Access to higher education doesn’t always lead to lower unemployment – UN labour agency

Egypt Emergency Labor Intensive project in Luxor, aimed at creating short term employment opportunities for unemployed unskilled and semi-skilled workers and provide access to basic infrastructure services. Photo: World Bank/Dominic Chavez

17 November 2015 – Workers with post-secondary education are more likely to be unemployed in lower-income countries, reflecting a “mismatch” between skilled persons and the number of available jobs matching their competencies and expectations, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The 9th edition of the ILO’s Key Indicators of the Labour Market, released Monday, said the educational level of the labour force is improving worldwide but access to a higher education is not leading to lower unemployment at the global level.

“This reflects a mismatch between skilled persons and the number of available jobs matching their competencies and expectations, and unless addressed may work to put a limit on economic growth and development,” according to Rosina Gammarano, from the ILO Department of Statistics.

According to the report, which is part of the broader ILO statistical database, all but two of 64 countries with available data have registered an increase in the share of the labour force with a tertiary education over the past 15 years.

The biggest increases were seen in Canada, Luxembourg and Russia, it said.

At the same time, the report said, there has been a drop in the share of labour market participants with only a primary-level education or less.

But workers with secondary-level education do not automatically have a better chance of finding a job.

“While they are less likely to be unemployed in most high-income economies, tertiary graduates in low- and lower-middle-income economies are actually more likely to be among the unemployed than workers with lower educational levels,” it said.

The report also provides data on the share of youth who are not in education, employment or training, one of the proposed indicators that will be used for monitoring the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Other key findings:

  • The median unemployment rate across 112 countries with comparable unemployment rate data increased from 6.4 per cent in 2007 to 7.2 per cent in 2014.
  • The average worker in a high-income country currently produces 62 times the annual output of an average worker in a low-income economy and 10 times that of an average worker in a middle-income economy.
  • However, middle-income economies have registered the fastest productivity growth over the past 15 years.
  • Manufacturing employment in high-income economies has declined by 5.2 million since 2000, while it grew by 195 million in middle-income economies.
  • As of 2015, 72 per cent of workers in the world are employed in middle-income economies, 20 per cent in high-income economies and 8 per cent in low-income countries.
  • The number of working poor (living on less than $2 per person, per day) declined by 479 million between 2000 and 2015. Virtually all of the decline was in middle-income countries.
  • The report includes the first-ever estimates of the size of the labour force (employed + unemployed) across different income classifications, making it possible to determine the percentage of workers throughout the world that are in high-income, low-income, lower-middle income and upper-middle income economies.

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