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How can sports help to promote youth employment?

6 January 2014
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ILO - Employers often refrain from hiring young people for their apparent lack of soft skills rather than their lack of experience. Understanding how these soft skills that can be developed through sports are relevant to the world of work provides an interesting perspective on youth employability, says Matthieu Cognac, Youth Employment Specialist in the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

What do employers expect from employees? For the most part, that they are hard-working, punctual, disciplined, creative, team players, proactive, risk takers, responsible, leaders in their own fields, respectful, results-driven, positive, competitive, fun and energetic.

These qualities are known as “soft skills”, which are common expectations from the world of work. But they are also found in another world that is very popular among young people: sports.

Employers often refrain from hiring young people for their apparent lack of soft skills rather than their lack of experience, which can ultimately be achieved by in-house training. So understanding how these soft skills that can be developed through sports – such as ethics, attitudes and communications – are relevant to the world of work provides an interesting perspective on youth employability.

The question is simple: isn’t it strange to think that young people can excel at sports but do not possess the necessary skills for the jobs that they want? And why is it that only formal qualifications apply during a hiring process?

A number of programmes have already tried to resolve this dichotomy, including through initiatives such as ‘A Ganar’ in Latin America and ‘Just Play’ – a programme of the Oceania Football Confederation designed to contribute to community development priorities in the Pacific Islands. The latter targets children aged 6 to 12, but there are plans to extend it to other countries and older ages. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has expressed interest in the idea.

Indeed, in the Pacific region, where sports play a very important role in life and where youth unemployment is rampant, linking these two issues makes total sense. The ILO has long advocated for sports development and youth employment by supporting programmes for youth sports and peace. In 2006, it also published the book “Beyond the Scoreboard”, edited by Giovanni di Cola, which looks at youth employment opportunities and skills development in sports.

The recent Pacific Youth and Sports Conference, which took place in Noumea, New Caledonia, from 2 to 7 December, was a great opportunity to discuss many of the ideas and programmes that are being implemented in the region on youth and sports.

The conference focused on three themes: health, social inclusion, and education and capacity building.

How are these issues linked to sports? Firstly, sports can be used to tackle non-communicable diseases, prevent sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies, and improve mental health. Secondly, sports not only foster social inclusion but can also help to prevent domestic violence and anti-social behaviour as well. And thirdly, sports can help promote school attendance, develop a range of life skills and encourage active citizenship.

Attracting young people to a football or rugby field can be a powerful way of enhancing their confidence and teaching them new skills. While this will not always replace the more traditional methods of delivering training, it does offer us the chance to develop innovative youth employment programmes.


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