This September, Agrilinks and Marketlinks explore key themes supporting the urgent advancement of youth employment

September 1, 2021


John Estey
Photo credit: John Estey

This post is written by Jane Lowicki-Zucca, Senior Youth Advisor, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID.

Welcome to Youth Employment Month featured jointly this September by Agrilinks and Marketlinks! 

Increasing young people’s access to more and better quality jobs in many low- and lower middle-income countries (LICs and LMICs) is an urgent priority. At more than 1.2 billion and rising, today's global youth population aged 15 to 24 is the largest in history. Almost 90 percent of these young people are living in developing countries, mostly in rural areas with high agricultural potential. While some countries will see declines, the youth population in the 47 least developed countries will increase 62% by 2050. In Africa alone, 440 million young people are expected to enter the labor market between 2015 and 2030.

Demographic Promise and Pressure

Growth in the labor force can offer the opportunity of a demographic dividend when the number of people in the working age population (15-64) exceeds those who are not of working age (0-14, 65 and over), and countries can experience and benefit from a period of increased productivity. As population growth and other factors increase pressure on food systems and natural resources, governments around the world desire to create more and better opportunities for youth that also help drive inclusive economic growth, transform sustainable food systems to meet nutrition needs and ensure healthy diets, and promote stability. Amid rising economic inequality, lack of sufficient job opportunities risks a crisis of social exclusion of young people at a colossal scale. Without hope, an escape from poverty and meaningful opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their lives, rising youth frustration can contribute to political instability and undermine the achievement of all development objectives.

Not Enough Good Jobs

Youth aspirations for their lives and livelihoods have increased amid a global technological revolution, but labor supply often outstrips demand. In LICs and LMICs, wage and salaried jobs that tend to be more stable, more remunerative, and safer, engage just 20 to 34 percent of the workforce, respectively. That means that the vast majority of youth must find informal work opportunities, while economies take time to transform to enterprise-driven development with more firms creating higher-quality wage employment. Much of young people’s informal livelihoods will come from farming or non-farm household enterprises, and many youth may also pursue entrepreneurship that channels their ingenuity and creates jobs for others as well. 

Barriers Facing Youth

Youth face distinct challenges to work entry and success, ranging from less work experience and insufficient skills, to more limited access to productive resources, and gender norms that more often negatively affect female youth. More than 22 percent of young people globally are not actively seeking work and are “NEET” - not in employment, education or training, and two-thirds of them are female. When youth do have jobs, they experience working poverty, vulnerable employment, and labor underutilization more often than other adults, especially in LICs. For young women, the terms and conditions of employment tend to be even worse, with unequal status and power dynamics in labor markets often leaving them vulnerable to violence and harassment. Young women who manage to enter the labor force also often drop out later when they have children due to lack of childcare options. 

Diagnose, Decide and Design for Solutions

Like for everyone in the labor force, youth employment prospects are shaped by the state of structural and rural transformation of the countries and regions in which they live. However the benefits of increased productivity and efficiency in agricultural and other markets that contribute to sector growth do not automatically “trickle down” to all young people, especially female youth, in the forms of improved market inclusion and income. COVID-19, rising conflicts and inequality, and the impacts of climate change are all worsening the already precarious employment situation of millions of young people around the world. Prospects for green jobs, practices and outcomes led by youth need elucidation, commitment and investment.

As outlined in the USAID Employment Framework, finding solutions to youth employment requires concerted diagnosis of the specific economic growth and jobs prospects in the places where young people are, followed by strategic decision-making about what changes are needed to improve employment in those conditions, and design of interventions as guided by evidence. Check out the Employment Framework, its accompanying Playbook, and the other resources below for more details! 

This month, Agrilinks and Marketlinks will explore key themes supporting the urgent advancement of youth employment, including:

  • Conducting and using job diagnostics that are context-specific - getting it right for the specific situation
  • Investing in young people’s development of non-cognitive, “transferable” skills 
  • Balancing supply- and demand-side interventions more effectively to improve youth livelihoods and lives in informal and formal markets amid more inclusive structural change
  • Strengthening partnerships with youth to nurture their leadership and agency for employment transformation
  • Young entrepreneurs creating change and employing their peers; and
  • Exploring opportunities with and for youth in the green economy to ensure better outcomes for both people and the planet as the world endures and builds back better from COVID-19.

Join the conversation throughout September by submitting your own blog posts, commenting on and engaging with those of others, and participating in this month’s activities.

Register for our webinar

Check Out These Great Youth Employment Resources:

African Green Revolution Forum, Pathways to Recovery and Resilient Food Systems; Pre-summit: September 6; Summit: September 7-11; Virtual/Nairobi; featuring the Generation Africa GoGettaz Agripreneur Competition 2021

United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021: September 23, 2021; New York/Virtual

World Food Forum (WFF) 2021, powered by Global Youth: This independent youth movement to transform agri-food systems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including “Zero Hunger,” will hold a global event in October, 2021. Have a look here