The theme of the Olympics this year is Inspiring the Next Generation. Over the past two weeks, the world has watched as athletes – the majority young women and men under the age of 30 – defy physical limitations to break records and shatter our assumptions of what is possible. What an ideal time to celebrate the ambition and potential of young people this International Youth Day. The resilience of these young athletes is a stirring reminder of the millions of other young women and men who, with equal drive, pursue opportunities that will enable them to reach their potential.

Unfortunately, in many countries this potential is not being realized. With 75 million jobless youth worldwide, finding a job could itself be considered an Olympic feat. Policy-makers warn of a “lost generation”. But, the opposite is also possible. Young people are the most important resource for countries and businesses. They will shape the future of our economies. Some will build the next Apple, develop new innovations and become business or social entrepreneurs. They just need the right skills and the confidence that comes from landing that first job.

In the Middle East and North Africa where our organization – Education for Employment (EFE) – operates, half of the population is under the age of 24, but employers are struggling to fill jobs and expand their businesses due to a shortage of young people with the necessary skills. This “skills gap” exists in most markets globally, particularly in emerging markets.

To reverse this trend, we must foster greater collaboration among businesses, government and education institutions and develop tailored education and training programmes for unemployed youth linked to concrete job opportunities.

Ahmad, a young Egyptian, confirms the results of this approach. He explains that, through the skills training and opportunity for a first job, “we turned our ignition on and realized things in ourselves we never knew existed.”

When I watch an Olympic medal ceremony and see young women and men beam with joy at their achievement, it reminds me of the glow I saw on the faces of the first 30 young men and women in Tunisia who graduated this past July with the right skills and the confidence to begin their first job. On International Youth Day let’s stand together and collectively commit to helping millions more take that first step towards a better life.

Author: Jamie McAuliffe is President and CEO of Education for Employment and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment.

Pictured: Youths train at volleyball in the Complexo do Alemao slum in Rio de Janeiro. On the final day of the London 2012 Olympics, the world looks ahead to Rio de Janeiro and Brazil who will host the 2016 Olympic Games. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes