Forum Institutional

4 ways to put youth in control of their work future

Only one in four young people have the skills needed for the future of work and life.

Only one in four young people have the skills needed for the future of work and life. Image: UNICEF

Kevin Frey
Chief Executive Officer, Generation Unlimited
Andrew Kabera
Member, Generation Unlimited Young People's Action
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Future of Work

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  • Only one in four young people have the skills needed for the future of work and life.
  • While efforts are underway to address the gaps in infrastructure and training, youth are already taking steps to gain relevant skills now.
  • The public and private sectors need to work with young people towards skilling and connecting them to opportunities.

The world of work is changing rapidly, opening up new possibilities and creating new challenges for the largest youth cohort in history. Trends such as digitalization and the drive towards net zero are expected to generate millions of jobs, yet three in four young people do not have the skills needed for the future of work and life.

Given the absence of adequate infrastructure and training, coupled with the impact of COVID-19 on their learning, young people set to enter the workforce are unclear about their options and lack the skills to access emerging opportunities. The knowledge and talent gaps risk widening existing inequities and slowing down the green transition.

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Governments and businesses must do their part not only to bridge structural gaps, but also support youth who are channelling their energy to take these four definitive steps towards opportunities:

1. Discovering career avenues

It is daunting to feel unsure about making a living. A good place to start is understanding the sectors and types of jobs that are likely to be in demand, allowing one to chart out a skilling journey connecting to opportunities.

For instance, laser physics student Thembisile Mabele’s career took a different turn after finishing a skilling programme run by UNICEF-supported Girls Fly Programme in Africa (GFPA). She became a drone pilot, reassured that it was acceptable to pursue an unconventional path.

Reports such as the World Economic Forum's 'Future of Jobs' and the International Labour Organization's Global Employment Trends for Youth offer insights into the future of work. Interactive tools from LinkedIn – Career Explorer and Future of Skills – allow the exploration and shortlisting of interesting skills and pathways.

Businesses can help by dedicating employee hours to mentoring youth, sharing career journeys in public forums and funding career fairs hosted by schools or community centres.

2. Skilling up

Educational institutions are struggling to keep pace with the changing world. This should not deter young people. Their lived experiences are a strength and asset that can be leveraged to unlock opportunities.

Volunteering is a gateway for youth to learn communication, teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving at the same time as building social capital, resilience and a sense of civic responsibility. It is no surprise that volunteering contributes to nine of the Top 10 Skills of Tomorrow listed by the Forum. Daniel, from the Philippines, felt isolated until he decided to volunteer for a youth wellness helpline during COVID-19. The experience improved his confidence; today, he is a facilitator and social media advocate for the initiative.

Future of work: Young people need help acquiring the necessary skills for their work futures.
Young people need help acquiring the necessary skills for their work futures. Image: WEF

Internships and apprenticeships are ways to gain job-specific skills and potentially earn during training. Dipali from Bangladesh is a mobile phone technician and a role model for other girls in her community. She learned how to repair phones through an alternative learning-to-earning programme.

Free certified skilling resources can help improve prospects for young people. When it comes to emerging sectors such as green, organizations, including the United Nations, offer free or subsidized resources.

Digital youth marketplace Yoma, for instance, provides access to new skills and incentives for social impact tasks, compiling a user’s accomplishments in a verified digital CV. Timothy, a Yoma user from Kenya, credits this CV as the deciding factor that led to a job offer.

It must be acknowledged that access to skilling opportunities for youth is not equitable. A session on the future of work at the ITU Generation Connect Global Youth Summit in Kigali sparked a discussion on how encouraging youth in diverse contexts to participate in the digital economy requires both quality skills training and grassroots initiatives such as the One Laptop per Child scheme to bridge the digital divide.

Businesses and governments in tandem must lower entry barriers for young people from non-traditional learning environments, by providing access to job-specific training content, offering paid internships and apprenticeships, and standardizing digital skills accreditations.

This will help build an inclusive workforce. As LinkedIn estimates, a skills-first approach increases candidate pools for Gen Z workers more than tenfold.

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3. Proposing solutions to scale up

Young people confront environmental and socio-economic crises they are not responsible for. Yet many come forward as volunteers, advocates and entrepreneurs to protect the well-being of their planet, countries and communities.

A constant refrain from youth is progressing beyond speaking about their problems towards action-oriented solutions. Proposing and implementing innovative solutions for everyday problems helps the world – and builds a lasting ability to think critically, plan, communicate and network, among others.

Team Soigel from Egypt gained exposure to entrepreneurship via a youth innovation programme offering seed funding and mentoring support for solutions contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. They now sell organic fertilizer and gel made from recycled sugarcane waste to increase crop productivity and reduce water consumption.

Governments and organizations can accelerate scale and impact through investments in opportunities to nurture youth entrepreneurial skills with the potential to catalyze social change, economic growth and a more sustainable future.

4. Mobilizing other youth to take the next step

When young changemakers share their insights with peers, it builds a generation empowered to shape a better future.

Recommendations about a course or a volunteering opportunity hold more credibility when it is from someone in a similar context. Prashansa is a task force member of Passport to Earning in India, a solution to train and certify youth with free in-demand, job-ready skills at scale. Her efforts have encouraged more than 300 students to register for a digital productivity course; the 16-year-old even created troubleshooting WhatsApp groups and video tutorials.

It is concerning that many young leaders do not see themselves and their interests reflected in decisions made by governments and businesses. Setting up a youth advisory group or reverse mentoring are ways to make decisions more youth-centric. The Forum's Global Shapers and the Generation Unlimited Young People's Action Team (YPAT) are examples of initiatives set up for youth to be at the decision-making table.

Ultimately, businesses and governments must work together to identify and communicate in-demand skills and opportunities, so youth can channel their efforts towards tangible outcomes. Events such as the Transforming Education Summit and WEF Growth Summit are platforms to drive multisectoral investment in creating opportunities and a skilled future workforce.

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Forum InstitutionalYouth PerspectivesJobs and the Future of Work
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