• We polled 11,000 young people around the world and spoke to a small group of them about the future of work and skills.
  • Almost two-thirds are optimistic they will get the job they want.
  • They say the pandemic has bolstered their resilience, but that today's education system is not giving them the skills they need.
  • And that soft skills are just as important as technical abilities.

In a world of social disparities, where education has been severely disrupted by COVID-19 and the spectre of climate change looms, young people could be forgiven for being pessimistic about their futures. However, our new poll shows high levels of optimism about the chance of having the career they want. Young people know the challenges, but are confident they can overcome them.

Conducted through UNICEF’s U-report platform – a messaging tool that empowers young people to speak out on issues that matter to them – the poll found that 63% of the almost 11,000 youth across 136 countries who took the survey believe it is likely they will have the career they want in the future.

So why are many young people so positive? And what would the almost two in five young people who are pessimistic like to see to help them achieve their potential? On World Youth Skills Day, we spoke with a small group of youth to help understand what is driving this optimism and what challenges they are worried about. Here is what we learned from them.

Building resilience and adaptability through the pandemic

I wish life was a game which came with instructions, but unfortunately we don’t have that roadmap that can tell us exactly what we should do to get to where we want to be.

—Praise Majwafi, 22, South Africa

A topic we talked about was the impact of the pandemic on young people. Participants agreed that because the past year has been so challenging, it has taught them to manage through uncertainty.

“The pandemic has given us a crash-course in resilience and adaptability,” said 23-year old Sana Farooq, the co-founder of a social enterprise in Pakistan called The Red Code.

“Being flexible and adaptable is something we’ve all had to get used to,” added 22-year old Praise Majwafi, a social entrepreneur from South Africa.

Having been forced to manage through a very challenging year may have given many young people the confidence that if they can overcome this, they can overcome anything.

“In the face of hardship, we always have the possibility to stagnate or to thrive. And that’s the motto I wake up to every day; thrive to survive,” said 25-year old Andrea De Remes, co-founder of an e-learning education platform called Erandi Aprende, which provides resources, tools and educational programmes to get young girls aged 8-12 interested in science and technology. “I think the youth have the power, tools and opportunities to make that happen.”

Today’s education system isn’t fully meeting the needs of young people

I feel like I am learning all the theory and the content which is really important, but not the practical skills I will need later in the field, which is a huge miss.

—Ulises Brengi, 21, Argentina

When asked what would make the biggest difference for them to achieve their career goals, 32% of the young people who took the U-report poll selected job-ready skills programmes in school, ahead of things like access to on-the-job training (28%), access to relevant online resources (20%), and a good mentor (19%).

“The one thing that would make the biggest difference to me is to actually learn the skills that the job market will require from me once I graduate from university,” said 21-year old Ulises Brengi, a landscape architecture student from Argentina.

Insights like this should inform how education systems and youth programmes are designed and rolled out, working alongside policies designed to create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship.

Soft skills are just as important as technical abilities

We are feeling disconnected, and what does it come down to? It’s about communication. And more than anything for me, it’s about active listening.

—Andrea De Remes, 25, Mexico

Learning job-ready skills isn’t just about acquiring the technical abilities to do the job; soft skills are just as important. We all agreed that to be successful, young people will need to become lifelong learners and build strong soft skills such as leadership, creativity and communication.

“As an extrovert, I sometimes struggle to take a backseat and sit down and listen to people,” said Andrea. “That’s something I want to work on.”

Sana spoke about the importance of active listening, too. “Every day, I interact with people with disabilities, with community leaders, with women and with children. Listening to them is key as it’s the only way to begin to understand the problems they are facing,” she said.

The same principle applies when designing upskilling solutions for youth. The only way to create sustainable skills programmes is by involving young people themselves. By continuing to listen to them, businesses, governments, international organizations and other stakeholders can better understand the challenges young people are facing and engage them in the development of solutions.

Young people are the key to a better future

Praise shared a powerful vision for the future, one in which youth are at the centre of global progress. “In the hands of the largest generation of young people in history, the potential for global progress is unlimited,” she said. “And through purposeful engagement and collaboration, nothing can stand in our way.”

We couldn't agree more. And we are both committed to doing what we can to help young people succeed through our involvement in Generation Unlimited, a global multi-sector coalition aimed at helping 1.8 billion young people transition from school to work by 2030.

Let’s all work together to make Praise’s vision a reality.

You can watch highlights from our session here.

The session was just one expression of our shared commitment to helping address the growing gap between the skills people have and those they need for the new digital world. PwC and UNICEF are collaborating in support of Generation Unlimited to help upskill millions of young people around the world. Among the founding partners of the WEF’s Reskilling Revolution Platform, our organisations are contributing to the initiative to provide better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people by 2030.

PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details.