Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to launch a new blog series, “The Next Generation,” to explore the challenges and opportunities of agricultural systems in a world with unprecedented numbers of young people. We will publish one post each week addressing these issues, and our series will culminate with the release of a new Council report at the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
For the past six weeks, this blog series has discussed the vast economic potential that rising youth populations can hold and the necessary role of improvements in agricultural productivity required to support them. This week, we consider the importance of “decent work” in a global labor market that is becoming increasingly less stable.
photo credit: Will Boase/RTI International
Not all jobs are equal. Low quality work is less dependable, pays less, is more dangerous, and increases inequalities
among different groups. Young people in low- and middle-income countries make up 90 percent of the global youth population. For these individuals, the informal sector—where work can be sporadic, poorly paid, and undependable—remains the top employer
. Informal jobs also deprive workers of social protections, access to benefits, or collective bargaining. The entire globe
is facing a jobs crisis, and this lack of decent work for young people holds back all of society, as a generation struggles to build savings and becomes vulnerable to further economic shocks. Over 70 million young people are unemployed
and 160 million are working, yet still living in poverty
. Underemployment, vulnerable employment, or lack of employment wastes great potential by not putting the productive talents of youth to work. It also inhibits development and can destabilize
For some, the informal sector offers the chance for income generation in an economy with fewer opportunities. In fact, nine out of 10
rural and urban workers in Africa have at least one informal job. In India, 93 percent
of all employment is currently in the informal sector. Despite this availability, the lack of formal recognition for these positions means lack of protection under the law. When their work goes unrecognized or unrecorded, young people can struggle to access financing that would allow businesses to grow and switch into the formal economic sector. For example, only about 60 percent
of Indians who report themselves as employed were able to find year round work.
Agriculture, with the right investments, holds immense potential
for entrepreneurship and good jobs. In Africa, there are millions of small-scale farmers, but they currently produce much less food per hectare
than the rest of the world, on average. If these farmers could have access to inputs, finance, technologies, and the infrastructure that facilitates market access, they could kick start entire economies
. Increased agricultural production creates steady jobs up and down the value chain, as markets for inputs and value-added productions increase. Importantly, many young people are in rural areas, where they already engage in agriculture in some way—in Africa, two thirds of informal jobs
are in the agricultural value chain. Transforming agriculture
into meaningful employment will have a dramatic impact
on these incomes.
photo credit: Will Boase/RTI International
Poor Education Drives Skills Mismatch
Education is a central driver of this conflict. Many young people, even those who receive formal education, lack the literacy and numeracy skills
that employers need. Enrollment rates in primary schools in India are at nearly 98 percent
—but almost 46 percent
of students cannot read at a second grade level. Nearly 37 million
African children will attend school, but, due to the lack of quality resources, they learn so little that they are no better off than those who never went to school. Rural and poor children are particularly hard hit. For example, in Ethiopia, nearly 70 percent of the poorest quintile of children fail to receive adequate education. Before they can attain decent work, students need decent education.
Often, educational systems rely on poor educational techniques
, such as rote memorization, that fail to give students the maturity and critical thinking skills
they will need as adult workers. This skill mismatch means that youth do not have the qualifications that the market demands, which stunts the growth of entire societies. Teachers themselves can lack the education needed to prepare students, fail to show up for classes
, or be responsible for an overwhelming number of students. For 2013-2014, the primary school student-to-teacher ratio in India was 28:1. By comparison, for this same period the ratio was 14:1 in the United States.
Beyond training youth to have the skills employers are looking for, young people must be supported when they venture into entrepreneurship. If societies are to absorb their rising populations into the labor market, the private sector must grow. For example, India alone will need to generate an additional 280 million jobs
by 2050. A major barrier to successful entrepreneurial creation is a lack of financial services
. Young people in particular can be viewed as a high credit risk
group, and can seek loans smaller than standard financial offerings.
Preparing young people for the job market of tomorrow means more than supplying them with the necessary technical skills. Next week, we will discuss the importance of “soft skills” for youth in developing markets and consider what leaders can do to eliminate the skill gap.
Read our previous posts in The Next Generation series:
Youth Populations and the Demographic Dividend Window
Agricultural Development Holds the Key
Youth on the Move
The Fourth Revolution Breakthrough
Tomorrow's Farmers - And Consumers