On International Youth Day, this blog looks at the continued importance of keeping the spotlight on better skills development for young people.
In 2012, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report analysed the youth skills gap and reported that it had reached new highs in the wake of an extended global financial downturn. According to this specially themed Report, Putting Education to Work, 200 million young people had not completed primary school and lacked skills for work. This International Youth Day we must revisit this theme; it’s as relevant today as it was two years ago.
As International Labour Office (ILO) phrased it in their recent report on youth employment, ‘it’s not easy to be young and in the labour market today’. Reaching record levels, as many as 73 million young people worldwide were estimated to be unemployed in 2013. In addition to being unemployed, as detailed in our 2012 Report, over a quarter of young people are trapped in jobs that keep them on or below the poverty line. Deleterious patterns of high youth unemployment and underemployment, as well as a mismatch in skills for decent work are among the long term effects of the economic crisis, which continue to be seen in many parts of the world.
The number of young people experiencing the impact of slow economic growth is at an all-time high. Currently, they make up 18% of the population in developing countries; and constitute 12% of the population in developed countries. Large demographic bulges in the youth population are especially acute in the least developed countries. These patterns create an enormous demand for secondary education and relevant skill training. Given the stall in the reduction of out of school children in sub-Saharan Africa, as our latest paper with UIS showed, even more young people will enter the labour market without basic skills, and left ill-equipped to find secure, well-paid work.
This burgeoning crisis has not gone unnoticed. The 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report was released at the same time as the calls to raise youth voices in policy discourse, and the extent of the skills gap became common parlance. The combination of these two factors resulted in youth having more influence, which they used to make it plain and clear in the UN-led My World survey that their top-priority for the post-2015 agenda was ‘a good education’; ‘Better job opportunities’ was their forth.
We are encouraged, therefore, to see the extent to which skills have made it into the latest list of UN and EFA development goals. These policy ambitions recognize lessons learnt from 2000-2015 period: first, an education that leaves young people with few or irrelevant skills to their name is not worth much; and second outcome-oriented targets, rather than input-related ones, are more powerful drivers of substantive policy reform.
The importance of these lessons for the youth skills gap can already be seen in several countries. Just last week, a new curriculum was announced in Nigeria, containing not only core subjects, such as Mathematics, English and ICT, but also trades such as fisheries, catering or welding. India is on the verge of creating a new department looking solely at skills development for youth. Pakistan set up a youth-skills development scheme this year, offering 25,000 training slots across the country. The pan-African Ministerial conference on youth skills development last month also concluded with three concrete goals regarding inter-regional cooperation to increase training opportunities for young people. Hot off the press is the news that the US are going to be investing $33 billion into Africa; money that would help set up new leadership centres and online training for tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs across Africa.
Today is International Youth Day. It’s a day when this subject must rise to the top of the news. It is also a day when we ask why this subject is not top of the news more often. As the international community creates a new set of post-2015 policy priorities, clearly articulated youth targets and indicators are urgent. Indeed, the skills gap will be the recurrent theme for many years to come.