According to a recent report by the ILO Office in Latin America, about 20 million of the more than 108 million Latin American and Caribbean youths neither study nor work. The so-called ‘NEETs’ pose a serious setback for the development of the region. Honduras has one of the highest rates with 28.7%, together with El Salvador 23.9% and Guatemala with 22.8%. This is a burden for Central America, a region where thousands of teenagers are trying to escape the clutches of gangs and violence. This group of ‘NEETs’ is “in a high-risk social situation” according to the expert, Guillermo Dema. We must remember that employment is more than a salary; it is also linked to human and personal development.

On the other hand, the situation in the rest of the region is not much better; 57% of young people who have a job do not have a formal contract and, therefore, are not entitled to social benefits, according to the daily newspaper, ‘El Universal’. In Bolivia, for example, only 1 in 4 young people manage to get a decent job. Juan Carlos Nunez, president of the Jubilee Foundation (Fundación Jubileo), urges institutions to take advantage of this workforce, which he sees as an asset for the country, through sustainable employment policies. Economic growth does not always lead to the creation of formal employment. According to the ILO, countries like Brazil, Chile and Argentina have implemented successful measures to avoid the increase of informal jobs. The rate of informal employment is due to the exponential growth of this region over the last decade, which has boosted the GDP in most countries. The solution is to link growth to a productive development strategy.

The situation is quite daunting, although there are signs of improvement. Progress comes from the implementation of new youth employment policies, as in the case of Uruguay; a country that is strongly committed to developing truly innovative policies.

Uruguay: at the forefront of youth employment policies

This South American country has proven its ability to implement effective employment policies: confirmed by its 6.3% unemployment rate in 2014. This progress in employment-related legislation has also benefited the youngest sector of the population. In 2013, a new Youth Employment Law was passed thanks, in part, to the Uruguay Youth Institute (INJU) and its director, Matías Rodríguez. In addition, a Youth Action Plan 2015-2025 has been developed that considers young people as the keystones of the national development process and of society. The programme is divided into dialogues and proposals.

The Law plans to provide companies with incentives to hire youths. This aid is equivalent to 15%-80% of the salary of these young people, based on their level of vulnerability. The legislation establishes an effective “tutoring” system and the possibility of reconciling their first job with their studies, an approach intended to avoid the risk of young people abandoning the latter. Finally, the Law is pioneering a programme to enable transgender youths, Afro-descendants and young people with disabilities to obtain their first work experience.

Unfortunately, Uruguay’s attitude towards young people is not shared by many states. Youth and its transforming power are the driving force for a prosperous future. Today’s societies are blinded by short-term goals and are neglecting the medium and long-term; and it is precisely the latter that are key for the future of nations. Uruguay is aware of this and, consequently, has introduced youth policies as the backbone of its national project.

According to this issue, on 30-31th October was held in Lima a regional ministerial meeting about ‘Education for All in Latin America and the Caribbean: Post-2015 Assesmment and Challenges’ (Lima Declaration)