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Department of Geography


Decent Work and Youth Livelihoods Programme

This programme is concerned with the challenges in responding to the growing crisis of youth (un)employment, working poverty and livelihoods. The potential for a so-called ‘demographic dividend’ is contingent upon meeting the challenge of finding meaningful work that enables people to make a living. Yet at present the highest levels of working poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by South Asia. Globally, there is a clear recognition of the importance of how people make a living, with ‘full and productive employment and decent work for all’ being the cornerstone of Sustainable Development Goal 8. While this global priority is now enshrined in the SDG agenda, there are important questions about how this is translated and implemented at the national level, bearing in mind the role of the state, industry, and workers themselves. Developing locally and national appropriate employment strategies is a key public policy challenge across both the Global North and South.

The three core research themes of the Decent Work and Youth Livelihoods Programme at the University of Cambridge are:

1. The ethnography of experience

What is young people’s experience of employment, work and ‘getting by’? How does experience vary by; location (urban, peri-urban, rural), gender, income group, parental status, educational level, and local economic context? How do the specific interventions of government policy and practice affect young people’s experiences of work, both time and longitudinally? It is necessary to work with a broad definition of work which ranges from unpaid domestic work to formal employment, to capture the breadth of experience and ensure the inclusion of the most marginalised young people.

2. The institutional environment

Understanding how the institutional framework of a country makes a difference to the working lives of young people, both positively or negatively, is essential. This includes policies on the supply and demand side of labour, includes education and skill development, especially transferable skills. Analysis is also needed to understand the roles of government, business and the non-government sector in shaping the labour market and institutional environment in which young people often struggle to secure decent work.

3. School and school to work transition

If countries are to grow and prosper, they need young people with relevant skills to enable them to gain productive and fulfilling work, and so contribute fully to society. Not only are young people more numerous than ever, particularly in some of the poorest parts of the world, but millions are leaving school without the most basic skills. What pathways do these young people take in the transition from school to work and what obstacles do they face? How can education system reform better align with the needs of young people? How can education systems be reimagined to provide all young people with the skills needed in entering the reality of the labour market today, and in the future?

Decent work and youth livelihoods