World Youth Skills Day: Building resilience in uncertain times

15 July 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, technical education also turned to online learning.

The transition into the world of work is a challenging time for many young people. From having to choose a career path to getting access to training opportunities, many youth struggle to get their first job offer. In 2020, this will be even more complicated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the COVID-19 crisis shut schools worldwide, skills development training was also interrupted. Given these precautions to help curb the spread of the virus, many technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions turned to distance learning. “Remote education can work for soft skills, such as communication, but delivering and developing practical, vocational skills online presents its own unique set of challenges,” says Naceur Chraiti, Manager of the Platform of Expertise in Vocational Training, at IIEP-UNESCO Dakar.

However, changes go beyond just how or where training takes place – the skills youth need are undergoing fundamental shifts. Along with 21st-century skills, the current uncertainty within the global economy obliges young people to be more resilient in the face of any future disruption. Job markets are also adapting – and shrinking – with marginalized youth, as well as other vulnerable groups, often facing the highest rates of exclusion.

One in six young adults is out of work since the onset of COVID-19

Already before the COVID-19 crisis, young people globally (15-24 years old) were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Today, more than one in six young adults is out of work because of the pandemic. This year’s World Youth Skills Day – celebrated annually on 15 July – highlights these challenges, as well as the important role youth will play in shaping the post-COVID-19 world - if they are equipped with the right skills for productive and decent employment and entrepreneurship.   

Changes to the labour market are going to have a lasting impact on TVET systems. They will need to be adaptive and responsive: existing trades will see new skill requirements and new trades and job profiles will emerge because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both digital skills and the digitalization of TVET are also likely future trends – two areas where technical support of country institutions will be pivotal. Securing financing should be high on the international cooperation agenda for the years to come as a way to ensure sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development.”

- Naceur Chraiti,  former Manager of the Platform of Expertise in Vocational Training, IIEP-UNESCO Dakar

Despite the negative headlines of an economic downturn, there are efforts being made around the world to arrest the decline in youth opportunities. Here are three inspiring examples:

1. Niger: Reaping the demographic dividend

Youth are a crucial source of development and prosperity – but only when they are provided with the right knowledge and opportunities needed to thrive. This is especially true for countries with a fast-growing youth population like Niger. Over the next decade, the number of children ready for the first grade will double – from 600,000 in 2020, to 1.2 million in 2030. Given this forecast, the government of Niger has made education and vocational training a top priority so that its booming youth population becomes a national asset. In line with this, Niger has allocated 20% of its national budget to education.

2. Mauritania: Closing the skills gap

A public-private partnership in Mauritania recently highlighted an innovative approach to addressing the skills mismatch common to many labour markets across the globe. Companies from three top economic sectors (mixed farming, fishing, and construction and public works) identified in-demand jobs that they see as crucial to their future. National vocational training centres will now adapt their programmes so that youth can pursue training for these newly identified career paths - the idea being that by listening to the needs of employers, youth will be in a better position to develop the right skillset in response to the needs of the current labour market.

3. Worldwide: Youth showcase their adaptability

From China, Barbados, to South Africa, young people have shared videos with UNESCO-UNEVOC for World Youth Skills Day about how they have continued to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shae White, a chef in the hospitality industry in Barbados, says she had to put everything on hold. “Hotels were pretty hard hit and closed pretty early, and my school was closed as well,” she says. “I had to acclimate myself to online learning, which was a very interesting experience, to begin with, but it all paid off in the end.”

Qian Jaicong, a student from the Zhejiang Technical Institute of Economics in China, said the internet service crashed several times – leaving her “in the dark” – at the beginning of the pandemic. She thinks people should find ways to cooperate more efficiently online and that the new generations should embrace these new ways of learning.

With the right ingredients, youth can build a better future

These three stories touch on the many facets of how to address youth employment. They also illustrate how, with the right ingredients, investment in youth, focused engagement, and relevant opportunities all contribute to strengthening the resilience of tomorrow’s workforce.