[Join us at the OECD Youth Week on 20-24 September 2021!]
Young people are under pressure as never before. Even before the pandemic, young people were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people aged 25-64. Their disposable income is lower, their housing is less affordable, and they are more exposed to insecure jobs than the previous generation. OECD data show that, on average, 1 in 10 young people aged 15-24 across OECD member countries were not in employment, education or training (NEET) in 2019 and 2020, representing an economic cost of between 0.9% and 1.5% of GDP in the OECD.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that, as a generation, their future is not lost. By working together – as civil society, governments and businesses – we can help them face the challenges of work, gender equality, the green transition, and the future of business; and empower young people to create and seize new opportunities.
Our experience in France can help provide lessons on how to do so. In March 2021, I launched a call to action to support young people (#YouthFuture), which was joined by 162 leaders from business, culture and sport. Together, we proposed to organise a Forum on Youth across France and Europe. The purpose was to give renewed focus to young people aged 18-30, and to draw up a draft “Marshall Plan” by and for young people: for the students, the high school apprentices, the young professionals, the interns, and the job-seekers in all regions, covering all aspects of life. We also conducted a survey that showed that 2 out of 3 of young people were no longer planning for the future, which is a terrible state of affairs for their personal development, for social cohesion and for the economy. Moreover, it revealed that times of crises have a much more significant adverse impact on the social, educational, health, professional, and financial lives of young females compared to young males.
These proposals for action by civil society are in line with my work in government when, as Minister of Labour, I led the reform of apprenticeships. Our 2018 law “On the freedom to choose one’s professional future” transformed the system by removing educational, legal and financial obstacles, and by reinforcing the appeal of this pathway for young people aged 16-30, and as a means of building skills with and for companies.
These reforms – supported by recruitment subsidies provided by the French Government’s “1 jeune, 1 solution” plan during the crisis – helped boost the number of apprenticeships by more than 50% over 2019 and 2020 combined. Micro, small and medium enterprises represent more than 3/4 of all contracts signed. In 2020, for the first time ever, France surpassed 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts, meaning that there were almost 800,000 apprentices in training. A historic year despite the crisis.
More bold commitments followed. Recently, over 100 CEOs decided to join forces with the French Government to promote the mentoring of young people. Through the initiative, they will provide them with advice on their studies, the inner workings of companies and how to find their first jobs.
The OECD will continue to play a central role in building a better future for our young people alongside governments and business. The “StandByYouth” initiative encourages firms to take action to promote opportunities for young people, and comes at a critical moment as we look to shape the recovery – and their future. It is part of a broader OECD programme to support youth, which includes the development of a new Youth Action Plan and the launch of new initiatives for young people in the areas of employment and training.
Importantly, StandByYouth looks beyond short-term measures, instead aiming to lay the foundations for a new type of relationship between young people and firms. It is rightly ambitious, born not just out of the present crisis, but of an increasing need to rethink the future of work, to re-engage the young and to restore hope. Today, together, we all need to #StandbyYouth for a brighter future.
This blog is also available in French.
Join us at the OECD Youth Week on 20-24 September 2021.