In developing world, higher education key to stable employment, says new UN report

A young woman from Colombia. Photo: Jamie Martin/World Bank

16 December 2014 – Higher education is a prerequisite for millions of youth in the developing world who hope to find a decent, “non-vulnerable” job, a new United Nations study has established.

The study, conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and released today, surveys 28 countries worldwide and demonstrates that having a high level of education “serves as a fairly dependable guarantee” towards securing a formal job.

“The report confirms the role of education in shaping labour market outcomes of young people,” Azita Berar Awad, Director of the Employment Policy Department of the ILO, explained in a press release. “It also highlights the need for more investments in quality education, from primary through academic levels.”

The report notes that 83 per cent of young people with post-secondary education are in non-vulnerable employment in the 27 low-to-upper middle income countries examined while the number dropped to 75 per cent among low-income countries. At the same time, having completed secondary education alone was not enough to guarantee better labour market outcomes for youth in low-income countries.

“Increasing the level of education of the emerging workforce in developing countries will not in itself ensure the absorption of higher skilled workers into non-vulnerable jobs,” Theo Sparreboom, author of the study.

“Yet, it is clear that continuing to push forth undereducated, under-skilled youth into the labour market is a no-win situation, both for the young person who remains destined for a ‘hand-to-mouth existence’ based on vulnerable employment, and for the economy which gains little in terms of boosting its labour productivity potential,” he added.

The report also highlights the lingering problem of “skills mismatch” – or the disparity between the skill-level of those seeking employment and the demands of the jobs available on the market – as a point of concern, particularly as it varies greatly between advanced and low-income economies.

In advanced economies, for instance, “mismatch” often refers to higher skilled young people employed in jobs for which they are overqualified. At the opposite end of the spectrum, mis-matched young workers in low-income economies often suffer from “under-education” and have “no option but to take vulnerable jobs in the informal economy,” according to the ILO.

This disparity is largely fuelled by poverty as many youth cannot attend school because they cannot afford the costs or because they need to work to help their families, the UN agency continued.

“The lack of education feeds the perpetuation of poverty across generations as unskilled workers earn lower wages and are unable to fund the schooling of their children.”

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