The EU-OECD Youth Inclusion project perceives four areas to be of significant interest as they represent the main dimensions affecting youth well-being.
One of the most important factors hindering the inclusion of young people in society is limited access to employment, particularly decent jobs. For example, youth are more likely to be unemployed than adults. When they are employed, they are more likely to work in precarious jobs that provide neither social protection nor opportunities for training and career progression. Complicating matters, demand and supply of the labour market are often mismatched. 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 may take many forms. Barriers are often linked to major structural weaknesses in national economies that have a very small formal sector and insufficient job creation. These impediments often reflect failures in the quality of education, provision of appropriate training and effective active labour market policies, or other labour market dysfunctions.
Other obstacles to youth employment lie in social and cultural factors, including discrimination based on gender and ethnicity or socio-economic background. Taken together these factors are blocking the path for youth empowerment and social mobility.
Young people must have an equal opportunity to accumulate human capital irrespective of their gender and socio-economic background. Ensuring that is key for increasing both the average skills level of youth as well as 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 in skills matching. Education quality deserves attention so that improvements in educational outcomes effectively translate into greater career prospects for young graduates. But it can’t stop there: Practice has shown that high quality education is no guarantee for a smooth school-to-work transition. Young graduates often lack skills required by the labour market.
Well-designed vocational training programs can address this mismatch by linking work-based and classroom learning, 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 create dynamic and sustainable futures.
Young people have very specific health and developmental needs – and challenges. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2.6 million young people aged 10 to 24 die each year, mostly due to preventable causes. Some of the main issues affecting them are early pregnancy, HIV, malnutrition, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, violence and road traffic injuries. These risks are compounded by external factors such as poverty, lack of access to health information and services, and unsafe environments. All of these hinder the current well-being of youth, their future health as well as the health of generations to come.
Indeed, many of the leading causes of premature death, disease and disability in adults can be traced to unhealthy behaviours that began in their youth, including tobacco use, poor eating and exercise, unprotected sex or exposure to violence. Programs that promote healthy practices at a young age and take steps to better prevent health risks among youth are critical to the social and health infrastructure of any country.
Young people are agents of change. They live in a fast-growing world and have heightened expectations for their current and future standards of living. Governments should not underestimate their capacity to mobilise and demand improved service provision. The Arab Spring, with its powerful call not only for democracy but also for a society more responsive to the aspirations of young people, is yet one example.
Facilitating youth’s full participation in democratic processes is critical for any society. That said, young people are often marginalised from the political sphere. Weak participation and poor awareness of civic rights hinder their ability to fulfil personal aspirations. They also pose a threat to inclusive decision-making and equity, and render government less legitimate and social capital components such as accountability and civil society weak.
The risk is that young people who feel powerless to influence events will become frustrated and then angry, particularly in countries where youth unemployment rates are high. In contrast, giving space for the youth perspective is fundamental to creating a sense of citizenship and participation.