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Young People and Work

We are collaborating to scope a Commission on Young People and Work in low and lower middle income countries at the University of Cambridge.

Work is critical to people’s lives, not only as a source of livelihood but also providing a sense of identity and belonging, social contact, and psychological well-being. It is not just about making a living. Young people want to make a contribution. They want to be respected in their communities. But many of the world’s youth will never have a ‘job’ as understood in rich countries. They talk instead of the multiple ways, formal and informal, in which they work to ‘get by’.

The World Bank estimates that 1 billion young people will enter the labour market in the next 10 years, but only 400 million of them are likely to find formal jobs. Nine tenths of today’s 1.8 billion young people live in the low and lower middle income countries. Large numbers of these young people have left school before being able to read, write, or do basic maths, particularly those from the poorest households, and face the greatest barriers to accessing meaningful work. The impact of Covid-19 has exacerbated these challenges, especially in terms of unequal opportunities for schooling and skill development, the gendered impacts of care work, and the transformation of the nature of work itself – many of these patterns will become clearer over the coming months and years.

Several initiatives have attempted to tackle different aspects of this multidimensional issue. In spite of the efforts, the fundamental questions of how young people will make a smooth transition from school to work, enabling them to earn a decent living and fulfil their aspirations, and ensure they acquire relevant skills to fulfil the demands of changing labour markets, remain unanswered. Individual initiatives, while important, tend to be niche, disparate and address a specific aspect of the problem – there is a need for an integrative approach and a holistic multi-sectoral response to this challenge.

The Commission on Young People and Work at the University of Cambridge will bridge this gap. The Commission’s starting point of analysis would be young people’s lived experiences. There has been growing recognition of the need for young voices to be part of attempts to address issues of youth and work. However, these efforts have often prioritised elite and globally connected young people, whose views and opinions are more accessible. The Commission will make a concerted effort to focus on the unheard voices of marginalised youth, and leverage its links with local actors to build these narratives from the bottom up.

The Commission will develop a coherent and relevant set of strategies and implementation plans, at a global level. It will frame recommendations for individual governments to take up in their own countries. Business leaders will be engaged to identify where and how they can help deliver decent work for young people in the Global South. It will propose an agenda for advocacy that young people and civil society can take up in their own countries, and internationally.

The Commission is a joint activity between the University of Cambridge and the following external collaborators: Addis-Ababa University (Ethiopia), Azim Premji University (India), BRAC University (Bangladesh), Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), International Labour Organization (ILO), Lahore University of Management Sciences (Pakistan), Makerere University (Uganda), Restless Development, University of Cape Town (South Africa).