Youth unemployment persists at unprecedented levels due to a skills gap.
Last month, the international community marked the first World Youth Skills Day on July 15, and this month we again celebrate International Youth Day on August 12.
In shining a light on today’s largest generation in human history, these days also spark discussion and debate amidst a global crisis leaving millions of youth jobless and disrupting and thwarting advanced, emerging, and developing economies alike.
Unemployment persists at unprecedented levels in no small part due to a skills gap – a mismatch between what the market demands and what today’s young workers offer.
In a CSIS report released earlier this year, I explored workforce issues more broadly and found the skills gap to be one of the higher hurdles in the employment race; in which no region of the world seems to be able to get ahead.
If they could, an economic win and growth dividend could be the bigger prize.
The Skills Challenge
“ The skills gap is one of the higher hurdles in the employment race in which no region of the world seems to be able to get ahead. ”
By 2025, it is estimated that the higher skills mismatch (ratio of underqualified workers to higher skill employment) will be 10 percent in Vietnam, 25 percent in the Philippines, and a staggering 65 percent in Indonesia.
Un- and underemployment is highly problematic in emerging and developing economies whose workforce is ill-prepared as they become progressively more service oriented.
An International Labor Organization (ILO) survey across 27 low- and middle-income countries worldwide found less than half of employees were considered well matched, while a third were found to be undereducated and nearly a fifth are overeducated.
In Africa – where the largest share of the world’s youth reside – more than half the experts surveyed by the African Economic Outlook identified the skills mismatch as a key obstacle for youth trying to enter the workforce.
Across Europe, roughly a quarter of youth remain unemployed while vacancies are on the rise, and one study shows between 25 and 45 percent of workers are either over- or underqualified for their jobs.
Taking Action – Seven Moves that Can Make a Difference
There is no single, easy, or immediate solution to the challenge. Moreover, what works in Ghana may not work in Greece.
“ More awareness of the skills and jobs predicament is bringing more urgency and more investment. ”
1. Link public and private sectors: Stronger connections between the private sector and educators are needed. Links could include employers having input into curriculum and teaching methods (integrating applied, “hands-on” methods), as well as playing a role in its delivery and creating more apprenticeship or on-the-job based learning and networking experiences that can create a more direct pathway to fulfilling long-term employment.
2. Know what’s needed: A better understanding of skills gaps and mismatches is critical, and this requires better assessment of labor markets and employer needs today and in the future and a response that better ensures the skills being taught align to such demands. Soft skills are the most talked about – but questions remain about how best to teach them or how to measure, recognize, or demonstrate you have them.
3. Include Youth: In business, you are more likely to succeed by knowing what your clients and customers want and responding to them. In designing programs, education systems and policies to better serve youth and advance their skills, and get them into jobs it is also important to ask youth what obstacles they feel they face, and involve them in decisions on what and how they learn.
4. Know what works: Just as there needs to be increased investment in skills data and assessment, there must be more investment in rigorous research within and across countries, regions, and varying contexts to determine what is needed for more strategic and effective approaches; and which interventions work and which don’t in terms of impact, cost-benefits, and being worthy of taking to scale.
5. Get Back to Basics: Despite progress toward universal primary school education among both boys and girls, alarming numbers (an estimated 25 percent) of young people in the developing world—especially young women and poor youth—cannot complete a sentence. We need to focus on learning outcomes – on the quality as much as quantity of schooling – and ensure youth have the basic reading and numeracy skills upon which job-related competencies can be built.
6. Think About Technology: Mobile, digital and connective technologies are changing the economic and social landscape worldwide. There is no doubt a need seize the opportunities in technology as an education and training delivery mechanism, as well as to scale the uptake among youth of digital skills that will position them for success in new types of jobs and in emerging sectors.
7. Make a Long-term commitment: The international community needs to be “in it” for the long term and commit to take action to strengthen the human capital of youth today and potential for tomorrow. The proposed inclusion of skills and lifelong learning in the post-2015Sustainable Development Goals could be the catalyst.
A version of this column originally appeared on CSIS July 14, 2015