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, reminded Heads of State of the possibility of growing conflict associated with high youth unemployment and high population growth rates:
“If we are to bring lasting peace and sustainable development to the continent, we must empower Africa’s youth…For too many young adults in Africa, this is a time of dashed hopes, frustration, and political, economic and social exclusion,” said Ms. Migiro. “But there is a way for African nations to defuse the youth time bomb – by empowering youth and reaping the benefits” (United Nations, Department of Public Information, 2011).
At the national level, there are many complex challenges for young job seekers, which sadly often relate to socio-political factors and deep-seated exclusionary policies and practices. In January 2011, the South African Institute of Race Relations found that 51 per cent of young people between 15 and 24 are unemployed. But this statisticonly scratches the surface: among those unemployed youth in South Africa, 63 per cent are young African (black South African) women, whereas this figure is only 15 per cent for young Indian (Indian South African) men. Furthermore, the youth unemployment rate varies considerably between races - it is 57 per cent among young Africans (black South Africans), 23 per cent among young Indians (Indian South Africans), and 21 per cent among young whites (white South Africans) (South African Institute of Race Relations, 2011).
This paints a disturbing picture of social inequality, not only in terms of access to decent work and job-seeking services, but also retention. While this is a particularly acute problem in South Africa, young job seekers across the globe are still excluded from the labour force based on gender, ethnicity, ability/disability and geography. Some of the participants on the e-discussion platform mentioned briefly some of these issues. However, it remains a sensitive area. How can these gross inequalities remain and still be prevalent in the year 2011?