Young people talk employment at UN online forum

Starting October 11th, the United Nations Programme on Youth opened a four week e-discussion on the general theme of youth employment, inviting young people everywhere to contribute to what will be the online 2011 World Youth Report. Every two years similar reports highlight this generation’s role in coping with present or emerging problems, showing the impact we can have in debates which so deeply concern our own future.

In this year’s forum, each week is dedicated to an employment-related topic which inquires into young people’s experiences and worldviews; from market trends, to transitions from school into work, to finding a job and finally, a topic entitled “youth at work” which I looked forward to. We talk a lot about finding and losing work opportunities and not so much about what happens meanwhile, how the young perform professionally and what resources they have, even when they are underemployed?

About 250 rather ample comments come in weekly mostly from young aged 15-30. Some points, although they now seem intuitive, have left an enduring impression on me: they are constructive lessons, as opposed to those simply confirming bleak diagnosis - e.g. latest update from the International Labor Organization which you can easily find here.

  • young people bring added value to some fields of work. Maria from the Dominican Republic argues that by simply belonging to this "net generation" one can make good use of social media in fields which need continuous modernization, like for example marketing or PR; here, it's also valuable if more experienced co-workers can learn from the young how to better employ digital technology
  • rural environments and small villages can nurture passion for knowledge; apparently, in Uganda youth learn all sorts of farming activities (from fish rearing to piggery and watermelon farming) and are empowered to start their own farms
  • contrary to recent debates, volunteering, internships and unpaid work in general are not to be thrown away for exploitative; some participants deem these to be real opportunities, valuable for professional development as long as the mechanisms are sustainable and not abused by NGOs and private companies
  • making several career changes in the course of our working lives is OK and the view seems to be increasingly embraced; I myself have to keep repeating that until it sticks :)
  • approaches on creativity, innovation, alternative career paths were visible in policy advice young people have for their institutions so as to ensure better transition to a work place. They ask policy-makers to "encourage entrepreneurship and alternative careers", to provide "more opportunities for the youth to create their own business" in order to find "a niche for ourselves". Tiburce, 26, from Benin has created his own business to help other people understand what the marketplace requires: I wrote a book yet to be publish but well known already in my country about Youth Leadership and community development and i am working on raising a new generation of african entrepreneurs.

Looking at the top 3 most voted policy recommendations I gladly realised that one emphasizing recognition of niche trajectories is the first on the list. Hopefully, it will not only be visible in a report, but also in actual future policy. I’m curious as to how the final UN report will encompass a diversity of national and regional contexts… and I’m sure we Edgeryders can learn something from this.

Did you know that …

  • More than half of Nigeria’s 167 million population are youths?
  • In Senegal young entrepreneurs tend to be those without higher education degrees?
  • Volunteering at Uganda Red Cross or at the African Union Youth Program is a worthy investment in terms of skills gained, friends made, legitimate work one has to do?
  • The Canadian Youth Business Foundation has, since 2002, funded 4000 businesses of young people aged 18-34 and created 18000 jobs for them?
  • There are 22 year olds in the world creating and running their own NGOs, working on global online projects and partnering with international agencies?