While the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the leading role that young people can play in eradicating poverty and driving development, too many young people still face roadblocks to fulfil this role. The lack of decent employment is one of the most significant. So as we mark International Youth Day, it is worth highlighting the importance of generating jobs in reflecting on this year’s theme: The Road to 2030: eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable production and consumption

[Editor’s Note: Marie-France Boucher is a Program Management Officer at the International Development Research Centre, working for the Think Tank Initiative.]

Currently, nine out of ten young people between 15 to 30 years old live in low- and middle-income countries. This youth bulge constitutes a huge potential for economic growth and development in these countries. However, without decent employment opportunities, these countries risk missing out on the economic benefits that could be created by their young workforce.

It all starts with decent jobs

But what do we mean when we talk about decent jobs? A decent job is productive and contributes to the formal economy. It binds employers and workers through a written contract which protects both parties, provides workers with transferable skills and grants a wage allowing them to satisfy their basic needs. Working poverty, namely working for less than US$2 a day, informal work, part-time work, seasonal/casual work and temporary work are all employment conditions which can prevent workers from living a decent life.

Unfortunately, young people occupy these latter types of employment in overwhelming majority compared to older workers. Indeed, employed young people were 1.5 times more likely to be found in extreme poverty than other age groups in 2013. The International Labour Organization estimates that as many as 169 million young people are working on less than US$2 per day. This can be explained by a number of factors such as limited access to education, lack of experience compared to other age groups and available job opportunities in the labour market.

Providing decent jobs to young people remains a major challenge for today’s policy makers around the world because research to support effective job creation is still weak and fragmented. With the help of the Think Tank initiative, our partners are playing an important role in supporting the development of youth employment policies. By providing much needed evidence on the factors influencing job creation in their countries, think tanks are contributing to the collective effort required to generate decent and productive work opportunities for young people. 

Think tanks are helping by providing local data…

Part of the challenge to develop effective youth employment policies and programmes is that young people’s employment needs are based on so many factors: economic status, education and/or location. Taking into consideration the specificities of labour markets across countries and regions complicates the equation even more.  

In this context, think tanks are offering great insights to policymakers with local and evidence-based research. Due to their immediate access to local data and knowledge, they are providing a complete picture of what type of policy is needed to answer the employment needs of young people. Research is also identifying groups that might have been overlooked by current youth employment policies or assess the impact of youth employment policies on young people. They also understand that better employment policies alone will not fix everything; conducting research to improve the educational system is also key to improve employment prospect for young people. The Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales (ASIES) understood that and campaigned to improve the educational system in Guatemala. Its National Agenda for Quality Education has prompted the Ministry of Education to enact a number of proposed changes such as improving teacher training and decentralizing the school budget thus offering young people the opportunity to enhance their employment prospects. 

… and by using different analytical lenses

Additionally, think tanks such as the ones supported by TTI often use different analytical lens to carry their research. The interdisciplinary nature of think tanks can thus provide fresh perspectives to policymakers. In the case of youth employment, different academic disciplines are required to come together to improve the situation – looking at the issue from the angle of urbanism, sociology, migration or education is the only way to understand the employment needs of young people. One such example of an interdisciplinary research project is one funded by TTI Opportunity Funds on the role of small cities shaping youth employment outcomes in India and Indonesia. The project led by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) based in Delhi, India, is looking at how small cities shape employment outcomes for young women and youth from non-metropolitan background. It is using data on migration, urbanization and labour markets from small cities in India to suggest policy reforms to small city governments. It will also be conducting a comparative analysis with data from Indonesia to draw parallels and insights for the Indian context.

This research project is tackling a very specific aspect of youth employment in India but it will speak to the broader phenomenon of youth labour migration to small cities. This highlights one of the many values think tanks bring to policy deliberation: different disciplinary perspectives, insights from other policy domains or countries on emerging trends and because of their impartiality, a constructively critical overview of the complex factors influencing tricky policy problems like youth employment.

Given that young people play a crucial role in the process of economic development in several low- and middle-income countries, think tanks are making it their priority to inform their governments’ youth employment policies or labour market policies. In so doing, they are helping foster youth employment and capture the tremendous opportunity for growth and development that young people both represent and can take advantage of. Development cannot not happen without young people. Think tanks know this and are helping make this happen.