When the United Nations kicked off a year celebrating youth empowerment 12 months ago, no one could have predicted that young people would soon rise up across the Arab world, overthrowing leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. The leaders of the Arab Spring are driven by a desire for sweeping social, political and economic change – and high on their list is education that leads to decent jobs instead of unemployment.
As the UN’s International Year of Youth draws to an end on August 12 (International Youth Day), the need for skills that expand job opportunities – especially for young people on the margins of society – has become a hot topic worldwide. The next Education for All Global Monitoring Report, currently in preparation, will focus on the chronic mismatch between education systems and labour markets that plagues many regions of the world.
In a world where skills are in demand as never before, young adults who never attended school, who left early or who left without the cognitive and life skills needed to thrive in literate societies are particularly vulnerable. What kinds of policies are needed to give them access to employment-relevant training? The 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report will explore this question and many others.
Education failures are deeply implicated in the Arab world’s upheaval, as a widely cited post on this blog pointed out. Students end up with skills that are largely irrelevant to the needs of employers, feeding the region’s youth employment crisis, which is addressed by some of the young contributors to the latest issue of the UNESCO Courier.
In the United Kingdom, some commentators have criticized the government for downgrading the value of some vocational qualifications, following the recommendations of a report it commissioned from Alison Wolf, an expert on the links between education and the labour market.
In Canada, on the other hand, students are reportedly moving from academic university degrees to vocationally focused community colleges.
As Angel Gurría, the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, put it in an address in July, the key question in many kinds is how to shift the focus “from lifetime employment to lifetime employability.” The OECD, for its part, is developing a skills strategy to help countries address this question and design better skills policies.
The International Year of Youth team underlines the crucial role of education and skills in its fact sheet on youth employment, “The best labour market entry path for young people remains a good basic education, vocational training or higher education and initial work experience”.