DO YOU think the global economy is EVER going to bounce back? Sometimes it feels as though the days of wine and roses were a chimera, a dream that will never be with us again, as bad news follows bad news.
But if a time should come when it’s all over, there will be scars, damage that cannot be undone in a few months or even a few years.
A recent article in the Guardian newspaper and a feature in The Economist focused on the most important one: the damage to our youth, which may take decades to heal, if it ever does.
“Young people remain particularly stricken by the crisis. Currently, some 73.8 million young people are unemployed globally and the slowdown in economic activity is likely to push another half million into unemployment by 2014.
"The youth unemployment rate – which had already increased to 12.6 per cent in 2012 – is expected to increase to 12.9 per cent by 2017.
"The crisis has dramatically diminished the labour market prospects for young people, as many experience long-term unemployment right from the start of their labour market entry, a situation that was never observed during earlier cyclical downturns,” according to the International Labour Organisation’s 2013 Global Employment Trends report.
“Currently, some 35 per cent of all young unemployed have been out of a job for six months or longer in advanced economies, up from 28.5 per cent in 2007.
"As a consequence, an increasing number of young people have become discouraged and have left the labour market.
"Among European countries where this problem is particularly severe, some 12.7 per cent of all young people are currently neither employed nor in education or training, a rate that is almost two percentage points higher than prior to the crisis.”
It’s pretty bad in the European Union – over half of Spain’s young people are unemployed – but South Africa’s youth unemployment figures also fluctuate around the 50% mark.
The ILO points out that “Such long spells of unemployment and discouragement early on in a person’s career also damage long-term prospects, as professional and social skills erode and valuable on-the-job experience is not built up.”
Even if you’re lucky enough to find a job, just starting your working life in a downturn can have an impact on your future earnings – graduates whose first job coincided with a tough economy earned a lower entry-level income than those who started their careers in luckier times, and they battled to catch up.
The unemployed face reduced earnings for years: “A 26-week spell of unemployment experienced at age 22 results in persistently lower wages through the end of our simulations at age 31… substantial wage differentials remain after many years.” (The long-term effects of youth unemployment, Thomas A Mroz et al)
And the obstacles just get bigger as time passes. Employers are not happy to take on youngsters who have not worked for extended periods, never mind those who have never had any work experience at all.
In April this year, government signed a National Youth Employment Accord with a range of ‘stakeholders’, intended to make the economy more ‘sensitive’ to employing young people, according to the government’s own news agency.
The agency quotes Economic Development Minister Ibrahim Patel as saying: “We need an approach that will ensure that employers are sensitive to the employment of youth, while at the same time we do not displace older workers.”
Certain industries have agreed to set aside some jobs for youth, the public sector has agreed to take more, and a number of other commitments form part of this accord – which is designed to improve youth job prospects without raising the hackles of Cosatu, as the idea of a youth wage subsidy does.
But is it enough? I wonder. A key factor driving the global youth employment crisis is poor preparation of youth for the market – and I hope government will single-mindedly tackle this.
“The length and depth of the labour market crisis is worsening labour market mismatch, contributing to extended spells of unemployment,” says the ILO report.
“New jobs that become available often require competences that the unemployed do not possess. Such skill and occupational mismatches will make the labour market react more slowly to any acceleration in activity over the medium run, unless supporting policies to re-skill and activate current jobseekers are enhanced.”
Germany has recognised this, developing a number of very targeted schemes to both train young people practically (while gaining on-the-job work experience) and integrate them into the workforce. Partly as a result of this, Germany has the lowest youth unemployment figures in Europe.
I’d like to think we could do something similar. Bring back apprenticeships, for a start, and show young people how they can lead, not to dead-end McJobs, but to steady and independent prosperity.
Create better links between the world of work and education to ensure that our young people are being consciously shaped for prospective jobs.
Tertiary education of all sorts should include practical on-the-job experience. Community service that extends beyond healthcare would prep graduates for the real world. Support with job-search would help – how many youngsters give up because they don’t have money for transport after a few months, for example?
A world with a large cohort of frustrated, miserable young people is unpleasant and even dangerous for us all. We should all be a bit obsessive about prepping children for careers.
*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor.
Views expressed are her own.