24. Youth Employment

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
4.4, 8.5, 8.6, 8.b
Relevant Policy Outcomes
1, 10

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

The global youth unemployment rate is estimated at 13.1 per cent, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015 and World Employment and Social Outlook for Youth 2016 (71). This means that in 2016, 71 million youths around the world were without a job. In addition, 156 million (one in three) young workers in the developing world earn less than US$3.1 per day. In total, almost 40.8 per cent of the global youth labour force is still either unemployed or working yet living in poverty. The deterioration in the youth employment situation is particularly marked in emerging countries where the unemployment rate is predicted to rise from 13.3 per cent in 2015 to 13.7 per cent in 2017 (a figure which corresponds to 53.5 million unemployed in 2017, compared to 52.9 million in 2015). The youth unemployment rate in developing countries is expected to remain relatively stable, at around 9.5 per cent in 2016, but in terms of absolute numbers it should increase by around 0.2 million in 2016 to reach 7.9 million unemployed youth in 2017, largely due to an expanding labour force. Finally, in developed countries, the unemployment rate among youth was anticipated to be the highest globally in 2016 (14.5 per cent or 9.8 million) and although the rate is expected to decline in 2017, the pace of improvement will slow (falling only to 14.3 per cent in 2017). The cost of youth unemployment to economic and social development can be very high. It perpetuates the inter-generational cycle of poverty and is sometimes associated with higher levels of crime, violence, civil unrest, substance abuse and the rise of political extremism.

The youth employment challenge is, on the one hand, closely related to the more general, qualitative and quantitative employment situation in a country. Unless productive employment is at the heart of macroeconomic and social policies and the aggregate demand for labour is expanding, it is not possible to have successful programmes to integrate disadvantaged young people into the labour market. On the other hand, the youth labour market has its own particularities. The age-specific difficulties that young women and men face in making the transition from school to work include: lack of employment experience; strict labour market regulations; mismatch between youth skills and aspirations and labour market demand and realities; constraints on self-employment and entrepreneurship development; and lack of organization and voice, meaning that youths have fewer channels through which to make their concerns or needs heard.

It is, therefore, critical that the national development framework adopt a comprehensive, rights-based approach to the issues of young people, especially related to productive and decent employment. Those frameworks must simultaneously promote pro-employment economic policies, sound educational and training systems, gender-sensitive programmes to ease the school-to-work transition; labour market policies that are sensitive to the constraints and needs of young women and men, as well as measures to ensure that young people have access to better health care, and a voice in decisions that affect them.

The ILO has had a long-standing commitment to promote decent work for youth. The Youth Employment Programme (YEP) was set up in 2005 to consolidate the ILO’s response to the global youth employment challenge. Its work has been guided by two global policy instruments adopted by the International Labour Conference, namely:
These instruments resolve that tackling youth employment requires an integrated approach, one that combines supportive economic policies and targeted measures addressing labour demand and supply, as well as the quantity and quality of employment. Adhering to the conclusions of the above-mentioned Resolutions, YEP’s services to constituents go along the employment policy cycle, from policy formulation to assessing the impact of youth employment interventions. Social dialogue and the enhancement of national capacities are central to the programme’s intervention model at the country level. YEP concentrates on knowledge development and dissemination, technical assistance at the country level, and advocacy and partnerships (72). The programme operates through a network of specialists from different ILO offices and technical units (see: ILO Capacity).

DWA-SDG Relationship

The 2030 Declaration recalls that “Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is a major concern”. Youths are singled out as a specific target group in many sections of the text, and appears as such in several SDG goals and targets. Of particular importance from a decent work perspective are SDG targets 4.4 (skills for youth employment), 8.5 (full employment), 8.6 (reduction in youth unemployment), and 8.b (a global strategy for youth employment).

Youth employment is not just about jobs; youth employment can be decent only if it incorporates the other three dimensions of decent work as well: rights, protection, voice and representation. While the ILO’s policy outcome 1 (employment policy) targets youth employment specifically (indicator 1.2), all other P&B outcomes can contribute to creating jobs for youths, and/or making these jobs decent.

Crosscutting policy drivers

The promotion of youth employment must be based on ILO core Conventions pertaining to the Fundamental principles and rights at work and other relevant normative instruments45, including governance conventions (such us the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No.122), and the Human Resources Development Convention,1975 (No.142), technical conventions (for instance those on wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health), and conventions on vulnerable groups of young workers (young female workers, young migrant workers, young workers with disabilities and young workers in the informal economy, among others). There is a particularly strong connection between the elimination of the worst forms of child labour (C.182) and youth employment, as children are the future of the workforce and their protection is therefore vital.

With regard to gender equality and non-discrimination, whilst some modest improvements have been made, progress is slow. The lowest female shares in youth employment-to-population ratio exist in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia; in South Asia, the gap was as high as 29.6 percentage points in 2014. At the global level, the labour force participation rate of young men (55.2 per cent) is much higher than that of young women (38.9 per cent) (73). Young women are also more likely than males to be unemployed and to be in poor-quality jobs. Such gender gaps are often due to social and cultural factors and uneven access to education. This calls for greater attention to gender issues in the promotion of youth employment.

The importance of social dialogue in promoting youth employment may be illustrated by the engagement of governments and social partners in a large number of countries to put forward the integrated approach to youth employment advocated for by the ILO. At the regional level, an interesting example is offered by the "Framework of Actions on Youth Employment” which the European workers’ and employers' organizations developed jointly in 2013. Under this framework, workers and employers agree on a series of concrete actions to reduce youth unemployment in Europe. In more general terms, an extended social dialogue should engage young people so that their views can inform decision making processes on labour market aspects affecting their future.

Many young people around the globe show concern about climate change and environmental degradation, making them particularly attracted to the concept of “green jobs”, in particular if it is embedded in local development strategies, and propelled by organizations and enterprises of the social and solidarity economy.


The most comprehensive partnership on youth employment was launched in February 2016 under the designation “The Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth” as a UN-system wide alliance endorsed by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB). It aims to facilitate increased impact and expanded country-level action on decent jobs for youth through multi-stakeholder partnerships, the dissemination of evidence-based policies and the scaling up of effective and innovative interventions. The Global Initiative, which was developed by 21 UN entities, intends to leverage the full weight of the United Nations system, its knowledge and convening power by bringing together governments, social partners, private sector, youth representatives, entities of the United Nations, civil society, parliamentarians, foundations, the academia, and many more key influential partners. The Alliance complements and builds on the UN System-wide action plan on youth which had been launched in 2012 by the UN Secretary-General.

Many “traditional donors” (those belonging to the OECD-DAC group) have supported, and continue to support ILO projects on youth employment. In addition, many ILO projects that might not carry the label “youth employment” nevertheless contribute significantly to this objective. Over the years, other entities have contributed to the work of the ILO in the youth employment area. The “Work4Youth Project”, a five-year partnership between the ILO and the MasterCard Foundation, has been one of ILO’s largest youth employment programmes to-date.

ILO Capacity

The ILO’s activities in support of youth employment are coordinated by the Youth Employment Programme Unit under the Employment Policy Department. The Programme operates through a pool of technical specialists at headquarters and in the field. In fact, given the centrality of youth employment for the ILO’s mandate and work programme, and the multi-facetted, cross-cutting approach that is needed to promote youth employment, virtually all sectors and branches of the Organization can contribute to this area of work in one way or another. Likewise, the majority of topics outlined in this publication are relevant for youth employment.


The ILO youth employment portal provides access to several relevant databases on youth employment statistics, legal frameworks, projects and lessons learned. It also includes an interactive knowledge sharing platform on “decent work for youth”. The ILO library has complied a research guide on youth employment. Of particular importance to field offices is the Guide for the preparation of National Action Plans on Youth Employment. A list of ILO publications on youth employment can be found here. Useful resources can also be found under the youth employment page of the ILO’s International training Centre (ITCILO) in Turin.

45 - The 2005 ILC discussion on youth employment endorsed a list of ILO instruments particularly relevant for the subject under discussion; this list can be accessed here.

71. ILO.. /global/research/global-reports/youth/2016/lang--en/index.htm.. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

72. —. The Youth Employment Programme (YEP). ILO Employment. [Online] 19 November 2016. /employment/areas/youth-employment/WCMS_192889/lang--en/index.htm.

73. —. Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015. Geneva : ILO, 2015.