Research: How Youth Move to Work in Rural Communities

Youth and Rural Development: Evidence from 25 school-to-work transition surveys

Given the importance of agricultural transformation in the development process of Low Income Countries, improving the livelihoods of young people is a critical step toward increasing production and economic diversification in rural areas.

A new ILO report Youth and Rural Development: Evidence from 25 school-to-work transition surveys  compares and assesses the transition of more than 90,000 urban and rural young people in 25 countries, including eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The report was developed as a result of our partnership with the ILO to expand the global evidence base about the challenges and opportunities involved in transitioning young people into the workforce.

Until now, this evidence has been thin, and programming done without data to characterize the real challenges and opportunities facing young people in rural contexts.  In the African countries studied, the report shows that as many as nine in ten youth in rural areas work either in precarious, non-productive employment as casual, own-account workers (self-employed) or in contributing family work (working in a family establishment or farm) with low wages, productivity and a lack of social protections.

The report clearly demonstrates the challenges faced by rural youth in accessing education and vocational training, matching their skills with their work and securing decent, high-quality and productive employment. In Sub-Saharan Africa the data shows a particularly stark pattern with the majority of young people stuck in precarious, low paid and informal work in far greater numbers than their urban counterparts. As a result, for the majority of rural youth in Africa, decent and productive employment remains an aspiration, and not a reality.

There are, however, three critical bright spots in the data. The first is that secondary and tertiary education provides a clear pathway out of precarious work toward secure, wage employment, even in rural contexts. The most highly educated youth in rural areas were five times more likely to attain a paid job compared to youth who finished only their primary education and three times more likely compared to the youth with a secondary education. This underlines the ongoing importance of increasing financing for improved infrastructure of secondary and higher education in African countries as well as financing to support universal attendance.

Self Employment and small business remain a critical livelihood opportunity for young people.

Second, while only eight percent of rural youth in Low Income Countries transitioned into a stable paid job, 31 per cent transitioned into a satisfactory form of self-employment. This shows that self employment and small businesses remain not only an engine for growth, but a critical livelihood opportunity for young people.  More needs to be done to build the entrepreneurial confidence of young people and ensure productive returns of small businesses, especially in areas where limited formal jobs may exist.

Lastly, the survey data shows that rural development implies a more diversified economy, with the trade and services industries growing alongside the traditional agricultural sector. It remains to be seen if these alternate activities can offer youth the possibility of achieving stable and productive livelihoods over time, but they are opening new enterprise and employment opportunities that can be combined with on-farm and household enterprise to increase incomes—especially for micro and small enterprises and for self-employment.

This data has implications for sectoral and labour policies and programs, and for those who are funding or delivering interventions in enterprise and agricultural development in rural areas. For The MasterCard Foundation, the data and policy recommendations reinforce the need to focus on rural youth, and they bolster our strategic approach to rural livelihoods, which includes:

  • focusing on access to quality secondary, tertiary and vocational education;
  • providing holistic, market-relevant training and skills development to expand and improve the mixed livelihoods needed transition from poverty in rural areas; and
  • investments in agricultural finance to improve productivity, smooth consumption and reach remote young people with relevant financial services.

The ILO’s school-to-work transition surveys, resulting pool of rich data, and the publications and policy recommendations are improving the understanding of the education and the economic composition of youth in developing countries. Most significantly, the data are being applied to program and policy development in agriculture, rural development, education and training and youth employment.

The legacy of this new evidence base will not only be an improved understanding of youth employment policies and programs, but also open datasets that can be accessed and utilized by academics, policymakers and practitioners around the world for years to come.

The second round of surveys, reports and policy dialogues, now underway, will continue to inform youth policy, practice and research globally. And, it will continue to have important implications for understanding and promoting livelihood opportunities, pathways out of poverty and the empowerment of young people.