Education and Skills

Millions of young people need better job skills. Here's how businesses can help

Globally, six in 10 children fall short of minimum proficiency in reading and maths. Image: Tamarcus Brown

Henrietta H. Fore
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Globalization, technology, expanding webs of trade and commerce, automation and the rise of artificial intelligence are changing labour markets at a rapid, uneven pace around the world. As a global community, we must ask ourselves: are we preparing the world’s young men and women for this changing world of work? Are they getting the education and skills they need for the jobs that are available? And - crucially - for those jobs that haven’t been invented yet?

These are important and consequential questions. There are 1.8 billion people aged between 10 and 24 on the planet. Every month, 10 million young people reach working age, ready to begin productive lives. Some will continue with education, others will enter the workforce.

What will they find?

They will discover that the world is not creating 10 million new jobs every month. There are 71 million unemployed young people worldwide, and a further 156 million working young people live on less than $3 per day.

They will find a dramatic mismatch between the skills they possess and the jobs that are available. In other words: yesterday’s skills don’t match today’s job market. In the poorest countries, they will find that the vast majority of opportunities are limited to the informal sector. In high-income countries, they will find that technology and low-cost production have erased jobs, closed factories and narrowed opportunities.

Many young people will find that they lack the foundational skills they need to succeed. Globally, six in ten children and adolescents do not achieve minimum proficiency in reading and math, and 200 million adolescents are out of school worldwide.

If they’re girls, they will meet additional barriers. Discrimination and societal norms that lock girls out of education and job opportunities also give rise to early marriage and pregnancy, which dramatically reduce young women’s ability to “learn and earn” as they become adults. This is an injustice and a tragic waste of potential.

Have you read?

This skills crisis paints a bleak picture, not just for young men and women looking for opportunities and a better future, but also for entire countries and regions looking for economic growth and social stability. However, this picture is not inevitable. We can change it, if we work together to close the skills gap in a number of areas.

Young people need foundational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, ideally through 12 years of quality education.

They need transferable skills, such as problem-solving, confidence-building, team-building and communication.

They need job-specific skills, such as carpentry, coding, accounting, green technology, modern agriculture or engineering.

They increasingly need entrepreneurial skills, especially in low-income countries, where the informal sector is dominant.

And they definitely need digital skills to participate in the global economy, which is driven by information and communications technology.

Without these skills, millions of young people will be either unemployed or trapped in low-skilled work. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will pass them by.

Of course, governments have a role to play. They must invest in improving the quality, relevance and gender-responsiveness of education, so that young people can get the foundational and transferable skills they need before they enter the workforce.

But we also need businesses to join the effort. Here are four ways that your company can help close the skills gap, and give young people the ladders of opportunity they need to reach their potential.

1. Increase the quality and number of the apprenticeships and mentorships you offer

Seek out new opportunities in your operation to train young people from your communities, particularly disadvantaged youth. Offer hands-on mentorships and apprenticeships, combined with training in the specific skills that your business needs. By opening your doors to these young people, you're not only shaping tomorrow’s workforce, you’re identifying potential talent for your business in the years ahead.

2. Partner with local schools and community groups to improve education, while strengthening the 'school-to-work' transition

Can you work with local schools to build new programmes focused on the skills of greatest need, whether carpentry or coding? Can your employees organize events at schools or community centres to provide advice and share their own career paths with young people? Can you develop talent strategies that match promising young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly girls, with opportunities in your business?

3. Champion gender equality and family-friendly policies

Ensure that your policies and practices support women and parents in your workplace, and that young women have a voice in the decision-making process at every level. Young women deserve a chance to contribute, and your business deserves to benefit from their skills and ideas.

4. Join Generation Unlimited, our new global partnership to identify and scale-up solutions

We need your expertise, innovations and market reach as we link young people with quality education, skills and on-the-job training. Do you have any products, technologies or innovations that could be modified or scaled up to connect young people to education or new skills? Let us know at

The skills gap will not close by itself. Let’s work together to give young people the foundational, transferable and job-specific skills they need.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Education and SkillsFourth Industrial Revolution
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