As a young man, I wasn’t sure where my career would lead. Through my parents, I was fortunate enough to experience different countries, languages and exposure to the world of work.

Like many young people, however, I didn’t know what profession or what kind of career path I should aspire to. What I did know is that I wanted to learn, and to have experiences that would give me a range of options.

The world of work is constantly changing

Today’s young people face the same uncertainties in a more complex, fast-moving environment. The world of work is constantly changing. Human potential is a catalyst for business and economic success. For young people to be part of that success, we must help them tap into opportunities. It is vital they can access options to reskill, to adapt to new technology, to relocate to take on jobs in other regions and countries, and to learn on-the-job, online and in the classroom. If business, government and citizens want to ensure sustainable growth, they must partner to make these options available to youth.

Two months ago, I spoke to young people in Chicago who were participating in a Junior Achievement programme, an organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in the global economy. I was struck by the fact that the students were well aware of the complexities of the global environment, and had first-hand experience of youth unemployment, personally or through family or friends. Globally, about 73 million young people are neither in employment nor education (NEET). This is the next generation – the generation that will be charged with developing policies to mitigate global income inequality, manage pandemics and resource scarcity. As leaders, we can help to open young people’s eyes to opportunity by sharing our own stories.

There is no CEO school

When I opened the floor to questions, one student asked about my career path to CEO. I shared my background of uncertainty and thirst for new experiences. They liked my story of a young Swedish man who travelled the world making his sales pitch for household appliances in five languages. They liked even more the options this experience created for me.

Of course, there is no CEO school. Access to education is the first step on the career path for many young people. It is also the key to addressing an increasingly polarized workforce along the lines of workforce readiness, and reducing inequality. To succeed, they need opportunities that promote life-long learning and access to employers. Evidence suggests that students who have four or more contacts with employers while in school are more likely to be employed aged 19-24, and five times less likely to be jobless.

“Lost Generation” 

While many economies have regained lost ground since the last Annual Meeting in Davos in 2014, high levels of youth unemployment remain a major problem. The consequences of a “lost generation” extend beyond labour markets. Unemployment permanently impacts citizens, communities and economies.

The mismatch between in-demand talent and the oversupply of unskilled talent is bad for individuals and businesses. Even with high unemployment our annual Talent Shortage Survey shows that, globally, 36% of employers have difficulty filling jobs.

The impact of business and education

Business is addressing youth unemployment and challenging partners to do the same. By collaborating, businesses can multiply the impact of their efforts. In the UK, ManpowerGroup and other employers are collaborating as part of the Movement to Work to create 100,000 vocational training and work experience placements by 2015, equivalent to about 2% of their workforces.

Education systems struggle to keep pace with technological change, yet they must equip individuals with the skills needed to be lifelong learners. Business must promote learning in their organizations and individuals must seize opportunities to adapt to new roles throughout their careers. Forward-thinking employers are creating bridges between work and learning. ManpowerGroup offers career services that align with business needs to students at colleges and universities around the world to provide a stronger connection between learning and work.

The individuals who take responsibility for their own lifelong learning and careers will be successful. Employees in our Experis IT business are a good example of how people who continue to learn can enhance their skills and increase their value to employers. Nearly 80% of IT contractors surveyed had advanced their skills beyond university courses or employer training. Their choice to continue learning gave them the option to command higher salaries and to choose where and when they work.

Tapping into internships, apprenticeships and entry-level roles can offer young people options to gain vital skills and fuel ongoing learning. Each year, ManpowerGroup works with clients to give that leg-up to more than 1 million young people, providing opportunities that can further their career goals and lead to future work.

The responsibility for learning is a shared one – young people must seek out new experiences, and business, education and government must collaborate to create more opportunities. As a young man, I wasn’t sure where my career would take me. Today, I am very proud to lead an organization that focuses on helping people find meaningful, sustainable employment all over the world.

In today’s environment of certain uncertainty, advancing technology will continue to make some jobs obsolete while new ones are created. As leaders, we must share our own stories, create options that help young people gain skills through education and work, and promote opportunities that will equip young people with the tools they need to continue learning and build sustainable careers.

Author: Jonas Prising, CEO, Manpower

Image: A businessman walks on an illuminated walkway in Tokyo November 13, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao