The ILO and Youth Unemployment Policy

Policy Brief: The ILO and Youth Unemployment Policy

Simon Renwick


Youth unemployment is recognised as one of the major challenges to the global labour market in the coming decades. Finding means to help such a large proportion of the global population is vital to improving social equality and employment for all.

This brief looks at the ways in which the ILO is seeking to improve the prospects for young workers across the globe and particularly in areas of economic underdevelopment. The brief discusses the proposed budget, approved at the 323rd Governing Body meeting.

At the 323rd Governing Body meeting of the ILO in March 2015, one of the most avidly discussed topics was the role of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in shaping the post-2015 global employment and labour environment.

The Governing Body meeting highlighted two key groups who disproportionately experience unemployment and job insecurity; women, and the youth. This issue has been central to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook initiative, which recently released research asserting that “Youth, especially young women, continue to be disproportionately affected by unemployment. Almost 74 million young people (aged 15–24) were looking for work in 2014”[1].

Why is tackling youth unemployment important to the ILO?

Tackling youth unemployment is an important topic for the ILO for a variety of reasons. The Governing Body meetings emphasised that a young person is three times more likely than an older person to be unemployed. There is a serious challenge not only to move young people from unemployment to employment, but to move young people into decent working conditions that empower the employee (and potentially their family and community) socially and economically. According to ILO, over 220 million young people are ‘working poor’[2], meaning they are involved in the informal economy or are working in poor, insecure and unsafe working conditions.

Another key reason to alleviate youth unemployment is that long term unemployment can lead to young people feeling aggrieved, which in turn creates social unrest. An ILO report from 2011, entitled ‘A Call for Action’[3], highlighted the social tension and fragmentation that may result from this.

ILO policy on youth unemployment

The ‘Call to Action’ initiative was a recent policy undertaken by the ILO on youth unemployment. ‘The Youth Employment Crisis: Time for Action’ report,  a piece written as part of the ‘Call to Action’ initiative, re-asserted the issues facing young workers and young unemployed workers trying to enter work.

The report outlined suggestions for how the ILO might help drive an increase in youth employment. Chief among these were policies aimed at increasing social dialogue within countries and improved access to education and training.  The report urges countries to make youth employment a priority; “assigning national priority to youth employment means that overarching policy agendas such as national development frameworks and plans contain a set of coherent economic and social policies addressing youth employment and defining specific objectives”[4].

The report was discussed and debated at the 101st General Conference of the ILO, which took place between 30th May and 14th June 2012. The need to create decent jobs for young people was signalled to be “of [the] highest global priority”[5]. Young people are the next generation to be entering the global labour force, and are what many see to be the ‘promise’ of creating a more socially just world[6]. There is a need, therefore, to improve their employment prospects in order to avoid the ‘scarring’ that results from long-term unemployment and which leads to young people remaining disadvantaged and socially excluded.

The Conference concluded that, whilst there was an absolute, apparent, and immediate need to address youth unemployment, there was no single way of dealing with the issue. The Conference emphasised the importance of considering the contexts and challenges facing specific nations and of promoting involvement of all groups (especially young people) to help develop better policy solutions, and monitor and evaluate policies effectively and routinely so as to make sure they remain relevant

At the 323rd Governing Body meeting, youth unemployment has not only been assigned $133 million (21%) of the ILO’s budget[7], but the budget highlighted key changes to the methods of implementation, including more vigorous and sustained consultation on programmes such as youth action plans[8]. Other key policy improvements related to support for young people to enhance their skills and the use of the ILO’s on labour market expertise so as to help countries improve the employment prospects to young people.

Assessing the ILO’s policy toward youth employment

The Governing Body endorsed the ILO’s approach to tackling youth unemployment; as Director-General Guy Ryder highlighted in his post-Governing Body Meeting response on the budget allocations, “there was wide and strong support for the fundamental rationale, structure, and intent of my programme and budget proposals” [9]

Such consensus is beneficial, as the ILO relies on its member countries to implement standards and initiatives – the passing of the budget by the Executive of the ILO is positive as it demonstrates a shared commitment to tackling youth unemployment through the ILO’s channels of funding. In addition, the ILO’s policy proposals are important as they recognise that youth unemployment cannot be tackled with one ‘silver bullet’; it requires different strategies which take into account different national and regional contexts.

The ILO must keep in mind the requirement to renew or change programmes as and when they are deemed unsuitable or ineffective in tackling the issue of youth unemployment. This is of particular importance given the ILO’s insistence on a multi-pronged approach to tackling youth unemployment.

[1] ILO (2015) ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2015’, Geneva: International Labour Office—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_337069.pdf, p.11

[2] International Labour Organization (2014) ‘The Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action, YouTube

[3] International Labour Organization (2012) ‘The Youth Unemployment Crisis: A Call for Action, Geneva: International Labour Office,—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_185950.pdf, p.1

[4] International Labour Organization (2012) ‘The Youth Employment Crisis: Time For Action (Report V)’,—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_175421.pdf, paragraph 94, p.30

[5] International Labour Organization (2012) ‘The Youth Unemployment Crisis: A Call for Action, Geneva: International Labour Office,—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_185950.pdf, p.1

[6] Ibid., p.2

[7] International Labour Organization (2015) ‘The Director-General’s Programme and Budget Proposals for 2016-17’, Geneva: International Labour Office—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_342199.pdf, p.5

[8] Ibid., p.10

[9] International Labour Organization (2015) ‘Director-General’s reply to the PFA Section: Programme and Budget Proposals for 2016-2017’,—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_357206.pdf


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