Youth and Employment - Realizing the demographic dividend

Berlin, 22-23 October 2013 (+ youth pre-conference, October 21)

Participants at International Dialogue 2013

Daily updates

Portrait of Claire BoldersonWelcome to the 11th International Dialogue where this year the focus is on Youth and Employment, Realising the Demographic Dividend. I'm Claire Bolderson and I'll be bringing you updates here each day, starting with news from the pre-conference of youth delegates. Young representatives from around the world will meet in Berlin to discuss the enormous potential of, and the serious challenges for their generation, the largest youth generation ever. They'll share experiences from their own countries and hear about the role of the private sector in providing jobs. I'll bring you news of their contributions and conclusions at the end of the day when the youth delegates will prepare their input to the International Dialogue itself. For instant updates throughout the day, follow us on Twitter @HealthyDEvs using the hashtag #YouthID.

For background and programme information see sub-Menu on the left.

International Dialogue Day 1

We’re Ready – Are You?

 “Now is your chance to get involved.” That was the message from keynote speaker, Maria Antonieta Alcalde to the youth delegates gathered to discuss their contributions to the 11th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainability.

The theme this year is “Youth and Employment,” a subject Ms Alcade said is also the focus of attention at the United Nations as it works on an agenda to follow the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

So Ms Alcalde, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said young people have a crucial two years in which to talk to each other and become an effective movement. The voice of young people had been missing when the MDGs were drawn up she said. “Now we have the chance to put that voice at the centre of the conversation.”

The 25 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe and the US largely agreed. But as some pointed out, they’re already making loud noises about key issues effecting young people – from jobs and education to reproductive health.

What they wanted to know was how they could get their leaders to listen and act on what they’re saying.

“We’re always told the responsibility lies with us,” said one.
“What we say needs to be embraced and accepted,” said another.

The answer lies in part, in political participation according to Ms Alcalde. That way, governments can be held to account.

The significance of the youth contribution to future debate was underlined by a presentation on the Demographic Dividend. Today’s vast generation of young people hold the key to economic growth in many developing countries.

If, as South Korea did, governments provide education and training and encourage job growth, they’ll reap the economic rewards. Individuals will be better off and so will governments.

That means more money for social protection systems, most importantly health. So policy decisions should be based on demographic data, the delegates were told.

But what happens when political leaders don’t take the data seriously? As several of the young people pointed out, some governments are doing nothing to halt population growth. In those places, not only do today’s youth have to find jobs, they have to feed more hungry mouths. There’s little investment in education or health and a nation stays poor.

So the clock’s ticking.

Young people are ready to do their bit. Are governments and businesses ready to do theirs? And that’s the question the youth delegates will pose to the first full day of the International Dialogue in Berlin tomorrow.

International Dialogue Day 2

Food for Thought at the World Café

“Primary education should include skills education”, said one of the notes scribbled on the paper tablecloth at the education table.

“Mentoring” and “job sharing” were two of the comments at a table discussing labour market structures while “nepotism” was scribbled in particularly large letters on the same big white sheet.

Meanwhile, over at the table talking about gender, somebody had written “Sugar Daddies” in black marker pen and the reproductive rights group had noted the importance of “role models” and “self-esteem”.

Just some of the many thoughts to come out of an afternoon of lively discussion at the International Dialogue’s “World Café”.

Delegates moved from table to table addressing questions about the importance of social protection schemes, the relative roles of the public and private sectors in job creation and the notion of “a good job”.

All of it was focused on young people and their employment – the theme of the conference this year.  The idea was to raise topics and ask questions which will be addressed in more detail later.  

“This was bringing stuff to the surface,” said moderator Janet Jobson. “Tomorrow we’re digging deep.”

There’s certainly plenty to dig into.

Many of the delegates felt there was a need for more vocational skills training in schools – starting at the primary level. “In Kenya, you learn lots of subjects but it doesn’t add up to much,” said one youth representative.

Others talked about the mismatch between education and the needs of the labour market and pointed out that there’s a limit to what companies can teach their employees when schools have failed. “You can’t turn businesses into universities” was how one put it.

As for social protection schemes, there it was felt a major cultural shift was needed in some countries. “Young people should work and support their parents, not save,” said a scribbled note on one of the tables discussing barriers to investment in social protection such as health.

Participants at ID 2013 - Day 2

Participants at International Dialogue 2013, Day 2 - © Claire Bolderson

“It’s been a fascinating afternoon,” said Diane Steward of the United Nations Population Fund.  “Investing in young people is the smartest investment a country can make”.

Her comments closing the session echoed those of keynote speaker, Charles Dan of the International Labour Organisation. He had pointed out that a change in population structure is only the beginning of a process that can lead to accelerated economic growth for a developing country.

Social and economic policies have to be put in place and investments made “to create productive jobs for the increasingly large working-age population,” Mr Dan said.

And he had a warning. “The youth unemployment crisis is a threat to social cohesion and political stability,” he said, and he called on both public and private sectors and young people themselves to make sure the crisis is addressed.

International Dialogue Day 3

A suitcase full of ideas

First the good news: Youth employment is now firmly on the international agenda. As one delegate at the International Dialogue said, discussions are happening that weren’t happening even two or three years ago.

Key issues have been identified. Amongst them, the need to “get out of the silo mentality” in the words of Michael Herrmann of the United Nations Population Fund.

Mr Herrmann argues that in order to reap the rewards of the Demographic Dividend, in which the large working-age population becomes the engine of economic growth, countries need to do more than invest in human capital. They must improve infrastructure, technology and access to credit. And crucially, they must provide health services that continue to bring down fertility rates so that today’s young people are not supporting ever-larger new generations.

Now the challenge: How best to make those investments, especially when it comes to education and training. Throughout the discussions, which focused on Kenya, Indonesia and Bangladesh, the mismatch between education and the labour market emerged as a repeated theme.

In Bangladesh, for example, getting a university degree is seen as an important status symbol. Yet there are few jobs requiring degrees of the sort offered now.

But delegates also warned not to focus exclusively on improving training in vocational skills. Several participants said education should be seen as a good in itself.

Ugandan youth delegate Nargis Shirazi forcefully argued that young people with little or no education should not be written off. 

“We need to think not just about the formal sector, but also the informal sector and those with no education,” Ms Shirazi said. “Look at their talents, at what they have instead of just at what they need.”

Participants at ID 2013 - Day 3

Participants at International Dialogue 2013, Day 3 - © Claire Bolderson

The Kenya working group made some concrete suggestions, including better use of social media and improved career guidance to direct young people towards training and jobs. They also suggested hiring incentives for private sector companies, and programmes to help young people learn from foreign investors carrying out major infrastructure projects.

There was also a suggestion that young people could learn from the women’s movement about raising concerns at government level.

Some delegates were concerned that the definition of “youth” and who can speak for them varies enormously from country to country. There are places where it can mean a government official who is 40 or 50 years old. People under 30 need to make sure it’s their voices that are being heard.

Overall, there was no one answer to the question of how to realise the Demographic Dividend. Should Africa for example try to follow the much vaunted example of South Korea, or will there be “an African way”?

As Karin Kortmann of GIZ said in her closing remarks, delegates to the 11th International Dialogue were left with a lot to take away in their suitcases.


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