Youth unemployment is a global priority — especially in areas like the MENA region. We need to prepare students for the 4th Industrial Revolution by giving them the skills they need to keep up with technologically advances.
A global race for talent is on, as executives seek to succeed in an increasingly fast-paced, tech-driven world economy. The importance of developing the right skills to remain globally competitive was highlighted in the latest GE Global Innovation Barometer, with executives citing talent as the top priority for innovating in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Yet not everyone is competing on a level playing field, with some regions — such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — failing to equip their youth with the skills they need. Less than a quarter of executives surveyed from Algeria felt graduates had the talent and skills the private sector is looking for.
Capitalizing on the youth dividend in MENA and other developing areas of the world is an “urgent global priority,” says Jamie McAuliffe, president and CEO of Education For Employment (EFE), the leading youth employment organization in the MENA region. For every percentage point of improvement in youth employment, global consumption increases by $72 billion a year, he notes, citing an estimate by the World Economic Forum. In MENA alone, the International Labour Organization estimates that cutting youth unemployment in half could boost economic growth by $25 billion by 2018.
As vice chairman of the WEF’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Jobs, McAuliffe is pressing for action from the global business and policy leaders attending this week’s annual WEF forum in Davos. “We have been building momentum towards broader, collective action for several years,” he says in an interview. “At this point, we are beyond ‘raising awareness’ – now is the right time to make commitments that are tied to real outcomes for youth, such as job placements or apprenticeships after the completion of training programs.”
In the interview, he discusses the opportunities and challenges of addressing youth unemployment, and the importance of rapid skilling and re-skilling to keep pace with technological advances:
As a leading speaker at Davos on the jobs of the future, what is your message to global leaders on why more action needs to be taken to help young people get the skills they need to compete in today’s job market?
My message is simple: youth unemployment is an urgent global priority, and there is a tremendous social and economic upside to addressing it rapidly and at scale. The worldwide employment landscape is very different for young people today than it was for decision-makers in previous decades. But there is good news: there are tangible steps that the public and private sectors can adopt to address the near-term crisis, and diminish its long-term effects. We cannot let the complexity and scale of the challenge create paralysis; these factors should catalyze action at the highest levels — youth, businesses, societies and economies have much to gain.
You’ve used the phrase, “everyone a change-maker.” What do you see as the potential for the young people of today to make a difference in society and the economy?
Graduates of EFE often tell me that a job is not “just a job.” A job is dignity and hope. It provides the power and the resources to act in the interest of others — including siblings and parents, community members and society more broadly. My best days at EFE are those when I learn of a young woman in Morocco whose paycheck purchased her family’s first computer, or a young man in Egypt who goes from his office to his former university to give mock interviews and job search advice to current students. These youth are now empowered to be change-makers in their families and societies.
What are some of the most promising strategies for the region to capitalize on its youth dividend?
We need to focus on outcome-oriented education and training models. Measuring job placement, retention and promotion rates among other metrics is a good place to start. For a more equitable and long-lasting impact, it is also crucial to focus on populations, such as young women, who may face particular challenges entering and staying in the labor force. Some fixes are concrete and relatively simple. For instance, a study we released with Bayt.com and YouGov suggested that tangible approaches like salary negotiation training, providing transportation to workplaces and allowing flextime could help young women overcome barriers to employment.
How can technology and social innovation help to address the problem of youth unemployment?
At the most direct level, technology and social innovation unlock a new range of job possibilities for which young people are particularly well-suited: we are seeing a significant increase in entry-level talent in areas like ICT and e-commerce. The MENA region has seen an astronomical rise in internet penetration since 2003, according to Strategy&, and the ICT industry there could generate nearly 4.4 million jobs over the next five years. Even companies that do not traditionally fall into the “tech” category — such as retailers or SMEs — are creating job opportunities for youth who are skilled in online community management.
EFE has seen the potential for technology to enable disconnected groups to enter the formal labor market online, for example those for whom mobility is constrained — such as Palestinian youth, youth from rural Tunisia, and young women in more traditional and conservative areas. Technology is also changing how we reach youth in the classroom and beyond. Blended learning — combining in-classroom teaching and experiences with online components — is enabling educators to reach more students. As these platforms scale, the workforce development field will need to carefully monitor their efficacy, and their impact on soft skills acquisition.
(Top image: Courtesy of EFE-Egypt)
All views expressed are those of the author.