June 3, 2015

Young people are our future: invest in their skills

More than 35 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training (NEET) – and around half of all NEETs are out of school and not looking for work. These young people are likely to have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social and labour market systems.

The OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability, launched today, asserts that this unacceptable waste of human potential stems partly from the fact that too many young people leave education without having acquired the right skills (according to the 2013 Survey of Adult Skills, 10% of new graduates have poor literacy skills and 14% have poor numeracy skills); and that not enough young people have experience in the world of work (less than 50% of students in vocational education and training programmes, and less than 40% of students in academic programmes in the 22 OECD countries and regions covered by the Survey of Adult Skills participate in any kind of work-based learning).

But even young people with strong skills have trouble finding work. Many firms find it too expensive to hire individuals with no labour market experience. In fact, young people are twice as likely as prime-age workers to be unemployed.

And those young people who have managed to gain a foothold in the labour market often must overcome institutionalised obstacles, including regulations that make it costly for firms to convert fixed-term contracts into permanent contracts, in order to develop their skills and advance in their careers.

As the Skills Outlook makes clear, youth unemployment and underemployment have adverse and long-lasting consequences for both the individuals and the countries involved. Struggling students need to be identified early and given the appropriate support so that they acquire at least basic skills; regulations need to be adjusted to reduce the cost to employers of hiring young people with little work experience; and employers and educators need to agree on the meaning of education qualifications to reduce the incidence of skills mismatch on the job. Only through a concerted effort – by education providers, the labour market, tax and social institutions, employer and employee organisations, and parents and young people themselves –will young people be able to improve their employability and make a smoother and faster transition from the classroom to the workplace.