September 25, 2019

Live blog: how to give youth the skills they need for jobs of the future

Youth campaigners and global leaders from business, government, the UN and civil society are at an event held by the Global Business Coalition for Education and Generation Unlimited.

It’s a frightening scenario. On current trends, by the year 2030 more than half of all the young people in the world will not have the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

Technology, robotics and automation are advancing at breakneck speed. But far too little is being done to address the challenge of ensuring today’s children and youth are ready for tomorrow’s workplace.

How to change that - and quickly - is the subject of a major event being held today in New York, as world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly.

Reimagining Education: Preparing the Next Generation with Skills for the Future is hosted by the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) and Generation Unlimited at UNICEF’s headquarters. 

This live blog will bring you coverage of the event, which starts at 12 noon New York time.

11am: Set up as an independent initiative of Theirworld, GBC-Education has a network of more than 150 influential private sector companies committed to best practice in supporting education and youth skills. Generation Unlimited is a global partnership working to prepare young people to become productive and engaged citizens.

Today’s event brings together a group of 150 diverse, high-level global leaders from the business community, government, UN and civil society - alongside young people - to secure new partnerships, innovative solutions and new investments. 

12 noon. Introductions

The event begins with a welcome address by Pavel Sarwar from Bangladesh. He is one of Theirworld’s inspiring networking of 1,000 Global Youth Ambassadors from about 90 countries. 

He says: “The key question we will tackle today is: How can we inspire action and a pathway forward for reimagining education and training, with an emphasis on skills for the future and innovative methods to match graduates with relevant and meaningful jobs. 

"And how can we do this in a sustained, scalable and systematic way?”

Our emcee for the main part of the event is Jamira Burley, Head of Youth Engagement and Skills at GBC-Education. 

She introduces the keynote speaker - Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, who says: “The private sector can bring a unique voice to work with governments, communities and new people to unlock new solutions.

"The education opportunities must be open to all. The reimagined education is an equitable education. It should lift up the marginalised, particularly girls.”

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, is next to address the event. She says: “Young people are interwoven in our world. This a moment in history in which we can make a difference. 

"The diversity is embedded in Generation Unlimited - it is a multi-sector public-private partnership to support young people as they prepare for the world of work.”

"We need to help young people as they prepare to enter the workforce. We are not learning when we are in school - that is a very important message. We need a better match between skills and job opportunities. "

Sarah Brown, Chair of GBC-Education and founder of Theirworld, says she is delighted to be partnering with UNICEF and adds: "We cannot do this with just civil society and governments alone. We have to really stretch ourselves in terms of innovation."

12.30pm. Setting The Scene: From Evidence to Action

The next section is a question-and-answer session with four youth leaders. Jamira says: “They are at the heart of this conversation, have the most at stake and are the most relevant actors to comment on their own future.”

There are two Theirworld Global Youth Ambassadors - Javita Nauth from Guyana and Wanja Maina from Kenya - alongside two members of the Generation Unlimited Global Board, who are Saddam Sayyaleh from Jordan and Kanchan Amatya from Nepal. 

With them on the stage is Roberto Benes, the Director of Generation Unlimited, and moderating the segment is Justin Van Fleet, GBC-Education’s Executive Director and President of Theirworld.

He says: “Partnering with our colleagues the Education Commission, we produced a regional skills scorecard, projecting - on current trends, how many young people will have the skills they need for the workforce in 2030. We will start to develop country scorecards over the coming year - but the numbers are startling.”

In Latin America, only half of school-age youth are estimated to be on track to achieve the needed skills. In sub-Saharan Africa - the world’s youngest region with three-fifths of its population under 25 - the projection is just 17%. 

Justin asks the panel: “What is the number one thing that needs to change in our education system to better prepare young people with skills for the future of work?”

Javita says: "You are either under or over-qualified. What about the chunk in the middle? We need opportunities to fill the gap. If we can do that, we can target youth who are in that category and give them a hand up."

Wanja says there is a tendency to talk down young people and that needs to change. "We need to make sure the average young person from Africa is hopeful for the future and that life can be better."

Kanchan says schools curriculums are outdated and the business community can help to address that issue. She adds that businesses also "need to do more to encourage equality in the workplace".

Saddam contends that young people in the Middle East look to the private sector as a saviour but says: "Governments are not progressing and investing less in education". He says: "The private sector should listen more to young people too."

Justin van Fleet with Javita Nauth during the youth panel discussion

Photo credit: Theirworld

Roberto explains the vision of Generation Unlimited and says it is "guided by a sense of urgency". He adds: "Linear progress will not take us where we want to go - we need growth and innovation to break through this. Linear progress won't break us through."

He says that without involving the private sector, the Sustainable Development Goal of education for all will not be achieved.

12:45pm.  Work Being Done to Bring the Next Generation into the Workforce

The moderators for this session are Jamira Burley and Vibhu Sharma, who sits on the Generation Unlimited Global Board and is Theirworld’s Disabilities Researcher.

The panellists are Rosemary Mbabazi, Minister of Youth of Rwanda and entrepreneur; Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation; Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever; and Nick Tzitzon, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at SAP.

Firstly, Nick Tzitzon announces a partnership between SAP and UNICEF worth several million dollars over several years. Now on to the panel questions.

Vibhu says: "I am constantly the person in meetings waving the banner for persons with disabilities and inclusive education for young people." But she says she is putting that banner aside for today's event.

Vibhu Sharma moderates a panel discussion with Nick Tzitzon, Rosemary Mbabazi, Per Heggenes and Alan Jope

Photo credit: Theirworld

She asks: “What are the most critical changes we need to make to prepare young people for work and for life?”

Alan Jope says the biggest thing Unilever can do is have multiple opportunities for young people to join the company. He adds: "The future of work is here already. It requires all of us to be in a mood of continuous learning."

Per Heggenes argues that career counselling is crucial to show young people the opportunities that are available. He says: "It's a rapidly changing environment and traditional education cannot keep up."

Nick Tzitzon says "young people love to code" but there is a "big disparity between the wave of technology change and those who love to interact with tech".

Rosemary Mbabazi says that tax breaks for young entrepreneurs are key and adds: "When you listen to them, you respond to their challenges and consult them. That way we can bring about change."

1:05pm. Table Discussions

Jamira tells everyone attending the event that each table has a card with three questions dealing with the subject of how we can reimagine education. She asks them to think about the topics and come up with some innovative answers.

The questions are:

Reimagine. How can secondary education and training be reimagined to prepare young people with relevant skills for the future of work?

Reposition. How can employers reposition their collaboration with education systems to match diverse graduates with jobs of the future?

Realign. How do we realign our global and national systems to invest in systemic, sustainable and scalable solutions addressing skills for the future?

Four people are asked to report back from their tables - Annette Dixon, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, Karthik Krishnan, CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica; Doug Marshall, Managing Director of Corporate Citizenship, Deloitte; and Vera Songwe, General Secretary of UNECA Africa.

Annette Dixon talks about an old-fashioned model for schools still being in place. "We need to get to a place where schools are teaching kids to function. Teachers need to be teaching kids the skills to disrupt."

Karthik Krishnan says one of the topics discussed at his table was catching children early. He asks: "Why are you waiting until secondary education? We need to focus on ECD (early childhood development), we need to plant the seeds of lifelong learning early on."

He also announces a Youth Skills and Solutions Summit in South Asia and invites business to join the event in Mumbai, India, next month.

Doug Marshall and Global Youth Ambassador Wanja Maina give their findings jointly. He says some element of vocational training for school students needs to be reintroduced. Wanja adds that education should "experimental and fun" and that young people should enjoy the process.

Jamira says that, working with Deloitte, GBC-Education will be launching a Skills Friendly Cities project.

The event ends with an address by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He says: “We need to work together to deal urgently with what is not just a climate emergency but an education and skills emergency. We need all of us to come together."

He says the new International Finance Facility for Education will create $2 billion in extra resources for education - but he wants that to become $10bn to help give everyone a quality education by 2030.

The UN envoy adds: “We can bridge the gap between what young people are and what they can become.”

What a powerful ending to a really thought-provoking event. Innovative ideas have been offered, major announcements have been made - and the voices of young people have been heard loud and clear. It’s their future and they need to be an integral part of the discussions and the solutions.

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