Y20 summit highlights unemployment and youth in workplace 

RIYADH: The role of young people in the workplace and youth unemployment were among the main topics under the microscope on the second day of the Y20 Summit, the three-days focus on tackling the global challenges facing today’s youth, ahead of the G20 summit which kicks off on Nov. 21.

Under the theme “Future Fit”, speakers discussed the employment landscape in a post-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) world, and what can be done to reverse alarming trends that have left almost one in five young people out of work or without access to education.

The opening panel, titled “Future Fit Starts Today”, focused on workforce inequality, exacerbated by a digital divide, unequal and limited access to mentoring, skills mismatch, rapid technological developments, a growing city-rural gap, and the semi-permanent impact of the ongoing pandemic. 

Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides, the 2010 Nobel Prize laureate in economics and regius chair of economics at the London School of Economics, highlighted the problems that come with the methods of traditional educational institutions.

“I would agree they are not preparing (students) adequately for the new types of jobs now,” he told moderator Tanya Beckett. “Sometimes they specialize too much. By specializing too much, too soon, young people will say I learnt these skills very well so I will wait to get a job that will enable me to utilize these skills. That is not the right approach.”

Governments and policymakers were urged to be part of the solution.

“Right now the circumstances are a bit severe, because there is a general slowdown of economic activity, there’s a lot of disruption,” said Alex Liu, managing partner and chairman of consulting firm Kearney. “The problem that we need to solve is a collective problem. It’s a combination of forces, private and public sector, policymakers as well as companies, the financial community, the entrepreneurial community.”

He added: “I think there are many examples around the world throughout history, that if these forces come together, you can build a Silicon Valley. You can build an east Asian juggernaut with many subcomponents of that. You have Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 where you have mobilized all the resources to succeed, to be able to create an environment of job creation and job excitement.”

In an official message titled “Youth Today, Workforce and Citizens Tomorrow”, Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, spelled out the challenges the world’s youth face in the workforce, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to connect every school and community in the world to the internet,” she said. “As we speak, half of humanity is not connected to the internet, including 360 million children and young people. We want to change that. By the end of 2025 we want to reach two million schools and approximately 500 million children and young people, and we’re gathering partners like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank around this need.”

A panel on “Youth Roadmap 2025” discussed how this new policy by the G20 countries is committed to reducing youth unemployment. With many stakeholders involved, expectations are high.

Dr. Ahmed Alzahrani, Saudi deputy minister of human resources and social development, said: “One of the messages that we have in our youth roadmap is the focus on social dialogue, especially with relevant employment departments and youth organizations and also with individual young people voicing the challenges they are facing in the labor market.”

He added: “We also emphasized investment in high-quality, cost-effective employment and social services. We need to realize this in a continuously changing world.”

In post-COVID-19 landscape, certain marginalized groups should not be left behind, the panelists highlighted.

Martha E. Newton, deputy director general for policy at the International Labour Organization, said: “We’re seeing gender inequality in this crisis. Young women are disproportionately carrying the burden of care work, of not being able to continue at school, of having to help at home.”

She added: “As we continue to move forward on these issues, the challenge for us is going to be able to make sure that young women and men have access to employment. We can’t lose all the momentum that we’ve had since 2015.”

Nearly half of young people surveyed in the Global Youth Index believe that the most important factor contributing to youth empowerment is a robust startup ecosystem supporting entrepreneurship, with more than two-thirds hoping to someday start their own business. 

Another panel titled “Future Entrepreneur — Future Fit-for-Success” explored how young people can develop their entrepreneurial mindset to solve issues, as well as how governments can create the necessary environment to drive people to launch their own initiatives.

Geoffrey See, a Y20 delegate and entrepreneur from Singapore, said: “It’s the best of times and worst of times for entrepreneurs everywhere. It’s best of times if you’re in the right ecosystem today, getting funding, getting an idea off the ground, getting the kind of support and learning you need. There are places where you can do that very well. But in most places in the world, they don’t have that ecosystem. And with COVID-19 it’s even harder for people to take big risks in life. There’s a lot that has to be done to (encourage) entrepreneurship.”

The final expert panel, “Youth at Work: Matching Skills and Jobs for 3.8 Billion,” tackled the issue of how young people today are at higher risk of labor market exclusion, with 44 million unemployed young people and insufficient job creation levels in G20 countries.

Prof. Mohammed Alhayaza, president of Saudi Arabia’s Alfaisal University, said: “Several recent articles have sought to answer what skills will adults need to be successful in employment? Let alone in order to work alongside Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

He added: “The short answer is that we need to focus on developing the skills we possess that AI and machines cannot replicate. Skills that can be most advanced by education and training programs.”

The third day of Y20 Summit will focus on the concept of global citizenship and challenges related to multiculturalism and sustainable development, and how to get young people to make the first commitment toward sharing, working and acting collectively.

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