On March 27, the International Youth Foundation released “Opportunity for Action,” a global snapshot of current state of social and economic opportunities for the world’s young people. That same day, IYF, Microsoft, and The Atlantic marked the report’s release with a worldwide town hall discussion in Charlotte, North Carolina on “The Jobs & Economy of the Future: Educating the Next Generation to Compete.” In the report, Bill Reese, President and CEO of IYF, wrote, “We need concerted, organized action that will lift us beyond today’s array of pilot youth development programs to a place where significant investments are made in proven practices and programs that can then be taken to scale.” The key to achieving this, he says, is partnerships between youth, civil society, and the public and private sectors. Corporate, government, and civic leaders are becoming increasingly aware of this, but if they do not act quickly, entire generation will never recover from the lost opportunities of its youth.
IYF and Microsoft’s programs are empowering some remarkable young people from across the world to meet the challenges they face head-on. An IYF fellowship helped Naadiya Moosaje turn South African Women in Engineering (SAWomEng) into a program where 81 volunteers mentor and guide over 2,000 girls. A Microsoft and IYF-sponsored Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) in Kenya allowed Monica Njau to start a small business that allowed her to attend university, support her destitute family and cancer-stricken mother, land a job as an insurance sales representative, and, most impressively, support her sisters’ higher education as well.
To make the millennial generation’s lives better than those of its parents, we must create millions of new opportunities for people like Naadiya and Monica. Today, there are 1.2 billion people aged 15 to 24. In 2035, there will be 1.5 billion. There is an enormous gap between what education systems give the world’s youth and what the global labor market demands from them. In many rich countries, youth unemployment is the highest in living memory: 18% in America, 22.3% in Britain, 30% in Italy, and almost 50% in Greece and Spain. And yet, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the audience, “there are no good jobs for high-school dropouts” while “we have over 2 million high-skill jobs that we can’t fill.” In Brazil, 40% of firms have difficulty filling vacancies due to Brazil’s low-quality education outcomes. In the Middle East and North Africa, almost 25% of youth are unemployed in official statistics (the reality is probably even worse). The report estimates that 600 million jobs must be created over the next decade to make up for the jobs lost to the economic crisis.
Education alone cannot provide a comprehensive solution for youth unemployment. While higher education improves young Latin Americans’ employment opportunities, university-educated youth in the Middle East and North Africa are actually more likely to be unemployed than their less-educated peers (especially in Morocco and Tunisia). Across the region, civil service jobs are declining, the private sector is struggling, and rates of female participation in the labor market are stagnating. These problems demand a fundamental re-ordering of the region’s political economy and education system, but there are few signs, even in post-revolution Tunisia and Libya, that such a process is taking place.
“Opportunity for Action” concludes with an action plan that everyone can play a role in. The report calls on policymakers to reduce barriers to youth entrepreneurship, to create new programs and incentives for training, internships, and apprenticeships for disadvantaged youths, and to ensure high-quality secondary and tertiary education that matches the labor market’s demands. It urges NGOs and bilateral and multilateral donors to evaluate program outcomes rigorously, to support demand-driven skills training programs, and to invest in public-private partnerships that turn successful, proven practices into large-scale, sustainable programs. Lastly, it encourages young people to seek career guidance, to be continuous learners, to let go of preconceived notions about livelihood opportunities, and, most importantly, to not give up.
To watch the video of the town hall event, please visit the Atlantic’s website or watch the embedded video below.