Throughout the last decades, new technological developments and changing dynamics have changed the way people work in the world. Whereas agriculture was the sector that employed the highest number of people up until the millennium, a majority of the world's employees now work in the service sector. Furthermore, people are changing jobs more frequently today than previously, which especially is the case among younger generations. Another trend is the increasing use of both short-term contracts and freelancers, referring to people who are not employed at a specific company. This offers increasing flexibility to both employers and employees in terms of changing jobs and recruitment, but on the downside, employees working short-term or freelance constantly need to look for new jobs and missions. Furthermore, social securities are usually weaker for these groups than among permanent employees with a fixed contract.
The global labor force: A tale of regional differences
Interestingly, whereas the total number of employees worldwide increased over the past decades, the employment-to-population ratio actually decreased. This must be seen in relation with the rapidly growing global population, with a large young population in countries in the Global South, as well as more and more people in developed countries being past working age. Furthermore, there are significant regional differences on several parameters; for instance, whereas the Arab Countries had the highest unemployment rates in 2021, East Asia and the Pacific had the lowest. Among the countries with the highest unemployment rates, a high number are found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another regional difference exists in terms of sectoral employment; almost half of the employees in Eastern Asia were employed in the service sector, underlining the region's booming economic development. In Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, a majority of the employed still work in agriculture, underlining the region's lack of technological and industrial development.
Youth are often vulnerable on the labor market, and are usually the first to suffer in times of economic downturn and unemployment. They lack the work experience that their older counterparts usually have, they usually work part-time and for minimum wage. Moreover, from time to time reports emerge of youth being exploited by their employer, for instance by having to work more hours than agreed upon. Also regarding youth employment, there are significant differences between regions and countries. In the Arab World, the region with the highest youth unemployment levels in the world, unemployment rates reached 27 percent in 2022, compared to only eight percent in North America. Agriculture. forestry, and fishing was, by far, the sector with the highest youth unemployment rates.
Today's youth and future generations are facing both enormous opportunities, challenges, and changes in the future labor market; technological developments will continue to create new ways of working, whereas climate change will set boundaries but also open new job opportunities as industries and countries try to move toward a greener future.
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Einar H. Dyvik
Research expert covering Nordics and global data for society, economy, and politics