• Young people are facing disruption to education and job opportunities and high rates of unemployment owing to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Investing in young people to help tackle skills shortages could provide a future-proofed way to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19;
  • Job-creation and training programmes for young people must address the immediate aftermath and systemic, long-term challenges faced by young people, including climate change and inequity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended and laid bare the inequities in our global economic and social systems. It has made clear that some of the most vulnerable populations and undervalued professions in our society are not only the hardest hit during times of crisis but also the ones we rely upon the most.

Across the globe, the pandemic has had a particularly severe impact on youth employment owing to disruptions to education, job layoffs and income losses and increased barriers to job market entry. For those young people who are still pursuing education, the pandemic is likely to result in unprecedented new inequalities upon graduation.

There are more young people in the world than ever before and they are critical members of the global society driving forward ideas, innovations and movements. Youth are also on the frontlines of other major economic transformations across the global economy, including digitalization, automation, climate action and others. We believe in the opportunity for a Great Reset – our society has the capacity to rise to this challenge. If we seize this, much as we did in the aftermath of World War II, we know a better, more equitable, compassionate, prosperous global economy is possible.

The numbers on youth employment are in

According to the COVID-19 Risks Outlook Report, 49.3% of senior risk experts believe high levels of structural unemployment, especially among youth, is one of the most likely consequences of the pandemic; 43.8% believe this to be an area of great global concern.

Top 10 most likely consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
Top 10 most likely consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
Image: World Economic Forum

The recent ILO survey on youth unemployment also finds that youth around the world have been severely and disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, especially young women. More than one in six young people are out of work as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 178 million youth are employed in sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic and are facing layoffs and 131 million of these young people are informally employed.

The survey also finds that young women are “more likely to experience significant challenges in combining their job with an increased amount of unpaid care work.” Furthermore, for many young women who already face various forms of economic marginalization, there could be compounding challenges or disenfranchisement.

Skills-proofing for the future of work

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing one of the greatest workforce challenges of the 21st century: the skills gap for young workers in the global economy. Skills-proofing will be essential as the speed of change and disruptions continue to transform the future of work. Pragmatic and effective mechanisms will be required to create new opportunities that meet the evolving technological and economic contexts and demands.

As the latest Jobs of Tomorrow Report from the World Economic Forum notes, demand for digital and human factors will continue to rise, resulting in a greater demand for care economy and green economy jobs, in particular, among other clusters of professions. It is important to ensure that young people are equipped and empowered to combat long-standing challenges to our society, particularly the threat of climate change.

Call to action: prioritizing youth in economic recovery efforts

An urgent and comprehensive response to tackling youth unemployment during COVID-19 must be a crucial aspect of countries’ economic recovery strategies. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the foundations of our global economy, prepare youth to thrive in the future of work, generate new widespread prosperity and lay the groundwork for a safer, cleaner, greener and more equitable world. Investing in and re-skilling people now can help us get them back to work immediately while building more just, inclusive and resilient economies.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

In light of this, Canadian Shapers have penned an open letter to the Government of Canada urging the government to expedite investments in youth training and upskilling as a crucial part of its COVID-19 recovery strategy. This Reskill2Recover initiative, lays out the rationale for this investment and breaks it down into three recommendations:

  • Invest in future-proofed and essential skills for youth entering the workforce and people whose work is in transition;
  • Invest in sector-specific skills and technical training to address the most pressing problems facing our society, particularly climate change;
  • Invest immediately in job-creation programmes.

As the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting repercussions on youth, such actions at the state or national level can help bring forward inclusive youth voices. Young people are crucial to economic recovery efforts. Pushing our national institutions to provide new opportunities for those who have been squeezed out of the job market and address systemic long-term challenges, like climate change and inequality, is paramount to the Great Reset.