JOSÉ MANUEL SALAZAR-XIRINACHS Generation Ni/Ni: Latin America’s Lost Youth
technical skills, such as numeracy, literacy, soft and life
skills, play an important role and were cited by employers from numerous countries as a major constraint to
hiring young workers. 5 In fact, a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Argentina, Brazil
and Chile found that many employers value soft skills
as much as, or more than, technical skills. 6
Skills mismatches are directly linked to deficiencies
in education systems. While access to education and average achievement have improved over the past two decades, the region has not seen a significant decrease in
youth joblessness or increase in earnings. 7 Latin American and Caribbean students are behind their OECD country counterparts in academic achievement by two years. 8
Aggravating the problem are the inequalities in access to quality education for the poor. In Colombia,
for instance, low school completion rates affect students at all income levels, but they are more predominant among the poor. In this context, efforts to ensure
equity, access and school completion will benefit the labor market prospects of disadvantaged youth.
Even when they do have the skills, youth can of- ten miss out on the optimal job because they lack information on potential employers and job requirements. Such information gaps stem from youth’s
limited access to job networks and social capital. Likewise, there is not an easy means to objectively convey
to employers the set of skills a young person has. Here
what is often lacking is an accepted, objective way of
demonstrating youth skill levels and potential in the
labor market, though certification. 9
Youth entrepreneurship can be an important ave- nue of opportunity. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which conducts surveys on entrepreneurship in 59 countries, reports that, in general, regardless
of the national development level, the highest number
of entrepreneurs can be found in the 25–34 age group. It
adds that, globally, the largest share of owners of early-stage start-ups is also found in this age bracket. 10
But household data collected by the IDB for 14 Latin
American countries showed that only 12. 8 percent of
workers between the ages of 16 and 24 were entrepreneurs. 11 The report also concluded that about 62 percent
of young entrepreneurs had only a primary education
or incomplete secondary education and that their busi-
nesses were fragile and driven mostly by necessity.
Young entrepreneurs in Latin America face major
obstacles. They have less capital in the form of skills,
knowledge, experience, savings, and access to credit.
In addition, they have limited business networks and
less access to information about job vacancies. Banks
and financial institutions regard them as high risk. To
help overcome these challenges, the IDB report recommended including entrepreneurship training in schools.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Governments, the private sector and workers organizations can resolve many of the pol- icy, educational and informational issues mentioned above. Several countries, such as Colombia (1997), Dominican Republic
(2000), Nicaragua (2001), Costa Rica (2002), and Honduras (2005), have adopted general youth legislation, which
includes references to the rights of young people to education, training, work, and/or fair salaries. Others—
such as Peru and Paraguay—have put in place specific
plans to promote youth employment. 12
Here are some youth employment policy approaches
that Latin American policymakers are considering—or
should consider. Several have already demonstrated success in promoting employment and social inclusion of
young people. [for more details on the programs
listed below, please visit www.americasquarterly.
Boost Labor Demand
Job creation requires not only sustained growth, but also inclusive growth. It requires the develop- ment of small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs),
where the bulk of employment is generated. Improving
the business environment, promoting dynamic growth
sectors and SMEs, upgrading value chains, and promoting dynamic trade integration are key actions governments can take to boost job creation.
Governments can boost labor demand through measures such as wage subsidies—which reduce labor costs
for firms and create incentives for hiring youth during
times of slow growth and low labor demand—and la-bor-intensive public employment programs that provide
direct and temporary employment to unskilled labor-ers while delivering public goods or services. Examples
of wage subsidy programs in the region have been
Programa Primeiro Emprego in Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil,
and Uruguay’s Projoven program.
111 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012