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Why young people must be at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery

Pointing. Happy and young two muslim women at home during lesson, studying near computer, online education. Culture, traditions, modern people. Watching at PC monitor, shopping or talking.

Online courses enable students across the MENA region access to skill development tools. Image: Freepik.

Majid Jafar
Chief Executive Officer, Crescent Petroleum
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Future of Work

This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit
  • Young people are three times as likely as adults over 25 to be unemployed.
  • As the global economy recovers, we must reskill them for the changing world of work.
  • Crescent Petroleum's partnership with Education For Employment shows that investing in skills development can promote youth employment.

Nearly 18 months since COVID-19 overturned the global economy, countries are gradually progressing towards recovery as mass vaccinations continue and companies begin planning a return to offices. The renewed optimism, however, is leaving out a whole generation of young people who find themselves unprepared for the new order and the changing economy that awaits them.

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As business leaders gather for the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit, focus must be placed on rebuilding skills for these young people. Many of these young people – including a large proportion of youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – have missed an entire year of school or graduated with few job prospects. They have missed internships or job training programmes that were rites of passage into modern work, and entry-level jobs remain few and far between. Worse still, the skills they have been taught in school may now be less relevant in the post-COVID world.

The onus is now on policymakers and business leaders to help retool and train these young people for the new world of work. Most companies now face the ironic challenge of a shortage of skilled candidates despite record youth unemployment. Governments and business leaders must put young people at the centre of the post-COVID recovery and ensure they have the skills for these jobs.

The onus is now on policymakers and business leaders to help retool and train these young people for the new world of work.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum.

Even when global growth was rising, an estimated 70.9 million young people languished in unemployment in 2017, and global youth unemployment stood at 13.1%, according to the International Labour Organization. The labour force participation rate of young people aged 15-24 has continued to decline since, and latest figures show a plummet since the pandemic.

Young people are three times as likely as adults (25-years and older) to be unemployed. This is partly because their limited work experience counts against them in entry-level jobs. The loss of training and internship opportunities during the pandemic will only worsen this situation. Labour underutilization in the early stages of a young person’s career is proven to have long-term effects on their standard of living and the pandemic is expected to severely dampen their prospects.

Reskilling for the future of work

Young people across the world say they are worried that new technologies – particularly robotics and artificial intelligence – will eliminate jobs and livelihoods. Despite being enthusiastic early technology adopters, young people also realize their jobs may be replaced by these technologies. In both developed and developing countries, there is widespread concern that such technologies may not lead to the creation of new, better paying jobs.

In 2017 the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 14% of the global workforce will need to be reskilled entirely, while 40% would require partial reskilling to continue in their current occupations. McKinsey surveyed US and European executives and found that up to 70% expected significant reskilling needs for their workforce by 2020.

Thriving after COVID-19: What skills do employees need? / McKinsey & Company
Thriving after COVID-19: What skills do employees need? / McKinsey & Company

McKinsey determined that four key skills will be critical for these workers in the COVID-19 recovery: the ability to operate in a fully digital environment; cultivating cognitive skills for redesign and innovation; reinforcing social and emotional skills for greater collaboration, management, and self-expression; and cultivating resilience and adaptiveness to be able endure expected COVID-19 aftershocks.

Fortunately, these skills can be learned and developed. Policymakers and business leaders can make a significant difference with targeted investment and capacity building in areas not normally taught in school. Reskilling and updated school curricula will be critical in the future of work, but so too will the development of soft skills not learned in school.

Supporting youth employment in the Middle East

Crescent Petroleum has long been committed to capacity building and skills development among MENA youth, and we have actively supported initiatives to improve young people’s hireability and prepare them for work. In January, we partnered with Education For Employment (EFE)'s Catalyst Fund, to double EFE's efforts to promote youth employment across the MENA region.

In the first quarter of 2021, EFE-Jordan, EFE-Palestine and EFE-Egypt have trained 2,075 young people, more than two-thirds of them women, with new skills and with job placement support. EFE’s skills training, career direction, and job placement programmes will help these young people become more hireable and to survive and thrive at work once employed. EFE’s training programmes now focus on providing the digital and human skills necessary for virtual employment and gig economy work, preparing youth to succeed in the new economy.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about shaping the future of the Arab region?

Young people in the Middle East consistently find themselves ill-equipped for the modern world of work. To address this need, in 2020 Crescent Petroleum launched a partnership with Edraak, the Arab World’s leading platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to develop a series of open and free online career readiness courses, with the aim of boosting the employability skills of young people across the Middle East region. We hope to reach 500,000 young people with the courses and are well on our way to achieving the target.

Online tools that empower young people

MOOCS are fast proving to be an efficient means of delivering training and education to large groups of people, and COVID-19 has only increased the acceptance of mass online training. The MOOC method of instruction, and its underlying technology, enables the delivery of a rapidly scalable suite of courses that can serve tens of thousands of students across the region tailored efficiently to prepare them in work skills.

We believe this is a critical tool that can make a dramatic difference in young people’s employability and we look forward to positive results. We are proud to have played even a limited role in empowering young people from across our region to build a brighter future for all.

Youth unemployment is the central challenge across MENA, and as we seek to rebuild after the pandemic, we must ensure young people have the opportunity to continue developing and meeting their full potential. We hope to enlist others to collaborate and work with us to make a lasting impact on young people’s lives. We must help them achieve their dreams in order to be able to realize our region’s and the world’s true economic potential.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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