Photo: 4th Annual Youth Assembly at the UN - Photo: 2016

Marketable Youth Skills – Today’s Challenge

Analysis by Dr Palitha Kohona

Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York.

COLOMBO (IDN) – As the youth component of the global population increases, a new problem of critical magnitude is slowly creeping up on policy makers, especially in developing countries.

Many developing countries, consistent with their commitments under the Millennium Development Goals, some with great difficulty, have provided basic literacy and health care to their populations. But providing employment to these millions who possess basic literacy has not been successfully addressed.

The key challenge today is the paucity of marketable skills among youth. As observed by Ahmed Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on youth, “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).”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has correctly identified marketable skills and jobs for youth as a priority. Many of the 17 SDGs and their targets specifically mention the need to develop relevant skills among the youth and adults, including technical and vocational skills, in order to facilitate employment and also entrepreneurship. An educated and skilled workforce is a key factor in attracting investments.

While the situation for all youth remains a challenge, the unfortunate tendency for young women to fall behind even further compared to their male counterparts due to the lack of employable skills and social attitudes has been highlighted frequently. Equipping young women also with employable skills will enhance the economic potential of a country dramatically.

The 2030 Agenda emphasizes, in particular, the need for a good education, good health care and good jobs.

Despite many countries, including in the global south, providing basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as health care to their youth, many of these youth do not possess the skills needed to function productively in a rapidly evolving world.

The modern skill sets required to operate in a high tech environment, including in the areas of management, environment conservation, ICT, banking, transport, etc, are simply not being provided in quantity. The result is a burgeoning, restless and disenchanted generation that could cause social and more serious problems, instead of being an economic asset.

The world today is home to the largest generation of youth in history. 90% of young people live in developing countries.

Unemployment affects more than 73 million young people around the world, with the jobless rate exceeding 50 per cent in some developing countries. Even some developed countries, especially in the south of Europe, have not been able to avoid the youth unemployment crisis. Many are still to recover from the financial crisis and youth have been its major victims.

The world will need to add 600 million new jobs by 2026 to accommodate the flood tide of youth entering the job market

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has said: “Empowering young people through skills development strengthens their capacity to help address the many challenges facing society….”. These multiple challenges include, inter alia, alleviating poverty, eliminating injustice, conserving the environment and controlling violent conflict.

Against this background, the United Nations has begun to dedicate considerable and timely attention to youth, their concerns and aspirations.

The UN World Youth Skills Day was celebrated on July 15 at the UN headquarters in New York by the member states, hosted by Sri Lanka and Portugal. Similar celebrations were held around the world.

The UN World Youth Skills Day resulted from a proposal made by the then president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during the UN General Assembly in 2013. Consequently, the UN adopted A/RES/69/145 tabled by Sri Lanka at the 69th session of the General Assembly, on 18 December 2014, dedicating July 15 as the UN Youth Skills Day.

As a means of focusing attention to the issue, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, established the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and appointed Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan as his first Envoy on Youth.

Alhendawi has 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 youth of today will be directly confronted by two major challenges. They will be required to generate wealth through employment or entrepreneurship, not only to support themselves but also a rapidly aging older generation. Employment for the young was not a major issue in developed countries in the past, but today it is. Without income generating employment, the youth demographic will be a burden on itself and a worry for the older generation.

The world needs a new focus on skills development and new thinking about education. Education must emphasize transformed training systems. Technical and vocational education and training stands at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Industrialization, so clearly emphasized in the SDGs, will require the new generation to be adequately prepared, as the reindustrialization process will rely mostly on high tech.

Some developed countries, especially the Northern Europeans, have well tested programmes for enhancing technical skills of youth. Youth are channeled into technical studies at an appropriate age. There are many lessons that could be learned from the education and training methods of these countries, especially in the context of North-South Cooperation.

Some developing countries have also succeeded in harnessing the youth component of their populations for economically productive endeavors. Their experiences could be shared in the context of South-South Cooperation.

Appropriate skills and education, could be a support for entrepreneurship, which in turn would generate more wealth and employment opportunities. The importance of equipping the girls and young women with the same skill sets must be emphasized. A significant proportion of the growing youth demographic, and the potentially unemployed, are women.

The private sector, if necessary in partnership with the state, can play a vital role in disseminating advanced skills to today’s youth. Companies and organizations should be encouraged further to supplement the gaps in the regular training programmes by offering full-time and part time unpaid, internships for recent graduates. While this has come in for some criticism, the training and experience acquired during internships make the youngsters more employable.

Youth inventors of new products and systems should be given training on patenting their developments. Many young inventors in developing countries will be incentivized by being provided assistance in obtaining protection for their new developments.

The importance of youth participation and representation in institutional political processes and policy-making has been highlighted in recent discussions. Youth need to be able to influence policy making. For far too long policy making for youth had little or no youth input. Unfortunately, youth participation in policy making around the world is relatively low. Voter turnout in elections tends to be significantly lower among youth than among adults, and the young are less likely to become members of political parties.

Sri Lanka was among the first to establish a youth parliament to provide training in political activity for youth. Many members of the national parliament are youth. Sri Lanka also hosted the World Youth Summit in 2014.

Youth have played a visible and prominent role in protests and have often been instrumental in bringing about changes in governance. One recalls the youth led unrest of the late sixties and, more recently, the Arab Spring. There is also a noticeable tendency for the young to move towards cause-oriented activism. Many youth are active on issues such as environmental protection, peace, disarmament, etc. Online and social media outlets and other web-based tools have 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.

Once the political changes have been achieved, the role of young people remains largely undefined and, in many cases, they remain excluded. The old order of the not so youthful tends remain in charge of policy making for youth.

In certain countries, where youth disenchantment is rife, especially for economic reasons, young people have often been coerced, or otherwise channeled to joining extremist elements. But it is a mistake to suggest that economic circumstances alone are the major factor that drives youth in to extremism. The causes of youth extremism need to be addressed as a separate exercise. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 October 2016]

Photo: 4th Annual Youth Assembly at the UN

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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