As we settle into the 21st century, the world population is taking a dramatic shift. Today, we have the largest ever number of individuals transitioning from childhood to adulthood. At 1.2 billion, youth aged 15-24 years make up 16% of the global population. This number is expected to rise further as developing countries plow their way into the industrialisation process.
It is essential that countries focus their resources on uplifting the younger generation, not only because of their large numbers and untapped potential but also because they are the future of our societies. Today’s adolescents find themselves in a unique situation, at a pivotal point in history. They have unprecedented power at their fingertips with technology but they are in the middle of a storm, battling the climate crisis, poverty and most recently the COVID-19 situation. It is vital that we enable them to utilize this power to navigate the storm around them. They have the power to make change.
One of the biggest problems facing today’s generation is the scarcity of job resources and high unemployment. This stems across the developed and developing world alike, illustrating itself in different degrees of causes and consequences. The OECD finds that fewer millennials fall in the middle class bracket and will be the first generation to live worse off than their parents.
This global youth unemployment is often seen as a result of the explosive population growth. However, it can actually be attributed to two key areas: school dropouts (concentrated in developing countries) and educational disconnect in institutions (concentrated in developed countries).
Many poorer regions of the world experience high rates of school dropouts at key transition points in education (middle and high school) to support their families through poverty. These young adults grow up to be in labour based, low paying jobs and are never able to uplift their income (the typical poverty cycle). Many eventually end up unemployed or in the NEET1 (Not in Education, Employment or Training) category. This is an icky situation for countries to be in. High NEET rates lead to demotivation and more disconnect of youth from society. This leads to a cycle of lower opportunity and lower innovation levels.
Many countries fail to attract investment, grow their economy and improve population welfare. This leads to political discontent with rioting in many slums in underdeveloped regions of the world and high crime rates. The informal economy is often fueled by the entrance of youth in poverty, unable to find employment. In Africa alone there are 10-12 million people entering the job market each year, however, only 3 million end up in formal employment.
Growing up in developed regions doesn’t serve as an escape from the complexity of entering work for this generation either. The competition for jobs is increasing worldwide, this has led to high requirement criteria in order to be employed. People require more qualifications than before but the price of these qualifications remain the same or are even higher than before. In order to get decent paying jobs, young adults and their families have to plough huge amounts of money into universities, exams, and degree certifications. Most of these don’t even train for the market required skills. There is an educational disconnect between the availability of and profiteering of technology. Universities, schools and colleges do not design curriculums with the needs of the market in mind. Many students who have spent years in the modern education system are financially illiterate. The ability to manage money, build assets and save for the future is indispensable in order to earn and sustain a livelihood. Youth are often unable to develop and pursue entrepreneurship opportunities. About ⅔ of youth led enterprises fail primarily due to inadequate finance and lack of business management skills. In South East Asia, for example, only 4% of youth borrow money and only 20% save money in formal financial institutions. The low rate of employment ventures by our younger generations means that most still live with their parents today. They face lack of affordable housing and, in both developing and developed countries, they contribute to high rates of crime and substance abuse. They often face underemployment working in unskilled jobs despite their education qualifications. This reduces the potential of innovation and growth for many countries.
Raised amidst the technological revolution, young adults have greater potential than ever to learn and inform themselves quickly, form global communities, and mobilize resources. Empowered and enabled youth are powerful drivers for change. They are well educated and tech savvy which allows them to absorb and assimilate information faster than any other generation. Most importantly, youth are highly motivated and willing to put in hard work to fix the gaps they see around them. By failing to correctly equip them for the future, we are preventing them from achieving their full potential.
So how can our existing institutions be more inclusive of youth worldwide?
Countering these discrepancies would require action and creative solutions on various levels. Both the private and public sector (including international organizations, NGOs and the government) have an important role in the implementation of appropriate solutions. They must collaborate in order to develop and implement a variety of initiatives, focusing on different aspects:
Education: The first step is to ensure that all children have access to quality education (in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 4) and the rate of school dropouts is brought down to zero.
School systems should be modified to ensure the focus isn’t just on learning subjects but also about ensuring that schools are a safe place and provide social welfare. Moreover, whether private or public, educational institutes should redesign their curriculums to work on teaching more practical skills to the younger generation (they can do this in collaboration with private sector organizations). They should provide early career guidance opportunities and teach skills’-sets that are more relevant to market requirement and livelihood management (e.g. managing finance). Outside school systems, governments should put in place efficient vocational training including training on how to start and run a business efficiently. Lastly, the private sector plays an important role in cultivating youth employment and providing the younger generation with skills to enter the working world. They can provide access to internships (paid or unpaid), apprenticeships and shadowing experiences for young adults to develop practical skills and gain work experience.
Political Inclusion: Governments have to modify their policies and ensure that the society is more inclusive of youth voices. Ensuring adequate access to voting facilities, entertaining youth groups in government, working at grassroots to combat minority discrimination and developing integrated youth services are all vital steps towards political inclusion for youth.
Policy Implementation: Governments should work on refining their policies to ensure they create a society that is more welcoming to youth. Firstly, the refinement of macroeconomic policies to improve employment is required. Secondly, the implementation of welfare schemes to support poor families, the improvement of infrastructure and the provision of well maintained public education are all important. Lastly, they should work to support youth led enterprises and innovation, encouraging programmes that foster collaboration with various sectors of the economy.
Financial Institutions: The development of financial literacy and the provision of adapted formal financial services can allow youth to expand their skills. Having access to financial accounts for loans and savings, can enable youth to access education and training. Access to savings will allow youth to understand the value of having a buffer to lean on when needed. These may also enable the development of youth enterprises and innovation within communities which will uplift the younger generation. Financial service providers may see increased uptake of their product and service offering among the youth if digitized, given that the youth have grown up amidst the digital age and are pretty well accustomed to the same. Access to finance is often a key catalyst for youth to be able to expand, develop and innovate solutions to modern problems.
Youth inclusion has a long way to go and there is scope for much improvement. Government and organizations must work hard to ensure full integration of the younger generation and equipping them to utilize resources for the better. If we train our youth to innovate and contribute well to society, we will have created for ourselves an avenue to solve just about every other societal problem we face today. Youth inclusion is the master key to all the locks.