Inclusive Societies and Development

Youth Inclusion

 

The global population of young people (ages 15-24 years old) accounts for more than a quarter of the world's population. Over 85 percent of the 1.2 billion young persons live in developing countries, in many places, youth represent 30 percent of the population and the numbers are growing.

Young people around the world are exposed to an increasing number of vulnerabilities and threats. Their decision-making is inevitably subject to many social and economic constraints. Limited access to decent employment opportunities, education, health services and civic participation are factors that prevent young people from playing a full role in their societies. This is particularly crucial in countries with high demographic growth and inequality, where new generations put pressure on economic and social development.

The exclusion of youth from central societal sectors represents tremendous social and economic costs to the society, as much as it denotes important failures to promote and protect the rights of young people. Investing in youth is essential for inclusive and sustainable development, since young people do not only shape the present of any country, but will also profoundly determine the future. In addition, youth is a stage in life characterised by a high capacity to learn and acquire skills, as well as good health habits and positive attitudes towards participation in society, therefore it is a cost-effective strategy to target the multiple dimensions of youth inclusion. Investing in young people has the additional value of being an investment with inter-generational effects which can contribute to creating powerful agents for change.

The current situation of youth inclusion represents both real challenges and unequalled opportunities for national governments and the international community. The way in which youth participation in national development is addressed will shape the future of any country while youth marginalisation may lead to social and political unrest. The barriers to youth inclusion are multidimensional, ranging from economic, social, political, cultural, or geographical nature. They are also country-specific, depending on the background and dynamics of each national context. Some of these constraints may be related to shortages of opportunities in terms of quantity, and others to the lack of information, resources, or experienced decision-making. Among the multiple challenges faced by today’s youth, the access to (1) decent employment opportunities, (2) education, (3) health and (4) civic participation represent essential determinants of youth inclusion.

 

Youth Employment

One of the most important factors hindering the inclusion of young people in society is the limited access to employment and, in particular, to decent jobs. Youths are more likely to be unemployed than adult work force and when employed, they are more likely to work in precarious jobs, providing neither social protection nor opportunities for training and career progression. In addition to the lack of decent employment opportunities, the demand and supply of the labour market often mismatch. The majority of young job seekers do not have the required skills or experience to be competitive in the labour market. Constraints on a successful school-to-work transition for young people may take many forms, often linked to major structural weaknesses in national economies, which have a very small formal sector and insufficient job creation. They often reflect failures in the quality of education, the provision of appropriate training and effective active labour market policies, or other labour market dysfunctions. Further obstacles to youth employment lie in social and cultural factors, including discrimination based on gender and ethnicity or socio-economic background, locking the paths for youth empowerment and social mobility.

 

Youth Education

Ensuring that young people have equal opportunity to accumulate human capital irrespective of their gender and socio-economic background is a key challenge for increasing both the average skills level of youths and their chances in the labour market. Despite significant global improvement in access to primary education, major problems persist in accessing post-primary schooling, the quality of education, and skills matching. Beyond enrolment rates, the quality of education needs to receive attention so that improvements in educational outcomes effectively translate into greater career prospects for young graduates. However, practice has shown that high quality education is no guarantee for a smooth school-to-work transition. Young graduates often lack skills that match the requirements of the labour market. Well-designed vocational training programs can address this mismatch by linking work based and classroom learning, and thereby improving the supply of skilled labour. Effective skills strategies are crucial to ensure that education and training equip young people with the skills needed to shape dynamic and sustainable futures.

 

Youth Health

Young people have specific health and development needs, however challenges such as poverty, a lack of access to health information and services, and unsafe environments hinder the well-being of the present youth generation, their future health as well as the health of future generations. Some of the main health issues affecting young people are early pregnancy, HIV, malnutrition, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, violence, and road traffic injuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 2.6 million young people aged 10 to 24 die each year, mostly due to preventable causes. The physical and mental well-being of young people is a crucial determinant for their ability to grow, and participate fully and equally in all spheres of society. Many of the leading causes of premature death, disease and disability in adults are associated with unhealthy behaviours that began in their youth, including tobacco use, poor eating and exercise habits, unprotected sex or exposure to violence. Effective health programs that promote healthy practices at a young age, and take steps to better prevent important health risks among youth, are critical to the future of social and health infrastructure of any country.

 

Youth Civic Participation

Young people are important agents of change. Facilitating their full participation in democratic life is an important objective of any society. Today's youth, living in a fast-growing world, have rising expectations for their current and future standards of living. Governments should not underestimate the capacity of the young people to mobilise and pressure for a certain standard of service provision. The Arab Spring is testimony of a powerful demand from, not only for democracy and voice, but also for a more inclusive society, responsive to the aspirations of young people. However, young people are often leftbehind and marginalised from the political sphere. Weak participation and poor awareness of civic rights, which hinder their ability to meet their personal aspirations, is a threat to inclusive decision-making and equity. It renders the government less legitimate and social capital components such as accountability and civil society weak. Most young people feel powerless to influence events, a sentiment which can provoke anger and feeling of frustration and exclusion – particularly in countries where youth unemployment rates are high. In contrast, giving space to youth voices is fundamental to create a sense of belonging to society, thus strengthening their sense of citizenship.

 

 

Sources

OECD (2012), Perspectives on Global Development 2012, OECD, Paris.

 

Youth Employment

OECD (2013), OECD Action Plan for Youth: Giving Youth a Better Start in the Labour Market, OECD, Paris. http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/Action-plan-youth.pdf

 

Youth Education

OECD (2013), Education Today 2013, The OECD Perspective, OECD, Paris. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/education-today-2013_edu_today-2012-en#page1

 

Youth Health

WHO (2011), Youth and Health Risks. Report by the Secretariat. Sixty-Fourth World Health Assembly. A64/25 http://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_wha64.html

 

Youth Civic Participation

OECD (2012), Perspectives on Global Development 2012, OECD, Paris.

OECD (2013), Social Cohesion Policy Reviews: Framework Paper, OECD, Paris.

 

 

 

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