Published on Jobs and Development

Supporting the development of today’s young people

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A young man working in the food industry in Senegal. A young man working in the food industry in Senegal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant setbacks for the prospects of young people all over the world, but particularly in developing countries. Even before the COVID crisis there were significant challenges, with a third of all young people globally not in work, education, or training. 

The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, both within and across countries, hitting women and youth especially hard. More than a billion young people have been affected by school closures. For many young people and their societies, the disruption may have lifelong consequences. Recent estimates suggest that a global school shutdown of five months will reduce lifetime earnings by as much as $10 trillion. Overall, up to 255 million full-time jobs were lost globally in 2020 and the job losses are expected to expand further in 2021, resulting in a more severe impact than experienced in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

At the World Bank, we are taking fast, comprehensive action to fight the impacts of the pandemic. Between April 2020 and June 2021, WBG financing commitments reached over $150 billion, including an unprecedented $12 billion response to improve social protection and create employment opportunities in 56 developing countries, including 15 countries facing fragility and conflict. These projects will benefit over one billion individuals worldwide. In Nepal, for example, World Bank financing is being used to provide temporary income support and temporary employment opportunities to young people who have lost or been unable to find employment.

Protecting and investing in young people builds human capital, which is key to enabling them to realize their full potential, for sustaining long-term economic growth and preventing millions of people from falling into poverty.  The pandemic threatens to reverse a decade of gains in human capital worldwide due to school closures, job losses, and interruptions to routine health care.  This erosion could undermine economic recovery and prosperity for a generation.  Protecting and investing in people must be the top priority for countries to cope with the ongoing crisis, restore setbacks to human capital, and strengthen the education, health, and social protection systems that will lead to a more resilient recovery.

Action needs to be timely: the longer young people are unemployed, the harder it is to get back into productive employment.  To address the growing levels of stress and anxiety experienced by young people, the World Bank is supporting projects which provide psychosocial support and the creation of safe spaces where young people  can express their concerns. We also support services for young entrepreneurs and the self-employed, for example with emergency cash in the short term as well as medium-term support to increase digital capacity and online presence.

To empower youth for a productive future, countries must prepare members of the “COVID-19 generation” for a changing and uncertain world.  Young people must be provided with skills that are in demand in the labor market, help them adapt and take advantage of new opportunities, and enable them to secure a livelihood by launching their own businesses where jobs are unavailable. The pandemic has intensified the pace of change in the labor market and the demand for new skills. Education and training systems must evolve in response, to make sure the supply of skills remains relevant and forward-looking. It may be that governments should prioritize the planning, financing, and oversight of training programs, and engage private sector providers in their design and delivery. Demand-led training can also combine the classroom with on-the-job experience and apprenticeships. The World Bank-supported Kenya Youth Empowerment Program showed that those young men and women who had been placed in internships were more likely to be in paid work a year later.

As we know, vocational and technical training by themselves are no longer sufficient: in the 21st century, employers require creative workers who can solve problems and engage in teamwork.  Jobs are evolving from routine tasks with fixed and explicit rules to open-ended tasks that require flexibility, creativity, and judgment. These ostensibly "soft" skills – the skills one needs to learn – also enable people to adapt and deal with adversity. The acquisition of these non-technical skills begins in early childhood and continues throughout one's life. Happily, while socioemotional skills contribute to success in school and beyond, recent reviews have confirmed the effectiveness of both school-based and out-of-school programs to help young people build these skills.

Governments, the private sector, and the global community must target investments and services to young job seekers and entrepreneurs to ensure that the pandemic does not leave debilitating and lasting scars on this generation of young people or on the economy. The Youth Development Index clearly shows parallels between progress on youth development and advances toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Our commitment to support the healthy development of today's young people will determine our ability to engender sustainable and broad-based growth and the durable escape from poverty, as well as to prevent and endure future crises such as COVID-19.


This article was originally published in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Global Youth Development Index Report.


Mamta Murthi

Vice President for Human Development

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