Opening remarks on the "transition from school to work seminar"

By Mr Tim De Meyer, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Beijing, China | 10 March 2016

School of Labour and Human Resources, Renmin University (Beijing)

Let me warmly welcome all of you to this seminar on the transition from school to work. Thank you to Renmin University for hosting this seminar and for giving me the opportunity to make a few opening remarks. I am delighted to see Prof. Furio Rosati here. Prof. Rosati is a distinguished scholar and a Project Manager for "Understanding Children's Work" (UCW) an inter-agency research initiative on child labour involving the International Labor Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank. UCW was established in 2000 and is aimed at improving information and research capacity in the area of child labour and youth employment. I am also happy to see Prof Zeng Xiangquan here. Prof. Zeng has done wonderful work with us collecting good cases of youth employment promotion measures. I hope to be witnessing the dawn of a long cooperation between one of China’s most prestigious academic institutions and ILO’s “think tank” on child labour and youth employment.

We know that in the world today, two out of every five young persons of working age are either unemployed or working jobs that do not pay enough to escape poverty. For young people who aspire to a stable job, the transition period from school to work takes an average of 19 months. In most cases the transition takes longer for young women than men.
China shares the global challenge of youth unemployment and underemployment, in particular when it comes to university graduates. More than 7 million university graduates every year are looking for jobs that require a degree without finding any. Indeed, many will find what they learned and how they learned at university has done little to prepare them for today’s job market in China. The way forward for most is finding employment in the private sector, services, or small and midsize enterprises, or becoming an individual entrepreneur – none of which average students have been prepared for by their education or their family.

Promoting youth entrepreneurship is certainly one, but cannot be the only solution as mass entrepreneurship inevitably carries the risk of promoting informality and low productivity – exactly the opposite of what China needs as it moves its manufacturing and services up the value chain.

Providing youth the best opportunity to transition to a decent job calls for investing in education and training of the highest possible quality; providing youth with skills that match labour market demands and with rewards that match relevant skills; giving them access to social protection and basic services regardless of their contract type, as well as levelling the playing field so that all aspiring youth can attain and retain productive employment regardless of their gender, income level or socio-economic background.

In China, thanks to its work with government, employers and trade unions, the ILO has learned some valuable lessons: 1) the quality of public employment services for young people should be improved; 2) monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be put in place to generate data and information on impact; 3) young people often have lower wages, longer working hours, hazardous or unsafe working conditions and lack of legal and social protection, interns’ working conditions need to be regulated; 4) social dialogue mechanisms – youth voices be strongly heard and rights are understood and enforced.

Through the UN Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, which the ILO is leading, we are looking forward to continuing our work with government, social partners and academia in China.

So, to get young people and future adults into decent and ever more decent jobs, pathways from school to work need to be cleared. But for that to happen, children below a certain age need to be in decent schools rather than dubious workplaces and young workers should not have to face workplace hazards young bodies and minds are not yet equipped to handle. Child labour, as these situations are called, undermines a person’s ability to learn and adapt all life long and undermines health, two of the most essential assets in human capital formation – and in the escape from poverty. It is for this reason that the international community lifted the elimination of child labour to fundamental status in 1995. China agreed, as soon afterwards, it ratified the 2 fundamental ILO Conventions on minimum age and the worst forms of child labour. Twenty years later, child labour is on the retreat but not yet eradicated. Tolerance for child labour worldwide, however, is getting close to zero – the eradication of child labour (and forced labour) is now an official target of the 2030 Development Agenda. This year in June, the International Labour Conference will be debating ways and means of cleansing global supply chains from child labour and forced labour, among other unacceptable forms of work – and the World Day against Child Labour (12 June) will focus on the same theme.

Reviewing the reports of China’s government on its application of the child labour Conventions, ILO’s committee of independent experts has identified 2 areas that would be suitable for scientifically underpinned academic cooperation:

- The collection of reliable data on the number of children and young persons below the minimum age who are engaged in economic activities, and statistics relating to the nature, scope and trends of their work. Data are indispensable to guide policy. Child labour data collection and analysis is now a routine practice in developed and developing countries around the world – assisted by the tools of IPEC.
- An update of the 1994 Ministerial Regulation on the Special Protection of Minor Workers.

We count on your continuous support and look forward to our cooperation on promotion of youth employment at national and global levels.