By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) - The World Youth Skills Day on July 15 and the release on the same day of the World Youth Report on Youth Civic Engagement, compiled by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) have brought into focus the attention the United Nations has begun dedicating to the youth, their concerns and aspirations.
The World Youth Skills Day at UN headquarters in New York was organized by the Permanent Missions of Sri Lanka and Portugal to the United Nations, the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNESCO, and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.
The importance of turning the spotlight on youth is underlined by the fact that the world today is home to the largest generation of youth in its history, with 90% of young people living in developing countries and with estimates suggesting that labor markets will need to add 600 million new jobs by 2026 to accommodate changing global demographics.
Hardly noticed by the wider public, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched the Youth Strategy 2014-2017. And three years ago, UN Chief Ban established the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and appointed Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan as his first-ever Envoy on Youth and as the youngest senior official in the history of the organization.
Alhendawi assumed his position on January 17, 2013 with a mandate to harmonize the UN system efforts on youth development, enhance the world body’s response to youth needs, advocate for addressing the development needs and rights of young people, as well as to bring the work of the United Nations with and for youth closer to them. The Envoy on Youth also acts as the advisor to and the representative of the Secretary-General on youth related matters.
Speaking at the high-level World Skills Day, Alhendawi said: “Surveys are showing low levels of achievement in basic literacy, numeracy, and digital skills among younger generations. If we really want to turn the 2030 Agenda into reality, our work has to start from the world’s youth. And ensuring they experience a smooth transition into the job market will be one of the key factors to determine both their success and the achievement of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).”
Skills and jobs for youth feature prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are explicitly mentioned in many of the 17 SDGs and their targets. In particular, SDG target 4.4 calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills – including technical and vocational skills – in order to encourage employment and entrepreneurship.
With this in view, the UN Secretary-General said in a statement: “Empowering young people through skills development strengthens their capacity to help address the many challenges facing society, including poverty, injustice and violent conflict. There is no better investment than helping a young person to develop their abilities. Successful skills programmes link young people with opportunities to gain experience and jobs.”
Opening the high-level event, the President of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft said: “Far too often, the incredible potential in the world’s youth population is wasted by extreme poverty, discrimination or lack of skills and information. Skills development is a primary means of enabling young people to make a smooth transition to work, and education and training can make the difference for youth between poverty and employment.”
Jorge Sequeira, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “We need a new focus on skills – we need new thinking about education – we need transformed training systems. With technical and vocational education and training standing at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNESCO now is taking this forward and launching . . . a new Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, to support Governments in sharpening their training systems, to equip all youth and adults with skills for employment, decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning.”
The Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Gilbert Houngbo, said: “We know education and training are key success factors in increasing youth’s access to decent work. Schools and businesses, working together, can provide skills development and workplace-based learning for the future of work. In this regard, we are pleased to announce that the GE Foundation, with ILO’s technical support, has launched a unique Global Youth Internship Programme . . . for 16 to 18 year olds to inspire a new generation of innovators for a better world.”
This was the second celebration of World Youth Skills Day since the adoption by the General Assembly in December 2014 of a resolution calling for the day. It is also the first celebration since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in September 2015.
The event took place against a backdrop of increased activity at the UN-level aimed at improving employment conditions for youth. In February 2016, the UN launched its Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.
The Initiative is a unique partnership among governments, the UN system, businesses, academic institutions, youth organizations and other groups to scale-up action to create new opportunities for quality employment in the global economy and assist young people in developing the skills they will need to succeed in today’s job market.
The initiative will coordinate employment and economic policies for job growth and social inclusion and protect labor rights to ensure that young people receive equal treatment.
According to a United Nations report on youth engagement released July 15, the responsibility for finding solutions to the problems affecting young people – such as unemployment, low representation in political processes, and social exclusion – lies largely with Governments.
The report notes that unemployment affects more than 73 million young people around the world, with the jobless rate exceeding 50 per cent in some developing countries. In low- and middle-income countries, underemployment in the informal sector is considered the primary employment challenge among young people.
In addition, inadequacies in skills and education, the lack of support for entrepreneurship, and diminishing labour rights have negatively affected youth economic engagement.
The report warns that an increasing number of companies and organizations are offering, often full-time and unpaid, internships for recent graduates. In many of such incidents, internship is not necessarily linked to specific educational outcomes, but replaces the work of regular paid workers.
“In addition, it is now not uncommon for young people to undertake numerous back-to-back unpaid or low-paid internships as they struggle to gain a foothold on the career ladder,” the report says.
“Far from better preparing young people for economic life, unpaid internships have the potential to leave youth in an economically more vulnerable position than they would be in had they never undertaken the internship in the first place.”
As such, many young people are calling for stronger regulations and the development of benchmarks for quality internships to avoid exploitation, the report says.
Governments often promote youth entrepreneurship while failing to stimulate wider employment creation through robust strategies, “unfairly” shifting much of the responsibility for job creation from the larger public and the private sector to young people.
Youth participation and representation in institutional political processes and policy-making around the world is relatively low, according to the report. Voter turnout in elections tends to be significantly lower among youth than among adults, and young people are less likely to become members of political parties.
Although youth have played a visible and prominent role in demonstrations and protests and have often been instrumental in bringing about changes in governance, the role of young people following political transition remains largely undefined and, in many cases, they remain excluded, the report notes.
In countries experiencing power vacuums, young people can often be coerced, or otherwise forced out of economic necessity, to join violent groups and extremist elements.
The availability of ever-growing numbers of online and social media outlets and other web-based tools has played a huge role in bolstering young people’s activism and participation, but the extent to which cyber activism translates into sustained lifetime political engagement is unclear.
While young people are gradually moving away from institutionalized structures, such as electoral activities and political parties, they are moving towards cause-oriented activism.
Although the extent of their participation has varied, young people around the world have always been active at the community level through volunteerism, peacebuilding efforts and sporting activities.
Community engagement often provides young people with their first experience of active participation in a cause or activity, serving as a gateway to further and broader engagement throughout life as well as opportunities for leadership building. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 July 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: World Skills Day at the UN headquarters in New York on 15 July 2016. Credit: UN.