It would be "foolish" to say Scotland is over the worst of its youth unemployment problems, despite recent figures showing a rise in job vacancies, MSPs have been told.
The Minister for Youth Employment said that while improvements in Scotland's economy would resolve some difficulties surrounding getting young people into the work, long-term action is needed to help those facing "considerable barriers".
Angela Constance's comments came as she appeared before Holyrood's Education Committee to answer questions on the Scottish Government's Youth Employment Strategy, and ahead of the publication of the latest job figures on Wednesday.
Official statistics show that 102,000 young people are currently unemployed, representing around one in four of those aged 16-24 who are economically active. The committee heard that the Scottish Government had met its target for modern apprenticeships for 2011/12.
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said: "It is obviously very encouraging that we're on track to meet the target this year. Given the recent economic indicators that suggest things are slightly improving in terms of vacancies, do you think we're over the most challenging year, and have met the greatest challenge?"
Ms Constance said she would not be "foolish enough to look into her crystal ball" and make such predictions. "We'll deal with what comes our way," she said.
Pressed by Labour MSP Neil Bibby on whether she believed there is a youth unemployment crisis in Scotland, Ms Constance said: "What I believe is that we need to be in this for the long haul."
She told MSPs there were around 20,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who face "considerable barriers to getting into work".
"When we think of youth unemployment, some of that will be resolved when the economy picks up and gets better," she added.
"But youth unemployment is always two and a half to three times higher than all-age unemployment. There is always an issue there that we need to tackle and it is long-term action we need."