How we avoid the next youth unemployment crisis

What indicates that a society is serving its citizens well? Democracy and a free press? Steady GDP growth? How about a society’s approach to renewable energy? Perhaps all the above. A particularly popular and appropriate metric to ponder when judging the health and performance of a society could also be the level of youth employment.

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Image: Youth in casual dress (Shutterstock)

Youth employment is an essential indicator of fiscal performance and stability, as well as a key policy concern for governments and a huge opportunity for the private sector in both recruiting and growing top talent.

On the other hand, youth unemployment is an essential metric to understanding when an economy is struggling, in recovery or in decline. The Financial Times recently referred to the issue as a ‘timebomb’ in the context of the ongoing Nigerian elections, while most commentators attributed the 2011 Arab Spring uprising to immense levels of youth unemployment, which averaged 23% across the region in 2010.

Youth employment is not just a matter of macro-economics, then, but of peacekeeping, poverty reduction and inclusive growth.

Since the 2009 global financial crisis, youth unemployment remains a prominent challenge across the Caribbean, Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, where a larger share of unemployed older workers are competing with youth for jobs than in other economies.

With 41.8 million young people (aged 15–24) expected to enter the global labour market across the next decade, it is crucial not only that there are enough jobs to cater for this burgeoning demographic, but also that the jobs are secure, pay well and can provide adequate skills development. Yet, with expectations that 800 million jobs could be automated within the same timeframe, where is this new generation going to find prosperity?

Research from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shows that in many countries the Travel & Tourism sector absorbs a higher proportion of youth workers than the overall economy. In Canada, for example, one in eight of all workers are youth-aged, which rises to a massive one in three when looking specifically at jobs in this industry.

The opportunities are vast. Indeed, it is the travel sector that will likely take in a significant portion of new workers over the next decade and beyond, either to fund studies, to kick start a career, to support young carers working when they can, or perhaps to sponsor a year of a lifetime in a new country.

In markets such as Canada, Australia and the UK — the top destinations for many young people taking gap years or seeking working holiday visas as part of a career break — tourists collectively spent $76.2 billion (USD) in 2017, according to WTTC data. This high demand, driven both by international and domestic visitors, translates into directly providing nearly 3 million jobs in the sector in these three countries alone, and supporting a further 4 million through supply chains.

While we may not instinctively think of Travel & Tourism as the home to millennial job-seekers, we can recognise them in positions that we regularly interact with. Baristas in independent cafes and chain stores alike. Bartenders in city hotspots. Sous chefs, fast food cooks, and even servers of cereal. Hostel workers, hotel receptionists, resort reps and cabin crew. Tour guides on segways and Uber drivers taking their slice of the sharing economy.

Travel & Tourism jobs offer mobility, flexibility, diverse working environments, invaluable customer service skills, exposure to a host of cultures, and opportunities for further development into management or business ownership.

It is crucial now more than ever, then, that we are investing in young people. One way in which policymakers can do this is through public-private partnerships that prioritise the Travel & Tourism sector, and in turn create ample opportunities for youth. Data indicates that this industry absorbs a greater proportion of youth than the wider economy in many countries, a clear signal that if we want to ensure that the new generation of workers prosper, then Travel & Tourism is the optimal sector to turn to.

This post was written by Chloe Wynne, Communications Executive, World Travel & Tourism Council.

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