A project being run under APEC's Human Resources Development Working Group (HRDWG) in 2009/10 is seeking to identify good practice and policies for young people in work. Led by the New Zealand Department of Labour the project will involve gathering information from participating APEC economies on the current situation of their young people engaged in work. The project will capture a broad range of information, including statistical data, legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as anecdotal evidence on social and cultural norms including the views of governments, young workers and employers.

The project assumes that policy makers cannot simply treat young workers as they would adult workers. Young people's work patterns and entitlements are often different from those of adults, and they can be a vulnerable demographic group in the labour market. Due to their lack of experience, young people face challenges in entering work. This is even more the case in conditions of economic downturn, when employers may take on fewer new staff, and favour older candidates with experience. Young people may also be at higher risk of exploitation during times of economic stress.

Young entrants to the workforce may not be aware of their workplace rights and obligations. Furthermore, young workers often combine work with education; and whether or not they get this balance right can affect their wellbeing as well as long-term labour market outcomes.

Employers too may not know about the different needs or entitlements of young workers. Workplace practices may differ across types of employers - for example in New Zealand, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) account for approx 1/3 of all employees.

With these issues in mind, the project has two overarching objectives:

  1. To describe the current situation of young workers in APEC economies, including how young people are being affected by the global economic crisis.
  2. To identify appropriate responses to the current and future labour market challenges affecting young people, with particular reference to employment and working conditions.

Broken into three parts the project consists of a literature review, questionnaire survey and a workshop which is to be held in Wellington, New Zealand next year. Through the APEC HRDWG contacts APEC economies have now been asked to participate in a questionnaire survey throughout November.

The project is timely as it will provide an opportunity for policy makers to share positive ways of investing in human capital through responding to the issues facing young workers as economies emerge from the global economic crisis. As part of APEC's new 'Inclusive Growth' agenda, this project will also allow economies to share their experiences on young people in work and where appropriate to restructure domestic settings to ensure economic growth is more inclusive and that its benefits are spread more widely.

Due to different definitions and situations in APEC economies, a broad definition of 'young people' has been chosen to ensure a broad scope for the project. For the purposes of the project the definition of 'young people' includes all people under the age of 24, including school-age students as well as those who have completed their schooling. The project will allow policy makers to learn more about how young workers combine work and education; and because young people may begin part-time work at varying ages in different economies, we have deliberately not specified a bottom age.

Examination of the health and safety policies affecting young workers is also included as part of the project to encourage a holistic approach to looking at working conditions, of which health and safety conditions are an important part. The importance of health and safety conditions for young people is highlighted by evidence from New Zealand that suggests that young workers can be injured at a higher rate than older workers and that some have low awareness of their employment rights, health and safety work practices, or whether or not their employers are complying with legislation.

To find out more information or to participate in the survey throughout November or the workshop in May 2010, please contact Jonathon Jones, Adviser International at the Department of Labour in New Zealand via email Jonathon.Jones@dol.govt.nz