Unemployment — and the lack of necessary skills for employment, particularly among youth under age 25 — is one of the issues I hear about most as I speak with world leaders, hotel owners and employees in the thousands of communities where Hilton operates. It’s no surprise why: The Economist estimates that there may be as many as 290 million 15-to-24-year-olds not participating in the labor market. These 290 million bright minds — a group almost as large as the U.S. population — could be making our communities stronger and bringing fresh solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. By failing to invest the time, energy and resources needed to help these young people succeed, we’re jeopardizing the future of the global economy.
This crisis has many roots. In some countries, the reasons are cultural - for instance, girls not receiving the same schooling or job opportunities. In others, they’re tied to poor economic conditions or geopolitical issues like the refugee crisis.
There’s also a real skills gap. Even in developed economies, where enrollment in upper secondary schools is often near 100 percent, nearly one in five students do not acquire a minimum level of basic skills needed to be gainfully employed. And McKinsey reports only 43 percent of employers can find enough skilled entry-level workers. Schooling and technical skills alone aren’t enough; young people also need “soft skills” like communication, problem-solving and cross-cultural competencies to be successful.
One thing is certain: We are not investing nearly enough in creating opportunities for youth. A recent study by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies found multilateral agencies, bilateral donors, corporations and foundations allocated USD $1.8 billion toward youth economic opportunity programs in developing countries in 2014. While that may sound like a lot, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other complex global issues. For example, IYF estimates water and sanitation programs received nearly $13 billion in 2014, while agricultural development projects received $12.65 billion.
The good news is we already have an important part of the solution. We know millions of young people are searching for jobs, and there are many sectors within the economy that are looking to hire. In fact, the travel and tourism industry - the largest employer in the world - is expected to generate 86 million new jobs by 2026. Having a strong base of passionate, driven, hard-working employees to fill those jobs is essential to our continued growth.
That’s why companies across our industry are investing in training programs and partnerships with governments, NGOs and schools to ensure young people are prepared for and finding short-term jobs and longer-term career opportunities. In fact, Hilton has committed to helping at least one million young people by 2019 by connecting with them through our supply chain and volunteer programs, preparing them through our mentorship and training programs, or employing them directly. We’re already halfway to this goal thanks to initiatives like our Youth in Hospitality Month, which this year reached more than 100,000 youth through projects in 74 countries.
But because this issue is bigger than any one company or industry, and because it’s so multifaceted, we need to expand our response. This requires a broader commitment to helping young people become employable and employed. It also means sharing best practices and investing in research on what works so we can make faster and better progress. For example, we partner with IYF on The Global Youth Wellbeing Index, which summarizes data on youth wellbeing in key domains like education and employment to develop more effective solutions. Finally, it means investing more government dollars in the public-private apprenticeship programs that have been so successful in getting young people ready for work. Right here in the D.C. area, for example, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has launched an apprenticeship program as part of a comprehensive effort to help young Virginians join and succeed in the workforce. We need much more of this type of action.
As a father of six daughters, I see first-hand every day this generation’s energy and fresh ideas. It’s imperative that we work together to help youth advance. After all, we have a generation at stake, jobs to fill and economies to grow.