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Tackling youth unemployment for global development

Young people often leave alternative care ill-equipped for work. But with targeted education and skills training, as well as help to develop personally, these youngsters can excel.
Young people often leave alternative care ill-equipped for work. But with targeted education and skills training, as well as help to develop personally, these youngsters can excel.

Ask any young person what it's like finding a job in today's labour market, and they'll tell you it's tough. Young adults leaving alternative care face some of the hardest conditions imaginable; many lacking the skills or education to find fulfilling work.

SOS Children believes that this group must be a priority in the post-2015 development agenda, both for their own well-being and that of the global economy.

Nelli's story: Finding work after university

A young woman combs her hair
Nelli struggled to find work in her chosen discipline after leaving university, ending up in another sector thanks to personal connections

Nelli grew up in alternative care in Armenia. After leaving university with a qualification in tourism, she hoped to put her education to use by finding work with a tour agency. But although she found a number of vacancies, the salaries on offer were very low.

Demoralised by applying for jobs in the conventional way, Nelli decided to use her connections. “I told everyone who could help me that I was looking for a job, and one of my acquaintances knew a person who was recruiting.” This way, she was able to secure a job with a merchandise imports company. “It's a very easy job for me, and the salary here is high,” she says. “The only problem is that it's not my profession.”

Who you know, not what you know

Nelli's experience has taught her that having the right qualification or background is often not enough. “Employers often prefer to spread the information in their social environment by asking colleagues and friends. Employers feel more secure about hiring a person that someone they know has recommended.”

This who-you-know-not-what-you-know situation is particularly harmful for youngsters leaving alternative care because they so often lack the support to live without a steady job. “This problem is much bigger for those who have left care, especially those from state children's homes, because they do not have any additional financial support and they have to earn enough to live on their own,” says Nelli.

Rising youth unemployment hits alternative care leavers

Young man looking solemn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
More than a third of the world's unemployed are
aged 16-24. Times are even tougher for children
leaving alternative care

In 2013, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that 73 million young people aged 16-24 were out of work; a group representing 38% of the world's unemployed. Youth unemployment has been exacerbated by the financial crisis, rising by 25% since 2008. Though the crisis has been most severe in advanced economies, the ramifications for young people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are particularly dangerous. Here, it is worsening already pronounced income divides, swelling the next generation of “working poor” and forcing more and more young people into hazardous forms of work.

Nelli's story highlights how this dismal situation can have grave consequences for young people leaving alternative care. For anyone, long-term unemployment can bring about low self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth, causing depression and social anxiety which in some cases can result in substance abuse and other dangerous coping mechanisms. All of this combines to make a person less employable still, feeding a vicious circle which can be hard to escape. Young people are particularly prone to these responses, and many suffer the additional setback of never having been employed.

In many parts of the world, young people leave alternative care from as young as 15. Often, their upbringing is limited to care and they receive no skills training, entering the community with no preparation for independent life. For many, frequent moves have disrupted their education and hindered the development of key employability attributes such as social skills. In all, this leaves them grossly ill-equipped for the labour market. Despite their young age, they are often left to fend for themselves, without any entitlement to state protection or welfare.

The little school of life

A young man prepares food in an SOS youth home in Croatia
The “little school of life” helps young people match their education and skills training choices to the job market and their own personal ambitions

This isn't inevitable. With a settled childhood, a stable family home and a good education, children in alternative care can excel. SOS Children's Villages everywhere run successful youth programmes designed to provide young adults with the support and guidance they need to flourish in independent life. Nelli from Armenia said that despite high-level qualifications, she was still unable to find good work which matched her training. This is why we guide young people as they make decisions which pave the way to their ambitions and aspirations, but which also take into account the reality of the employment market around them.

The “little school of life”, run by SOS Children in Croatia, introduces young people from the Children's Village for adult life by introducing them gradually to independent living in the Village's SOS youth homes. As youngsters take on more and more practical responsibilities at the youth home, we address topics which they may not have encountered before. This can range from practical matters such as good hygiene, communication skills and finance management to emotional and abstract subjects including expressing emotions, children's rights and awareness of self. Each child follows an individual development plan, and we work with them to help them plan their future and decide on practical steps to achieve their goals, including their education and training needs.

We take pride in the work we do to prepare young people for independent life. However, we believe this kind of project needs to be adopted more widely, particularly in state-run care environments, to help equip every young person for life after alternative care.

Prioriting youth job creation beyond 2015

The post-2015 development agenda must prioritise young people such as these by incorporating targeted measures to foster youth employment. This must go beyond skills training, and focus on holistic personal development to nurture the key attributes demanded by the job market; especially strong social skills. We also believe that job creation in isolated areas such as rural communities is essential if young people are to find work in their locale and which doesn't take youngsters away from their families into unknown and potentially hazardous territories.

A young man cooks as part of vocational training
The post-2015 agenda must prioritise the creation of job opportunities for children leaving alternative care. Skills training is essential, but attributes such as good social skills are also needed.

This is essential not only to ease the current crisis but also to cut generational poverty in the years to come.

Employment for parents and caregivers

It's not just young people. Parental joblessness can have a devastating impact on children's long-term well-being. Steady and secure employment for caregivers is essential if parents are to meet their children's needs and provide a stable, loving environment which can enable children to flourish. Keep an eye on our post-2015 section to find out more.

As nations prepare to set the human development agenda for the years ahead, we are raising a voice for the most vulnerable of all, advocating for a world in which every child can grow up with dignity, security and a bright and prosperous future. Find out more...