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How to walk the talk on youth unemployment: Reflections on the UNCTAD 14 Youth Forum

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 and today 68 years later, I see the importance of this declaration, especially Article 26 which states that, "everyone has the right to education".

Education can contribute to good changes around the world including healthier societies, social stability and employment. Goal 8 of the SDGs states: “Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all”. Following my recommendations, Least Developed Countries, like Benin, should incorporate different targets of the Goal 8. Then, as there is causal relationship between good education and decent jobs, interconnection between goal 4 and goal 8 will surely contribute to achieve goal 1: “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”.

The situation is particularly critical given the high youth unemployment rates globally. According to the United Nations (UN), global unemployment increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012. The sad fact is that 75 million of those unemployed are young women and men. This seriously affects youth well-being, and UN argues that nearly 2.2 billion people live below the US$2 poverty line and that poverty eradication is only possible through stable and well-paid jobs. According to the World Bank, in Africa alone, a million jobs a month will be needed to create full youth employment. United Nations statistics show that for new entrants to the labour market between 2016 and 2030, 470 million jobs are needed globally.

Furthermore, there is connection between youth unemployment and instability, conflict, violence and terrorism. Youth unemployment is one the causes of 2011 Arab revolution, and reflects the extent of despair among youth, as well as proves that youth unemployment can turn to violence to compensate the absence of voice and self-esteem. In Tunisia, according to the World Bank data 2012, 33.4% of men and 50.4% of women aged 15–29, in rural area are Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET), and 20.3% of men and 32.4% of women in urban area are also NEETs. Also, qualitative studies from World Development Report 2011 on conflict, confirm that unemployment and idleness are risk factors for recruitment into rebel movements and gangs.

It was a great honor for me to be selected as a participant in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14) Youth Forum, a new initiative launched during the fourteenth session of the Ministerial Conference of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, to debate about the importance of education, better jobs, and government accountability, in order to promote youth issues in the international agenda. Although, I am reporting on the event virtually as I was unable to attend yet thought it is an important forum to reflect on.

During UNCTAD conference, in Nairobi, young people from around the world gathered to discuss issues facing them under the theme, “Shaping the world we want”. One of the main conclusions was that education is an instrument for solving the key issues that young people face globally such as immigration, terrorism, etc. They also convened that there is a strong causal relationship between good education and quality jobs as the apparent skills gap has led to under filled sectors such as technologies and over concentrated sectors such as agro-industry. Indeed, in its publication entitled “Breaking the Barriers to Youth Inclusion”, the World Bank has provides a comprehensive analysis of the social, economic, political, and cultural barriers that facing young Tunisians. The article argues that the low educational levels among many young Tunisians without work suggest that additional professional training will be needed to enable NEETs to find jobs. The publication also affirms that the vast majority of NEETs never obtained a secondary degree, leaving most of the next generation under-equipped for tomorrow’s job market.

For more and better job opportunities, the UNCTAD Youth Forum proposed many solutions including:

  • Equipping job candidates with necessary techniques throughout the formal education life cycle, ensuring that the education curriculum complements formal academic skills with vocational employ-ability skills

  • Adopting a more holistic idea of how we define "education" which factors need to ensure the skills youth are learning are relevant to the present and future employment market.

  • Integrating practical work opportunities as part of the curriculum

  • Enabling a holistic approach to education that also encourages young people’s unique qualities, abilities, and capacities.

Apart from the new approach to jobs, entrepreneurship was the other focus point of the forum. As an avid supporter of entrepreneurship, I was so proud that the youth of this forum also thought that entrepreneurship is the solution to the youth employment crisis. I recommend that in order to bridge the gap between entrepreneurship and education, and ensure high impact, youth mainstreamed entrepreneurship programs should ensure the following:

  • They address the issues young entrepreneurs’ face including, accessing micro-credit, capacity building, and technical support and mentoring to lead their Business model, etc.

  • Develop specific training for rural youth entrepreneurs and make courses more accessible for urban youth.

Furthermore, it’s important that states identify and pursue the most appropriate mix of economic and social policies to achieve equitable development, looking to the sustainable development agenda as a road-map.


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