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close this bookThe Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)
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View the documentIntroduction by David Atchoarena
Open this folder and view contentsChapter I. From initial education to working life: making transition work by Marianne Durand-Drouhin and Richard Sweet
Open this folder and view contentsChapter II. Training unemployed youth in Latin America: same old sad story? by Claudio de Moura Castro and Aimée Verdisco
Open this folder and view contentsChapter III. Transition from school to work in Korea: reforms to establish a new pathway structure across education and the labour market by Kioh Jeong
Open this folder and view contentsChapter IV. The integration of youth into the informal sector: the Kenyan experience by Ahmed K. Ferej
Open this folder and view contentsChapter V. Youth and work in South Africa: issues, experiences and ideas from a young democracy by Adrienne Bird
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Introduction by David Atchoarena

In a context of social and economic uncertainty, the transition from school to work represents a major concern for, notably, decision-makers but also parents and students. Today, nations as well as individuals tend to feel anxious about their future in the global economy. Increasingly, people who used to see education as a passport to employment can no longer take it for granted. Often, what worries them is not the lack of economic growth but rather the lack of job opportunities. Even in the emerging economies, which have enjoyed rapid growth and low rates of unemployment, the threat of joblessness and social exclusion has risen with the Asian and Brazilian crises of the late 1990s.

Are job opportunities simply evaporating for young people in many countries? It all depends how the term 'job' is defined. The usefulness of youth employment data is questionable considering the wide range of alternatives in between employment and unemployment. This is particularly the case in less developed economies, where the majority of the juvenile labour force does, in fact, find work in the informal economy.

During the past two decades most societies have been suffering from high levels of structural unemployment and underemployment. Although affecting the population at large, this situation often assumes a particular magnitude when it comes to young people. Typically they are particularly hit by unemployment. In many advanced economies, youth unemployment has risen sharply, both in absolute terms and in relation to adult unemployment. Although not always reflected in open unemployment rates, the integration of youth into working life also represents a critical issue in developing countries and in countries in transition to a market economy. Sustained demographic pressure, social disintegration and economic stagnation are among the main factors making youth transition into the world of work a problematic process. For the most vulnerable young people, a failed transition from school to work often leads to social exclusion.

Facilitating youth transition from school to work is therefore seen as a major task of education systems. In particular, most governments believe that technical and vocational education (TVE), beyond keeping out-of-school and out-of-work youth off the streets, can improve their employability and lay the foundations for learning throughout life. It is frequently felt that promoting investment in TVE could be part of the answer to unemployment. Indeed, policy-makers often consider vocational education and training, both formal and non-formal, as a major vehicle for equipping young people with the skills they need to earn a living. In reality, a number of conditions must be met in order to confirm this view. On the demand side, insufficient economic growth is often at the heart of the problem. While, obviously, the need for technical and vocational skills is likely to be high in dynamic economies with expanding labour markets, maintaining a large TVE system is questionable in stagnant or regressive contexts, where the labour demand is falling. On the supply side, choosing the right mode of delivery is also clearly important. Good management practices are another prerequisite to making TVE work.

At the same time, it is now widely recognized that responsibilities for school-to-work transition must be shared with labour-market stakeholders, particularly employers. More than any other educational issue, this is an area of public policy that requires a strong commitment to partnership.

In many countries, the enrolment rates in post-basic education grew during the 1990s. This trend resulted in the lengthening of the transition phase between education and employment. Furthermore, it is widely considered that the world of work requires more of young people than it did before, although this view is not always supported by strong empirical evidence. In some cases it would be wrong to explain high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment by low levels of education or insufficient vocational preparation. The lack of suitable jobs for the young people can be a result of general labour market trends, such as a decrease in the demand for entry-level qualifications or a rise in the surplus of experienced workers. Furthermore, the high proportion of poorly qualified people among the unemployed is partly attributed to the so-called 'filtering down' phenomenon, meaning that more skilled labour have to accept jobs lower down the occupational hierarchy, displacing less experienced and qualified workers in the process. Hence, in a labour-surplus economy, investing in youth training may not, at least in the short term, result in higher overall employment, but redistribute job opportunities among unemployed and underemployed people.

The cost of youth labour, relative to the cost of adult labour, is also a permanent source of debate when analyzing school-to-work transition. The determinants of salary scales for young people, and their (lack of) sensitivity to market forces, are often considered to be major causes of youth unemployment. Lowering the cost of the juvenile labour force then becomes high on the policy agenda.

Public interventions must be tailored to specific national demographic, social, economic and institutional conditions. Rather than promoting investment in technical and vocational education as a remedy against economic vulnerability of young people, the issue is to choose the right policy in order to create realistic and effective pathways for young people's transition.

In this framework, the vocationalization of education or targeted training schemes only represents one type of policy option. Besides interventionist education and training policies, labour market regulation also constitutes an important area of reform for improving youth employment levels. As such, the provision of subsidies for youth employment, improving information about available courses and individuals' qualifications, as well as reforming the certification system represent typical components of youth employment strategies.

Content of the volume

The collection of readings presented here was prepared for a round table on 'The integration of youth into working life' taking place within the framework of the Second International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education (Seoul, Korea, 26-30 April 1999). These papers offer valuable explorations of various aspects of school-to-work transition. They include:

· a review of youth transition issues and policies in selected OECD countries (M. Durand-Drouhin and R. Sweet);

· a comparative analysis of training programmes for disadvantaged groups in Argentina, Brazil and Chile (C. de Moura Castro and AimVerdisco);

· an analysis of the implications of the financial and economic crisis on youth employment and education and training policies in Korea (Kioh Jeong);

· a contribution on the integration of young people into the informal sector in Kenya and on related education and training policies and programmes (A. Ferej);

· lastly, a review of the social and economic transformation in South Africa, with special reference to labour market policies, education policies and social partnership (A. Bird).

Drawing lessons from a very broad context of contrasted socio-economic environments, the authors attempt to address central questions in the debates about education, training and the future of work: To what extent, and under what conditions, can technical and vocational education be considered as an adequate instrument for facilitating the integration of youth into the labour market? Which policies work best in a given context? What is the impact of selective measures targeted at youth at risk? What can be learned from experience in training for the informal sector? Last but not least, how can it be ensured that learning continues after the transition process?

Main issues

While recognizing the complexity of youth unemployment, both on the conceptual and policy levels, the debates reflected in the various papers focus on five main issues and concerns:

(i) Youth at risk in advanced economies

In a context of mass unemployment, early school leavers face increasing difficulty in entering the labour market. In fact, the global trend towards increasing the level of education among the population at large makes finding employment for those groups that have been left out more difficult. A number of factors contribute to the risk of exclusion from wage employment. They include market, institutional and social failures. Targeted policies for youth at risk cover a wide range of measures, either of a preventive or a curative nature. While there is a strong case, on the grounds of equity and social justice, to focus on youth at risk, the long-term impact of past training initiatives to address the issue remains controversial. In this framework, the OECD paper focuses on the particular problems faced by early school leavers and young people who lack skills, and on vocational and technical education.

(ii) Youth training schemes

Among labour market policy instruments, particular attention is given to training schemes to alleviate unemployment, notably youth unemployment. Training programmes for youth mainly aim at improving participants' qualifications and employability. In advanced economies, where they have been extensively used, such active labour market policies have produced mixed results. They are, however, increasingly being used in middle-income economies and in countries in transition. The round table will be an opportunity to take stock of those developments and possibly review preliminary evaluation findings of selected national schemes. With this in view, the paper on recent developments in Latin America considers the recent experience of Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Chile and Argentina have created two projects: Chile Joven and Projecto Joven, which operate by subcontracting training on a competitive basis to private training institutions. Providers have to find an enterprise willing either to hire the trainee afterwards or accept him/her for an internship. This mechanism seems to be an effective means of targeting training to real demand. Brazil has recently created a similar programme, funded out of the FAT (a fund for unemployment insurance). But the Brazilian programme, while contracting out the training, does not put the providers of the training in charge of placing the trainees. Through comparing the projects, the paper provides interesting results.

(iii) Training for the informal sector

In developing economies, most school leavers find work in the informal sector and this pattern is likely to persist in the foreseeable future. It is often thought that training can play a key role in improving the ability of young people to create opportunities for themselves within the informal sector. In spite of sharp differences between informal economies, on-the-job training -including traditional apprenticeship - predominates as the major form of skill development. Recognizing the need to build upon existing practices, most training programmes targeted at the informal sector seek to support and complement this process. Significantly, many policy interventions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have tried to strengthen traditional apprenticeship schemes, often with support from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Further internationally comparative investigation is probably required to assess the overall effects of such measures and to better understand the process by which training can contribute to improving the income and employment prospects of disadvantaged youth, including through self-employment. The paper on the Kenyan experience provides a good illustration of the role played by the informal sector in absorbing youngsters into the labour market. It also offers a reflection on the policy options available to support and consolidate this process through appropriate education and training.

(iv) Partnership frameworks

Addressing the needs of the labour market also requires the establishment of adequate consultation frameworks between the key actors involved. In many countries, increasing youth unemployment has led governments to seek the involvement of employers in policies facilitating the transition process. Trade unions can also play an active role in introducing young people into the workplace. Although partnership arrangements are very much determined by lengthy historical processes, international experience suggests that TVE policies are more effective when there is a high level of co-ordination among the stakeholders. Dialogue and sharing of responsibilities are not only required at the macro-level. Co-operation between TVE institutions, enterprises and local authorities are a key factor in ensuring the responsiveness and relevance of training provision to the needs of local labour markets. For the State, stimulating co-operative frameworks and networks involves providing incentives to other stakeholders, particularly employers. Eventually, establishing a sustainable partnership for accompanying the transition process would require a training culture and a sense of solidarity. It is against that background that the paper on South Africa analyses the process of consultation, consensus-building and policy-making aimed at upgrading the overall skill profile of the nation through massive improvements to the education and training systems. The strategy adopted pays particular attention to specific groups at risk, including out-of-school youth, particularly black young people in general, but also women and rural people living in former 'homelands'.

(v) Coping with crisis

The economic crisis that struck the Korean economy in the late 1990s has greatly shaken the well-established practices and patterns of school to work transition. The country was forced to hurry long-delayed structural adjustments. As a result, between July 1997 and July 1998, the unemployment rate increased dramatically from 2.2% to 7.6%. Unemployment was highest in the 15 to 19 and 20 to 29 age groups, therefore the problem of increased youth unemployment became a sensitive policy issue. In particular, high school graduates, marked with the highest unemployment rate, appeared as an at-risk group. In this new context schools and higher education institutions have to play a greater role in facilitating the transition process. Notably, they need to establish close ties with companies. Developing an effective employment information system, covering all sectors of the segmented labour market also represents an important task. Eventually, the challenge for the Korean education reform will be to build pathways and provide incentives that encourage lifelong learning.

(vi) Links to work

Besides targeted measures, an important way to facilitate the integration of young people into working life is to build closer links between schooling and work. In fact, evaluation results of youth training schemes underline the need for intervening when young people are still at school. Two broad types of measures can be outlined. First, attempts are being made to better integrate the realities of the workplace into the learning process. School-work integration, by including work-experience programmes in the schooling process, constitutes a major step in that direction. Second, management reforms are advocated to drive the TVE system towards flexibility and responsiveness. With this in view, particular attention is given to decentralization policies. Devolution of management to provincial/regional and local authorities and increasing the autonomy of school managers are seen as effective ways of ensuring the market relevance of training provision. However, in most countries, the appropriate degrees of decentralization and of school autonomy remain a topic open for debate. This issue of linking provision to the world of work is common to all papers but takes obviously different shapes in OECD countries, Latin America, South Africa, or Kenya, as reflected in the various contributions.

While focusing on TVE, the papers deal with youth transition issues in a broader perspective, including labour market policies and instruments. This is particularly the case for countries encountering rapid and deep transformations such as Korea and South Africa.

Particular attention is also paid to the institutional framework in which transition takes place. In this context, the current South African experience in re-engineering its institutional environment provided the basis to reflect on the involvement of social partners in key issues. The establishment of a national qualification framework as well as the designing of new financing mechanisms to raise and allocate resources, offer concrete examples of such trends.

Although catering for the needs of disadvantaged youth remains problematic everywhere, the analysis of the selected Latin American experiences signals a possible approach for better targeting young people at risk. These examples seem to suggest that, if properly regulated by the state, market mechanisms such as bidding can be a promising tool for supplying training to the most disadvantaged young people. The Kenyan experience in promoting access to training for informal-sector workers provided another illustration of the potential impact of appropriate financial tools such as Training Funds and vouchers.

Evidence and perspectives: what works?

Based on the experience of both developed and developing economies, it is increasingly recognized that an extended period of hybrid activity across the boundaries of education, training and work is required to prepare young people for the labour market. In fact, the lengthening of the transition period, that used to be seen as problematic, tends now to be considered as a condition for successfully entering the contemporary labour markets which require flexibility, mobility and a capacity for lifelong learning. Although such perspectives are not dealt with in the papers, it is important to recall that extending the transition process produces far-reaching impacts on other aspects of young people's lives, including living independently or forming a family.

While governments are sometimes tempted to develop TVE in order to get youngsters off the street, the evidence suggests that this is not necessarily the best solution for fighting youth unemployment, and certainly not always a cost-effective option. The Kenyan experience in vocationalizing basic education, or even the recent expansion of TVE in Korea, provide evidence that other instruments and approaches must be used.

In this context, increasing attention is being paid to educational pathways as a productive way of approaching the transition issue as reflected in several OECD countries. Establishing clear, open and coherent pathways seems to be a condition for successful transition. They also contribute to both increasing access to post-secondary TVE and attracting more young people to vocational streams.

Extensive, real workplace learning increasingly constitutes another important factor, as reflected in current policies in OECD countries and emerging economies in Latin America. In some cases, providing internship seems more effective than providing training for integrating youngsters into the labour market. However, it seems important to ensure the quality of the training provided.

In addition to the provision of good labour market information, vocational guidance as well as job-search services can also play an important role. In some cases, job-search advice can be as powerful as training to help youngsters to find a job.

Beyond training and related services, the smooth integration of the young labour force requires youth-friendly labour markets. Such interventions involve the provision of incentives to employers, including wage-related incentives, and the establishment of close links between TVE institutions and enterprises, as illustrated in several OECD countries. The Kenyan experience also indicates that adjusting public TVE institutions to the needs of the informal sector constitutes a major challenge for countries where it represents the major source of employment.

Structured partnership between key stakeholders is increasingly recognized as a prerequisite for building effective transition policies. This is also the case with informal-sector representatives in a context where informal-sector associations are growing in many developing economies (e.g. the Jua Kali associations in Kenya).

Looking at such contrasting socio-economic conditions, it is clear that there is no single answer for addressing the issue of transition from school to work. The transition of young people into working life is closely related to specific labour market and institutional conditions. Therefore, specific policies cannot be disassociated from the macroeconomic framework in which they take place. Similar instruments can work in different ways and in various combinations. In this respect, the transition from school to work represents a particularly dynamic area of public policies, where the increasing commitment to market forces needs to be tempered by state regulation and the involvement of the social partners. Everywhere, governments are still looking for what works best.

It is hoped that this collection of papers from the Seoul round table on school-to-work issues will stimulate further reflection on what is likely to remain a sensitive policy issue in the years to come.