Youth unemployment is finally starting to improve a little, and progress must not be allowed to unravel as the global economy slows, the International Labour Organisation has said.

There were 73.3m unemployed 15-24-year-olds in the world last year, 3.3m fewer than at the height of the financial crisis in 2009, according to the UN agency’s biennial report on youth employment.

But with the International Monetary Fund predicting that 2015 will be the worst year for global growth since the financial crisis, the ILO urged governments to redouble their efforts to train and support young people into stable jobs.

The agency said too many were still either jobless or doing work that did not lift them out of poverty: 43 per cent of the global youth labour force fell into one of these two groups.

“With global growth slowing, we cannot afford to let progress on youth employment slip,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO’s director-general. “Good intentions must be transformed into policy coherence around job creation and skills development for youth.”

Globally, youth unemployment stabilised at about 13 per cent in 2013 and 2014, higher than the pre-crisis rate of 11.7 per cent. The ILO expects the rate to creep up to 13.1 per cent this year.

The unemployment rate has not declined in spite of the fall in the number of young jobseekers. That is because the youth labour force has also shrunk as more people have remained in education for longer.

A stable global unemployment rate masks sharply divergent trends in different regions. Youth unemployment in developed countries, including the EU, which were hardest hit by the 2009 crisis, has drifted down from 18 per cent in 2012 to 16.6 per cent in 2014. Still, joblessness among young people is still more than 20 per cent in two-thirds of European countries and one in three young jobseekers has been looking for work for more than a year.

Young people’s labour market prospects have also brightened in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, where unemployment rates have dropped to 13.4 and 11.6 per cent respectively.

Yet conditions have deteriorated further in the Middle East and north Africa, the regions with the worst youth unemployment problems. Jobless rates there have reached 28.2 and 30.5 per cent respectively. Young people’s prospects also dimmed in East Asia, though it remains one of the regions with the lowest youth unemployment rate at 10.6 per cent.

The ILO used surveys to discover it took a young person 19 months on average to find a stable job after they left education. Having a degree made the transition much swifter: university leavers found work in a third of the time it took school leavers. Men also entered work more quickly than women.

Azita Berar Awad, director of the ILO’s Employment Policy Department, said policymakers should do more to ease this transition by giving young people skills that matched labour market demands. Governments should also offer young people social protections regardless of their contract type, since temporary and informal work is much more common among the young. In the eurozone, for example, the share of 15 to 24-year-old workers who are temps has reached the highest on record at more than 50 per cent.

“We know that today’s youth do not face an easy labour market transition and with the continued global economic slowdown, this is likely to continue, but we also know that greater investment in targeted action to boost youth employment pays off,” she said.

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