The world of work continues to be affected by the evolving dynamics of the pandemic, which continues to widen disparities among young people. The 8th Edition of the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work reports lagging and uncertain recovery, with young people suffering greater employment deficits. Prospects for labour market recovery continue to look weak and uncertain in the coming years.
While young people continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic crises, there have been clear gendered impacts of the crises. Women continue to face disproportionate job loss and declines in labour-force participation due to increased caregiving responsibilities. LGBTQ youth also suffer from stigma and vulnerability to workforce discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). They continue to be at risk of economic insecurities, disproportionate economic hardships, and unemployment. Young people with disabilities encounter a multitude of challenges in the workplace, including societal stigma, lack of special or supportive facilities in workplaces that would allow them to take up employment, and unwillingness of employers to accommodate people with special needs.
The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities in the employment market. Black and ethnic minority youth continue to face a wide range of employment challenges due to discrimination, bias, prejudice, and racism. The ILO Brief, Update on the youth labour market impact of the COVID- 19 crises, reveals the falls in youth employment with an increase in the rate of young people not in employment, education or training (the NEET rate).
CONSTRAINTS AFFECTING YOUTH TRANSITION POST PANDEMIC
Varying multidimensional factors continue to constrain youth transitioning to employment: from unpaid caregiving responsibilities impeding women's workforce participation, to discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity, racial disparities affecting black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) youth, to obstacles in accessing decent work for people with disabilities.
Severe disruption in education due to school closures and unequal access to online learning has widened disparities in learning. Obsolete and irrelevant educational curricula and practices for youth in school continues to impede suitable skills training and experience. Changes in job entry requirements has made transition from school to work harder, with longer qualifying periods. Increased demand for advanced and highly-skilled individuals continues to pose greater challenges for young labour market entrants, which further leads to inactivity, unemployment, underemployment, exemption from labour market participation, and redundancy.
The economic conditions have led to an upsurge in temporary and part time contracts, unstable and insecure jobs, high competition for jobs available, and lower paying jobs. Reluctance of employers to return to full-time and permanent employment models has increased reduced earnings, temporary furlough and job uncertainty. These constraints continue to influence and cause long lasting impacts on career trajectories, future employment, competition for jobs and earnings prospects of young people.
The impacts of the economic crisis on young people continue to be drastic, with difficulty in transiting from school to work, early experiences about realities of job scarcity, and unemployment. The pandemic has also accelerated the rate of automation, with jobs becoming obsolete under the rapid pace of technological advancement. Existing and new jobs require digitisation, high skill levels, and new labour requirements, causing a disconnect for young people with out-dated school-based teaching, and limited experience.
CHANGES IN THE FUTURE OF WORK
The pandemic has accelerated a radical shift in the world of work, spurring the future of work to arrive sooner than expected. The pace of technological use and adoption continues to grow, creating a huge digital divide. The crisis has further prompted the accelerated rate of the shifting megatrends redefining the world of work; for example, digitalisation is rapidly transforming how jobs are done and the skills required to perform them. While digitalisation has led to job displacement and a widening of digital divide, it continues to foster pathways for new and more jobs to become available, improving work quality through digital tools and technologies, access to digital platforms, and fostering innovation and creativity.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence has continued to transform digital models in several sectors: finance; health care; manufacturing; retail; and e-commerce with high efficiency rates. It has shifted skills requirement with increased demand for technological skills, IT skills and digital skills. Flexible and remote working – working anytime, anywhere – is the new normal of post pandemic workplace flexibility, offering both new opportunities and new challenges with online technologies supporting the framework of workers collaboration remotely. The Gig Economy has continued to transform, reinvent and redefine the nature of jobs, work settings, and an overhaul of the workforce. It is reimagining jobs from traditional work settings, challenging why, where, when, how work gets done, work content, and work routines. Independent work continues to rapidly evolve with demand for services on digital platforms, online marketplaces, and technology-savvy youth who desire to work.
The future of work megatrend has presented contrasting realities from the economic crises. Significant job loss and redundancy from increased automation disproportionately affects young people with low skill and educational attainment levels. Additionally, increased digitisation has led to employers seeking highly skilled youth, further putting strain on achieving inclusive growth and potentially raising income inequality. Similarly, adaptability to pandemic response with shifts to digital technology, remote working, use of digital platforms and digital transactions have become drivers for high GDP and productivity for companies and businesses. Conversely, rigidness and inability to adapt to online space has affected many companies’ revenue, leading to downtick of demands, downsizing of workers and closure of businesses.
REVIEW OF YOUTH TRANSITION POLICY PRACTICE AND PROGRAMMES IN COMMONWEALTH COUNTRIES
The varying level of work transitioning policy, practices and approaches adopted in different countries, including austerity youth transition policy, social and welfare programmes, short-term empowerment schemes, business support schemes, have proven the need for re-evaluation and re-assessment. The pandemic has caused a staggering surge in unemployment, under employment, redundancy and job insecurity.
Different schemes have been set up by Caribbean countries to tackle youth unemployment. The Youth Entrepreneurship Program For The Eastern Caribbean (YEPEC) aims to expand access to entrepreneurial support activities for young people throughout participating Caribbean countries (Barbados, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda). The Youth Entrepreneurship Programme (YEP), provides support by expanding and strengthening entrepreneurship support services for vulnerable youth in 11 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. There have also been varying initiatives in various Caribbean countries on tackling youth unemployment, such as the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme in Jamaica, which provides core training, volunteerism, entrepreneurship and apprenticeship programmes for young people who are not employed or enrolled in a school or training programme. Similarly, The Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) in Trinidad and Tobago, provides core training of technical and vocational skills to enhance prospects of sustainable employment or self-employment for at-risk youths. Despite the range of programmes in the Caribbean, youth unemployment persists. The various programmes are sometimes piecemeal, short-lived, and faced with economic challenges. An influx of similar and redundant skills and expertise by youth continues to over-saturate and outweigh the demand of the labour market. While the recently launched Youth Economy project in Saint Lucia holds prospects in turning hobbies into entrepreneurship through finance training and mentoring for young people, it is critical to re-evaluate, re-structure and expand training models and curriculum for all programmes and initiatives to meet the growing demands of an emerging digitised workforce.
Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) in India, addresses youth employability and skills development through short-term training for increased productivity of the workforce. While the programme has empowered young people with skills and training, the pandemic has brought a rapid shift in essential skills, prioritising digitisation and skill mapping creativity, which demands an overhaul of the training provided. The Youth Employment Programme (YEP) in Mauritius bridges the gap between education and labour market through training and placement of youth to acquire the requisite skills and gain valuable work experience.
The N-power scheme in Nigeria aims at tackling youth unemployment through skill enhancement and Learn-Work-Pay culture in Nigeria. Despite the intervention scheme, unemployment rate continues to soar with an underwhelming number of beneficiaries and disengagement after two years to return to the unemployment pool, further saturating the labour market.
While short-term employment programmes can be pivotal in engaging young people, enhancing their skillset and facilitating their entry into the labour market, these programmes are not sufficient to enhance sustainability. Evidently, youth transition policy, practice, programmes and approaches masked in populist handouts, social and welfare programmes, short-term empowerment schemes only provide superficial and temporary reprieve from the grim realities of economic crises.
STRAEGIES TO IMPROVE POLICEIS THAT SUPPORT YOUTH TRANSITION TO EMPLOYMENT
The 2021 edition of the OECD Employment Outlook: Navigating COVID-19 Crises and Recovery, report highlights how to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and recovery through building resilient and inclusive labour markets.
1. Prioritising essential thematic areas: Given the fragility, and evolving dynamics of post pandemic recovery, policy processes and approaches should reflect the thematic priority areas of intervention, that is, employability, entrepreneurship, training, and equality and rights, with a focus on expanding key sectors that can create decent jobs for youth, and job retention programmes.
2. Intersectional policy approach: A youth transitioning policy should not be one-size-fits-all policy. Intersectional approaches must be prioritised, with gender, economic status, social backgrounds, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), disability and other relevant dimensions accounted for in policy processes, implementation and quota allocation.
3. All round sync in education and employment sectors: Effective lifelong learning and training systems that streamline need-to-know skills, reflecting interests and capabilities alongside labour market demands must be prioritised in an increasingly digitised society. Education systems must reflect the changing digitisation trends in the curriculum to equip young people with the work skills they will need in the future. Employers should be involved in the planning and implementation of educational curricula and apprenticeship programmes to reflect the soft and hard skills needed to get job opportunities that actually exist in the labour market.
5. Inter-generational partnership among Commonwealth countries: Forging and maintaining effective partnerships among Commonwealth countries are essential for quality and sustainability of youth employment programmes. Exchange programmes across education and training institutions, businesses and support services for young people between developed and emerging economies can foster positive learning outcomes and bridge the digital divide. For instance, The International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) in Canada, offers the opportunity for Canadian youth to gain professional experience abroad through conducting remote international development work.
6. Sustainable Scheme for Job Creation: Job creation schemes should be transitional, integrated, sustainable, inclusive and long-term driven to foster key recovery from the impacts of crises for the youth labour force. Creating entry-level job opportunities, implementing school-to-work apprenticeships and on-the-job training programmes, as well as supporting young entrepreneurs through grants are key drivers of tackling youth unemployment. With the emergence of the gig economy and remote working, youth transition policy must strike a right balance between fostering job stability, flexibility and labour mobility.
7. Centring young people in decision-making processes: Consultation and participation processes must used to involve and engage young people in policy making forums and implementation phases. Effective communication mechanisms should be deployed to facilitate meaningful dialogue and engagement of young people in design and implementation of programmes so that their needs are reflected.
The varying fiscal schemes adopted by different countries to limit the impact of the pandemic must be prolonged for optimal recovery – and matched with national policies that support job creation and retention. This means coherent large-scale interventions that provide efficient investment in an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery.
ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. 8th edition
International Labour Organization Policy Brief: Gender equality and the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
World Economic Forum; The future of jobs report 2020
Leeds University Business School; Digitalisation and the Future of Work.
IBM: What is Automation
The European Business Review; The Impact of Remote Work on the Future of Work
McKinsey Global Institute: Future of Works After COVID-19
World Economic Forum; "What is the gig economy and what's the deal for gig workers?"
European Commission; Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion
OECD iLibrary: Navigating COVID-19 Crises and Recovery
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Taofeekat Adigun is a member of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) and founder of Student Network, a youth-led network in Nigeria with a focus on upskilling and reskilling young people, and a Millennium Campus Fellow for 2021. Through her work in policy processes and youth transition, she continues to champion youth participation, inclusion, gender equality and advancing the rights of young people.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society.