What future are we building for our young people, and for ourselves? Unskilled youths face a lifetime of lower earnings and weaker career progression, leading to wider inequality, exclusion and social division. They risk becoming a “lost generation” and an additional pressure on our aging societies.
The jobless numbers are high. Special among the young. Youth unemployment has risen sharply to over 16% in the OECD area since 2008, affecting more than 50% of all young women and men in countries, such as Greece and Spain . In other areas, the jobless numbers are higher. The share of youth not in employment, education or training is high. Unemployment has risen among 25-34-year-olds, particularly among people without secondary school educations.
Six years is a long time in a young person’s life. Today’s 18-year-olds were still enjoying childhood six years back. Yesterday’s 18-year-olds have become today’s young workers and job seekers.
There are several good reasons why a broad policy focus on young people makes sense, even in good times. They are digitally savvy for a start, and for many youths, working in an IT environment is second nature. This should make it all the easier for educators to gear up young people for a global economy in which knowledge-based capital and adding value to global value chains will be decisive.
Take also global mobility, which is fast becoming a new norm for millions of workers and students alike. Policies that engage with the cohorts of young people for whom the world is both a learning place and a job market stand a better chance of leveraging talent at home and abroad, and climbing higher on global value chains.
Today’s young people don’t need to be persuaded about the importance of fighting climate change, corruption or inequality. But the crisis and its mismanagement have undermined trust, breeding skepticism and detachment rather than the solidarity we all need. We must invest more in what holds our societies together: confidence, trust, solidarity and equal opportunities!
Labour market measures such as assuring adequate income support during unemployment, career guidance, relevant training and incentives for active job search is key features.
Apprenticeships, internships and entrepreneurship schemes will feature prominently, as will the need to address costs and regulatory barriers preventing young people, however talented, from working. Co-operation between employers and workers will be encouraged.
We should push for more responsive vocational education and training (TVET) systems that prepare young people for work and living, while helping them to build up self-confidence. Special attention must be afforded to assisting vulnerable groups, and to provide pupils from poorer backgrounds with better early childhood education and opportunities to improve their prospects later on.
We should engage with young people to nurture their potential, and to encourage the invigorating opportunities they aspire to. It is high time to invest in young people, and unlock a better and brighter future for them all.
(Photo: Daniel Frank)