Future of Work

Global youth expect better access to skills. Here’s how businesses can respond

Portrait of clothing designer Lara Khoury in her studio in Beirut. Are young workers finding the right support from employers to fill skills gaps?

Are young workers finding the right support from employers to fill skills gaps? Image: UN Women/Joe Saad

Bob Moritz
Global Chair, PwC
Carol Stubbings
Global Tax and Legal Services Leader, PwC
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  • A PwC survey of 5,506 young people in the labour market suggests young workers are the generation most likely to worry about the impact of technology on their job.
  • The survey paints a picture of polarization between young people who have highly valued skills in the labour market and those who do not.
  • Only 42% of young people who have skills in short supply say they are seeing their employer actively upskilling workers to fill skills gaps. How can the business community address this issue?

What do young people think about skills? As the largest generation of young people in history begins to enter the labour market, this question has never been more important. And yet, while there is growing momentum in the public and private sector around the need to strengthen skills provision, young people are often not at the table. The global momentum for public-private partnership around upskilling is hugely positive, but this is something that needs to be done with young people, not just for them.

As we mark World Youth Skills Day, we asked a global sample of 5,506 people aged 18-24 who are active in the labour market. The results, which are part of the Global Workforce Hopes and Fears survey, suggest a generation divided in their capabilities but united in their high expectations of employers.

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It is easy to imagine that young people’s familiarity with technology translates into confidence in their ability to navigate the increasing digitization of the world of work. Our data suggests this is not straightforwardly true. Familiarity with technology translates into concern about the risks, as well as awareness, of the opportunities. These young workers are the generation most likely to say they are worried about the impact of tech on their job. Moreover, when they look to employers for support, too often it’s not there. They are also the generation most likely to be concerned that their employers are not teaching relevant, technical, or digital skills.

The survey paints a picture of polarization between those young people who have skills that are highly valued in the labour market and those who do not. A quarter of respondents say they have skills that are in short supply in their country; a fifth feel they do not (and the rest are in the middle). The difference between these two groups is stark. Those with in-demand skills are significantly more likely to be satisfied with their job, say their manager listens to them, have a plan to advance their career and feel fairly rewarded financially.

Young workers are the generation most likely to say they are worried about the impact of tech on their job
Young workers are the generation most likely to say they are worried about the impact of tech on their job Image: World Economic Forum

On the one hand, this shows that the skills dividend is clear and present for individuals. On the other hand, it should concentrate minds on those who are being left behind and disempowered – a cohort made up disproportionately of women. We should perhaps be even more concerned about those who are not active in the labour market (who are not captured in this survey) and are likely to be falling even further behind.

Polarization based on access to skills is a problem for society, but it is also a problem for businesses. Businesses that rely on recruitment to bring in the talent they need face far greater challenges than businesses that are committed to upskilling. The need to upskill is intensified by the Great Resignation. When 27% of young workers surveyed are extremely or very likely to try to find a new employer in the next 12 months, businesses that fail to answer their employees’ need to grow in their careers are not going to hold on to their people and will struggle to attract new ones. There is no winning strategy that simply relies on tapping into the pool of people who already have skills; businesses need to grow that pool too.

In 2021, millions of Americans voluntarily left their jobs
In 2021, millions of Americans voluntarily left their jobs Image: Statista

At the moment, according to the survey, only 42% of young people who have skills in short supply say they are seeing their employer actively upskilling workers to fill skills gaps. There is significant scope for businesses to do more. Delivering on that ambition is not just about formal training. Leadership at all levels has a crucial role to play in coaching and developing young workers – both those who need to work physically together and those who can work remotely. Among young people who could potentially work remotely, a clear majority want to spend time in a physical workplace, not least so they can collaborate, socialize and learn.

But there is only so much an organization can do by itself. The business community also has a role to play in fostering a skills-focused environment through public-private partnerships. PwC’s report Reaching Yes, in collaboration with UNICEF and Generation Unlimited, identified three areas for focus. Firstly, skills mapping and identification are critical in building a pipeline of workers trained for an increasingly digital workplace. Current taxonomies and differing approaches are largely uncoordinated, rendering transferability difficult. Secondly, people need access to information and opportunities, so they can choose to learn the skills that are valuable in the labour market. Finally, there is a need for certification so employers can identify and reward skilled individuals, wherever they acquired those skills.

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Upskilling is just part of how employers must make their workplaces appealing and supportive for young workers. Our data also shows a strong desire for a workplace where they can be their authentic selves and contribute positively to society. More than two-thirds of young workers surveyed discuss societal or political issues with colleagues, a similar proportion says it is very or extremely important that they can be their “true self” at work. More than half have high expectations of corporate transparency around diversity and inclusion and impact on the climate. Skills are a crucial piece of the puzzle but not the whole picture.

Through our collaboration with UNICEF and Generation Unlimited, our support for clients worldwide and our commitment to upskilling our own people, PwC hopes to play a role in addressing the skills challenge. But the scale of the challenge requires action across the economy. The last 20 years have seen a significant deterioration in opportunities for youth. While the number of people aged 15-24 has grown 30%, International Labor Organization (ILO) figures suggest their participation in the labour force has decreased by approximately 12%. Improving the global skills system is hard work but is a vital step toward reversing this trend and ensuring this new generation of young people have the opportunities they deserve.

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