Let’s face it. If we are ever going to successfully address the worldwide youth unemployment crisis, we need to act together — as a global community. That’s why last year, with the publication of Opportunity for Action, Microsoft and the International Youth Foundation called on leaders in the public, private, youth, and civil society sectors to join a “collective, massive and global” effort to expand job and livelihood opportunities for today’s youth.
Since then, there’s been a real sense of momentum on the issue, particularly among high-level policymakers. Just last week, the World Bank sponsored a lively roundtable discussion the day before its Annual Meetings in Washington, D.C. that echoed the urgent call for collective action around youth unemployment. Speaking to a packed hall filled with finance ministers, private sector executives, and development experts from around the world, the panelists at the “Boosting Shared Prosperity by Getting to Youth Employment Solutions” event offered concrete examples of practical and sustainable solutions to the current crisis. Yet the conversation kept returning to the need to act together to have real impact.
Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), called on the international community to invest more in vocational education — not at the expense of a quality primary education, but in addition to it. She also urged greater investments in “second chance” programs around the world that benefit those who have dropped out of or finished school but don’t yet have the skills to enter the workforce. Like many of the speakers, Gornitzka underscored the importance of bringing governments, the private sector, and civil society together to address youth unemployment.
Tunisia’s minister of development and international cooperation, Lamine Doghri, decried the lack of employment opportunities among his country’s young people, even those with college degrees.
“In the first revolution we brought freedom,” he said. “In the next revolution we need to create jobs.” He noted that the mentality of young people also needs to change, arguing that too many of them wait for government jobs and don’t consider the private sector, where greater opportunities are. “This is a problem of perception and trust, and we must change that mindset,” he said.
The Bank-sponsored session demonstrated a consensus around the need to promote market-based solutions so young people gain the life and employability skills that match the demands of the local economy. Panelists also underscored the need to teach young people the skills to create and build their own businesses. However, according to Jill Huntley, global managing director for corporate citizenship at Accenture, emerging entrepreneurs need more than access to capital. “We need to create an ‘ecosystem’ of support for them to succeed,” she said.
The role of the private sector to help address youth unemployment took center stage. For example, there are enormous employment opportunities in the hospitality sector around the world, especially for today’s youth, said Jennifer Silberman, vice president for corporate responsibility at Hilton Worldwide. This industry not only offers huge numbers of entry-level jobs, but extends its impact out into the community through an ever-expanding value chain — including food and beverage, transportation, and tour guiding.
“We need vocational programs to train young people in the service field, but we also need to partner with local NGOs to provide additional life and employability skills that are so important for success in these hospitality-related jobs,” Silberman said.
There were many innovative and practical solutions placed on the table that day that are already having an impact on young people and their communities. But for me, the most important conversations centered around the need to work in a global, coordinated multi-sector fashion to promote greater economic opportunities for today’s youth.
“We need to build a compact with each sector to take responsibility for reaching out and committing to work together,” said Sida’s Gornitzka. “There are so many emerging models out there — but we need to do more to bring the private sector into these discussions, as they represent the long-term solutions.”
I couldn’t agree more.