• World Youth Skills Day on 15 July highlights the opportunities and challenges that young people face in employment, and this year's theme is 'Skills for a Resilient Youth'.
  • A quarter of the world’s workforce is made up of young people.
  • But 400 million young people are currently missing employment opportunities, while 270 million young people are out of work.
  • Training is shifting from an activity undertaken before employment, to a lifelong process integrated into work.

Young people make up around one-quarter of the global workforce. Like every generation before them, the current cohort of global youth will be concerned with finding employment. But they face an uncertain and changing landscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the global economy. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation are transforming the world of work. And political forces such as populism and protectionism present a challenge to globalization and free trade efforts.

Educational attainment and the risk of automation of workers' jobs.
The relationship between a worker's educational attainment and the risk their job will be automated.
Image: ILO

World Youth Skills Day, which falls on 15 July 2020, is organized by the United Nations to draw attention to the opportunities and challenges facing young people’s employment.

Missed opportunities

The number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) is on the rise. According to the UN, it grew from 259 million in 2016, to 267 million in 2019, and is expected to hit 273 million in 2021. In all, around 400 million people aged between 15 and 24 are missing out on employment opportunities.

NEET rate for young adults (aged 25-29) by level of educational attainment, global and by subregion.
NEET rate for young adults (aged 25-29) by level of educational attainment, global and by subregion.
Image: International Labour Organization

One of the main focus areas for World Youth Skills Day is to highlight the importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as a way of helping meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 – “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

“TVET can equip youth with the skills required to access the world of work, including skills for self-employment,” the UN says. But how easy it is to access TVET services may depend on where you live and your relative income status.

In developed and developing economies alike, those living in large towns and cities are more likely to be able to attend college or university than those living in remote, sparsely populated areas.

During lockdown, many institutions were able to pivot to online teaching. But many were not. Being able to participate in an online class is only possible for students who have a computer, reliable internet connection, and somewhere to study.

Training is essential

The pandemic has left 1 in 6 young people out of work, according to the International Labour Organization, while those still working have seen their hours drop by an average of 23%.

It’s little surprise then, that the theme for World Youth Skills Day 2020 is Skills for a Resilient Youth. This year's event features a series of talks, presentations and discussions on how the pandemic has impacted different sectors. There will also be a TVET forum on distance learning.

Writing in a recent blog post, President of Microsoft Brad Smith said: “The pandemic has shined a harsh light on what was already a widening skills gap around the world – a gap that will need to be closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery.”

Microsoft has also said that it expects 149 million jobs in the technology sector to be created over the next five years. Jobs in software development, data analysis and cybersecurity will be the most common.

“All this is made more urgent because of a challenge that has been two decades in the making,” Smith continues. “Namely the decline and then stagnation in employer investments in training.”

Training will be core to both the pandemic economic period, and more long-term changes in the workplaces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Unlike in past economic eras, training will become a lifelong rolling wave, not just an activity undertaken pre-employment. That’s according to author, historian and philosopher Professor Yuval Noah Harari.

Writing in Wired in 2018, Harari said: “From time immemorial, life was divided into two complementary parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. In the first part of life you accumulated information, developed skills, constructed a world view, and built a stable identity. In the second part of life, you relied on your accumulated skills to navigate the world, earn a living, and contribute to society.

“By the middle of the 21st century, accelerating change plus longer lifespans will make this traditional model obsolete. Life will come apart at the seams, and there will be less and less continuity between different periods of life. ‘Who am I?’ will be a more urgent and complicated question than ever before. This is likely to involve immense levels of stress.”

This sentiment is echoed by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who writes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent…the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”