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Youth Skills: Have We Addressed the Need?

Dr. Palitha Kohona is former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

Working youth, otherwise without educational opportunities and from a wide range of ages, attend classes at a Social Support Center in Marka, east of Amman, Jordan. Credit: ILO/Jared J. Kohler

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jul 11 2018 (IPS) - The World Youth Skills Day is being celebrated around the world on 15 July. This day was established on 18 December 2014 by General Assembly resolution A/RES/69/145 which was initiated by Sri Lanka. Following a lengthy consultation process, at the UN and outside, during which some delegations, including some Europeans expressed reservations, the resolution was eventually adopted unanimously. It received solid support from youth delegations from around the world.

World Youth Skills Day resolution was a landmark UN initiative and had its origins in a visionary statement made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka at the 2013 UNGA. The idea was subsequently championed by the Sri Lankan Minister for Youth Affairs, Dulles Alahapperuma. The Sri Lankan delegation, at the time, worked the corridors tirelessly until the scales were tipped and the adoption of the resolution became certain.

Resolution A/RES/69/145 built upon the World Programme of Action for Youth of 2007, International Youth Day in 1999 and the Colombo Declaration on Youth of 2014, which, for the first time, was adopted with the concurrence of both youth and official delegations. The Colombo Declaration on Youth required youth needs to be mainstreamed in policy making.

With an increasing number of unemployed youth worldwide, the majority of whom are in developing countries, the United Nations was activated to take action to help young people to achieve their intrinsic potential.

The World Youth Skills Day 2018, as did all youth skills days before, aims to encourage the acquisition of marketable skills and training by the young. By acquiring core professional and lifestyle skills, young people will be able to contribute to the development and growth of their own communities.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has identified marketable skills and jobs for youth as a priority. The World Youth Skills Day embodies the values of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with special emphasis on:

SDG 4: Quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities,
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for you get involved?

The youth component of the global population is increasing and a new problem of critical magnitude is slowly creeping upon policy makers, especially in developing countries. Many developing countries, consistent with their commitments under the Millennium Development Goals, some with great difficulty, have provided basic literacy and health care to their populations.

Many youth now survive in to old age. But providing meaningful employment to these millions who possess basic literacy has not been successfully addressed. The key challenge today is the paucity of marketable skills among youth. An educated and skilled workforce is also a key factor in attracting investments.

While the situation for all youth remains a challenge, the unfortunate tendency for young women in many developing countries to fall behind even further compared with their male counterparts due to the lack of employable skills and social attitudes has been highlighted frequently. Equipping young women also with employable skills will enhance the economic potential of a country dramatically.

The modern skill sets required to operate in a high tech environment, including in the areas of management, environment conservation, ICT, banking, transport, aviation, etc, are simply not being provided in quantity. The result is a burgeoning, restless and disenchanted generation that could cause social and more serious problems, instead of being an economic asset.

The world today is home to the largest generation of youth in history. 90% of young people live in developing countries. Unemployment affects more than 73 million young people around the world, with the jobless rate exceeding 50 per cent in some developing countries.

Even some developed countries, especially in the south of Europe, have not been able to avoid the youth unemployment crisis. Many are still to recover from the financial crisis and youth have been its major victims.

The world will need to add 600 million new jobs by 2026 to accommodate the flood tide of youth entering the job market. The former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said: “Empowering young people through skills development strengthens their capacity to help address the many challenges facing society….”.

These multiple challenges include, inter alia, alleviating poverty, eliminating injustice, conserving the environment and controlling violent conflict.

In order to focus attention on youth issues, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, established the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and appointed Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan as his first Envoy on Youth.

Today, Jayathma Wickremanayaka from Sri Lanka is the SG’s Youth Envoy. She cut her teeth in global youth affairs during the Youth Summit held in Sri Lanka in 2014.

The youth of today will be directly confronted by two major challenges. They will be required to generate wealth through employment or entrepreneurship, not only to support themselves but also a rapidly ageing older generation. Employment for the young was not a major issue in developed countries in the past, but today it is. Without income generating employment, the youth demographic will be a burden on itself and a worry for the older generation.

Industrialisation, so clearly emphasised in the SDGs, will require the new generation to be adequately prepared, as the industrialisation process will rely mostly on high tech. Some developed countries, especially the Northern Europeans, have well tested programmes for enhancing the technical skills of youth. Youth are channelled into technical studies at an early age.

There are many lessons that could be learnt from the education and training methods of these countries, especially in the context of North South Cooperation. Some developing countries have also succeeded in harnessing the youth component of their populations for economically productive endeavours. Their experiences could be shared in the context of South-South Cooperation.

The private sector, if necessary in partnership with the state, can play a vital role in disseminating advanced skills to today’s youth.

The importance of youth participation and representation in institutional political processes and policy-making has been highlighted in recent discussions. Youth need to be able to influence policy making.

For far too long policy making for youth had little or no youth input. Sri Lanka was among the first to establish a youth parliament to provide training in political activity for youth.

In certain countries, where youth disenchantment is rife, especially for economic reasons, young people have often been coerced or otherwise channelled to joining extremist elements. But it is a mistake to suggest that economic circumstances alone are the major factor that drives youth in to extremism. The causes of youth extremism need to be addressed as a separate exercise.

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