Perspectives on youth employment at the 2018 IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

A brief snapshot of the atmosphere at this year’s IMF & World Bank Annuals: with the sun and humidity relentless, the meetings take place in Bali’s lavish beach resorts and conference centres. At every turn, a smiling volunteer will greet you and smother you with their warm hospitality. It’s not all suits and ties; the bright, vibrant ‘Batik’ shirts are a popular choice of clothing. 

Despite the more relaxed feel, the seriousness and sense of importance at the meetings have not been compromised. A morning of presentations on real-time output gaps, how the IMF deals with external imbalances and how it uses big data to tackle corruption was a somewhat overwhelming but equally fascinating introduction to the meetings. I am acutely aware of my youth as I rub shoulders with central bankers and economists, however, this is not a bad thing. Our youth puts us in a privileged position to contribute at these meetings, with the people we meet genuinely interested to hear from a group often unrepresented at major international conferences. The most engaging panel event today was the ‘Youth at Work’ forum. While the panellists drew from experiences within their own countries, the issues raised were unequivocally universal concerns. 

A key theme was the importance of connecting supply and demand in the youth labour market. In a live Twitter poll, 39% of respondents said that the biggest challenge for youth employment was outdated educational systems, and 36% cited the incompatibility of skills with the market. In Thailand, one-third of all unemployed people are skilled graduates, reflecting the scale of this issue and the importance of quality education. Anele Mkuzo of the African Entrepreneurship Initative mentioned that in South Africa, they inexplicably “teach coding without laptops”, and the panel agreed that education must have a creative, “soft skills” component, rather than mere textbook learning. With the World Bank to release its Human Capital Index tomorrow, the panellists identified education as being the key pillar of this index, emphasising the importance of investing in education at a young age. Furthermore, in reflecting upon her work as a parliamentarian in Kosovo, Vjosa Sadriu stressed the importance of ‘youth budgeting’, in which the government analyses the extent to which any new law will support youth in the labour market. 

Aya Chebbi from Afrika Youth Movement was a passionate voice, who somewhat rejected the panel’s concern on matching youth with the market. She focused on purpose, imploring young people to properly consider where they want to work, and for what reasons. She labelled the trend of young Tunisians joining ISIS or dangerously fleeing across the Mediterranean as a “tragedy” and invoked the key questions of why Tunisia’s youth are leaving, and why they are risking their lives for it. There are no easy answers to the issue of youth employment around the world, particularly in countries like Tunisia, and it looms as a pressing challenge for the world’s policy-makers. 

For me, the discussion ended on a relatable and hopeful note. In addressing the ‘brain drain’ seen in many countries, Vjosa underscored the crucial role that inspirational individuals and stories can play in shaping young people into active, engaged citizens within their own communities and then abroad. This is certainly something I can relate to in the context of this opportunity to attend the IMF/World Bank Annuals. From the pre-departure briefings in Canberra to today, I have met a range of inspiring people who have taken unique and admirable pathways to get to where they are today. Whether they are leaders in their respective fields or involved in policy-making processes, they are in positions to improve the world they live in. I look forward to meeting as many interesting and inspiring people as I can this week.

By: James Chan, University of Melbourne Faculty of Business and Economics