Two UN agencies support co-ops role in alleviating youth unemployment crisis

Two UN agencies have released statements supporting the role of co-operatives in alleviating youth unemployment.

Two UN agencies have released statements supporting the role of co-operatives in alleviating youth unemployment.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have both stated that co-ops can help break the ‘experience trap’ many young people face. This is where they are unable to get a job, and so they are unable to gain professional experience that would allow them to get a job.

The two statements:  ‘A better future for young people – what co-ops can offer’ from the ILO, and ‘Youth: the future of agricultural cooperatives’ from the FAO, both talk about the positive impact and the pitfalls of youth involvement with co-ops.

The ILO explains that in the context of the current crisis, with almost 1.2 billion young people between 15 and 24, and 75 million of those out of work: “The cooperative model of enterprise contributes to youth employment not by only providing salaried employment, but also facilitating job creation through self-employment.”

It adds that in developing countries where nearly 87 per cent of the world’s youth live, the challenge is improve the quality of current jobs, while also generating new employment.

The FAO states that many young people in developing countries, where there are 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, do not perceive agriculture as a prestigious profession and “agricultural cooperatives have proved to be an effective mechanism for engaging young people in agriculture.”

Co-operatives can bridge the gap of getting youth into employment across the world, according to both agencies, by: providing better access to financial resources, helping them to pool their limited resources together, facilitating job creation through self employment and giving them experience in the job market.

The ILO continues that co-ops facilitate the school-to-work transition by offering on the job training through internships and apprenticeships. According to the report, in Ontario, Canada nearly 60 per cent of co-op interns found full time employment after completing a 26-week internship.

Some countries even help to give young people access to co-ops, such as in Panama. The Ministry of Labour included a co-op module in its ‘my first job’ programme in 2010 and over 500 young people were trained and new co-op enterprises have been started.

However, co-ops often do not make it easy for young people to join. According to the FAO report, some co-op by-laws have membership laws, such as landownership and the payment of fees. It also states that: “culture and traditions characterised by hierarchical relationships in which young people are expected to obey older community members also complicate youth’s participation in cooperatives.” This is particularly relevant when it comes to young women, who face additional challenges in getting their voices heard.

The ILO adds to this by saying that there is “insufficient” teaching of co-ops in the school curricula, but “to fill this gap, cooperatives in many countries offer cooperative entrepreneurship training and education.”

The statements were released to coincide with the UN IYC closing ceremony in New York over 19 – 20 November.

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