Against the odds: Young people's high aspirations and societal contributions amid a decent work shortage

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Coombe, R 
Proefke, R 

Insufficient decent work in lower income countries is one of the most pressing global challenges facing young people today and is captured by SDG 8: decent work for all. Specific concerns include high levels of working poverty and informality, underemployment, and a lack of demand for youth labour. The vast majority of research into this subject focuses upon wealthier countries, and there is a need for greater engagement with young people’s experiences and aspirations. Here we draw upon an international survey in lower income countries, alongside focus groups and interviews in Uganda, to challenge dominant conceptual and empirical understandings. Though our sample is limited to a relatively privileged group, by accessing young people’s own perspectives on the employment challenge we contribute to an essential and ongoing disruption of the narrative that young people are the root of the youth employment problem. We do this by demonstrating that (1) unemployed young people tend to make positive social contributions, (2) while youth aspirations for work are tailored to their context they are nevertheless ambitious, and (3) lack of demand for youth labour needs to be directly addressed alongside the current focus on skills development. Our novel contribution to the literature on youth geographies is that young people in lower income countries tend to be dynamic and committed to contributing to their communities on a voluntary basis despite – and at times because of - the context in which they live limiting their chance of finding decent work.

Youth, Employment, SDGs, Decent work, Participatory development, Policy, Volunteering
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Elsevier BV
ESRC (ES/M500409/1)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/S501359/1)
(1) Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account NGO Data ESRC-4; (2) the Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme; and (3) the University of Cambridge Returning Carers Scheme.