As the latest edition of the OECD Employment Outlook reports, even among the young, some groups are much more vulnerable than others, most notably young people with low levels of education. Figures from OECD Education at a Glance showed that, among 25-34 year-olds, around 18% who had not completed secondary education were unemployed in 2011, compared with just under 7% for those with a tertiary qualification.
Previous crises have demonstrated that seeking simple solutions to these complex challenges can backfire. In the past, some governments introduced early-retirement programmes in the belief that this would “make room” for younger workers. It didn’t work, and succeeded only in reducing the overall number of people in the workforce. As the Employment Outlook reports, older workers do not “crowd out” young people from labour markets. Quite the reverse: The evidence suggests that when more older people work, more younger people work, too.
What is needed, instead, are policies that boost overall economic activity and create jobs for young people, especially those with low levels of education and from immigrant families. Much of the discussion about young people focuses on university education, but other areas need to be looked at, too. Basic and vocational education as well as mentoring are essential parts of the mix, as is the need to ensure a “second chance” for students who drop out or fail to complete secondary education. It is also essential to ensure that young people gain work experience during their studies and, once they are in work, to ensure they are treated as fairly as more established workers.
To boost opportunities for young people, governments should look into publicly-subsidised work experience or encourage employers to hire young people by lowering social security contribution rates or introducing wage subsidies for young workers. Targeting these measures at the low-skilled and most disadvantaged, who are most at risk of long-term unemployment and social exclusion, will help countries reduce the risk of seeing their youngest generation lose touch with the labour market entirely.