Youth (un)employment has surfaced as one of the main issues of concern in the wake of the economic crisis. Since 2008, the job market has shifted in ways which marginalise youth and has forced us to be increasingly creative in our search for gainful and dignified employment. The obstacles facing youth are well known : jobs are scarce as businesses reduce their costs in a precarious economy, older employees remain in the workplace past the traditional age of retirement, and employers are reluctant to hire youth, as we lack practical experience and do not have the wide ranging business networks most older employees have developed throughout the years.
Last fall, an ILO report put in numbers what we had been suspecting all along: the global youth (15-24 age bracket) unemployment rate, at 12.7 per cent, remains a full percentage point higher than the pre-crisis level and 8 percent higher than global adult unemployment rates. In other words, youth are three times as likely as their adult colleagues to face unemployment. These figures are certainly up for debate, as they do not account for those of us who have withdrawn ourselves from the formal job market to return to school or find employment in the informal economy. If we were to take into account all those who have given up trying to look for a job in the formal job market, figures would likely be much higher.
As I write this second blog post, I am listening to Andrew Fiddaman speak about young entrepreneurs’ priorities as they develop businesses for a new economy. He is one of multiple participants in a UN ECOSOC video discussion titled “Employing Youth for a Better Future”. He speaks of young business people creating workplaces which answer local needs, and serve local populations. He has social entrepreneurs in mind, but I think that what he is trying to say is that youth who are trying to create their own jobs in a less-than-vibrant job market are also seeking to create workplaces which reflect their values and generate good as they generate profits. I’d propose he start talking about cooperatives. As doors are not opening as quickly as they could in the traditional market, youth are turning to entrepreneurship as a means of creating the jobs they need. But is this necessity also the mother of a new wave of cooperation?
In recent editions of their organisation’s magazines, CICOPA, COCETA and SCOP all featured special reports on youth entrepreneurs and cooperatives. It is interesting to note that many of those cooperatives founded by entrepreneurs under 30 have persisted in offering jobs to younger workers in order to remain innovative and competitive in fast-paced sectors. Another common element of all the co-operators comments? The level of autonomy, dignity, recognition and democracy they experience on a daily basis gives them all the job satisfaction they could hope for. They describe their path towards a cooperative business model as fuelled either by ideals or necessity: they lacked opportunities in established workplaces, and needed to band together in order to have the intellectual and financial capital necessary to start a viable business.
Framed in this way, cooperation goes hand in hand with business creation, which requires entrepreneurial acumen and a skill set that reaches far beyond the scope of generic post secondary curricula. As I was researching for this post, I turned to Twitter for real-time feedback on the topic of youth, (un)employment and the cooperative option. One respondent (@vivelepartage) brought up an important point: not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Future co-operators and social entrepreneurs alike should take a moment to assess their skill set and seek training prior to embarking in the creation of their own workplace. He brought up a point which is addressed in many of the reports mentioned above: training and mentorship must be available in order for these businesses to know long-term success. They must also be ready for two-tiered workload, as they will be building a business while working their ‘regular’ job.
As the ECOSOC conference draws to a close, it seems all fingers are pointing to entrepreneurship as the main source of employment for youth in the years ahead. Apparently, even the kind folks at the UN have all but given up on the regular job market’s ability to generate new jobs in the short to medium term. In other words, most of us will not be applying for the first ‘real’ job we’ll need in order to pay the month’s bills. Rather, we will be creating our own based on the needs we observe and have the means to answer.
Cooperative entrepreneurship offers young entrepreneurs in search of gainful employment the best of both worlds. We can create the workplace which suits our needs, mirrors our values and priorities, and provides us with the autonomy to remain innovative and self-directed in terms of our personal and collective goals. Moreover, cooperatives’ collective nature ensures that support (moral or capital) are always at arm’s reach.
If you missed the conference’s original broadcast, watch the recorded version here.
Endnote : I had originally set out to write a piece on youth employment in ‘established’ cooperatives. However, articles and conversations all veered towards cooperative entrepreneurship. If you have thoughts or want to keep the discussion going, find me on Twitter!