Youth unemployment is set to rise around the world, creating a "generation at risk" that faces lower earnings and job prospects years into the future, the United Nations' labour office warns.

An estimated 73.4 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 are expected to be out of work this year, putting the global youth unemployment rate at 12.6 per cent, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Labor Organization (ILO). That's an increase of 3.5 million between 2007 and 2013.

"The long-term consequences of persistently high youth unemployment include the loss of valuable work experience and the erosion of occupational skills," said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the ILO’s assistant director-general for policy.

"Moreover, unemployment experiences early in the career of a young person are likely to result in wage scars that continue to depress employment and earnings’ prospects even decades later," he added.

In 2012, the global youth unemployment rate was at 12.4 per cent. By region, the Middle East had the highest jobless rate, with 28.3 per cent of youth out of work, followed by North Africa, where 23.7 per cent were unemployed.

In wealthier nations, including the European Union, the youth unemployment rate hit a decades-long high at 18.1 per cent, and is not predicted to drop below 17 per cent until at least 2016.

Six countries — Austria, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland — had rates below 10 per cent last year.

Trapped in precarious work     

In six of 10 developing countries surveyed, more than 60 per cent of the young people were either unemployed or trapped in low-paying jobs, the report found.     

"The waste of economic potential in developing countries is staggering," said Sara Elder, a co-author of the report, who concluded that for many of them "a job does not necessarily equal a livelihood."

Meanwhile in advanced economies, those who do find work are less selective and find themselves settling for part-time or temporary jobs out of desperation.

'The waste of economic potential in developing countries is staggering.' —Sara Elder, report co-author

"Secure jobs that were once the norm for previous generations — at least in advanced economies — have become less easily accessible for today’s youth," said Salazar-Xirinachs.

"The growth of temporary and part-time work, in particular since the height of the global economic crisis, suggests that such work is often the only option for young workers."

The report suggests that youth unemployment is fostering the generation's distrust in the socio‐economic and political systems, pointing to protests and anti-austerity movements in Greece and Spain. In those two countries, more than half of young jobseekers are unemployed.

The rise of skills and occupational mismatches is one of the factors contributing to the youth job crisis, the report says. Some jobseekers are undereducated and under-skilled while others are overeducated and over-skilled.

Moreover, long stretches of unemployment are leading to the obsolescence of some qualifications. This growing mismatch may become entrenched without policies to re-skill jobseekers, the ILO warns.

The report urges governments, employers’ organizations and trade unions to take action, recommending solutions such as support for education, training, and youth entrepreneurship; employment and labour policies; and recruitment incentives for employers.

With files from The Associated Press