Reimagining the future for skills: What we learned from young people

youth people

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) & Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC


  • COVID-19 is casting a long shadow over the futures of young people all around the world.
  • On World Youth Skills Day, we asked young people their thoughts on redesigning education and skills for the post-COVID era.

For children and young people looking to gain an education and skills, COVID-19 has made a bad situation even worse.

Before the pandemic, they faced a growing mismatch between the skills they were learning in school and those needed for employment.

Now, under the shadow of COVID-19, over one billion are out of school altogether. And millions of young people who were set to join the workforce cannot find jobs.

 

This moment is an important opportunity to reimagine how, and what, education and skills are delivered to prepare students for a rapidly changing world of work.

But governments and businesses cannot address this problem alone.

So, on World Youth Skills Day, we decided to bring together young people from Algeria, Argentina and South Africa to hear their thoughts about how we can re-design and re-imagine education and skills systems to meet their needs.

The virtual discussion, moderated by Mari-Lisa Njenga, a youth advocate from Kenya, identified four important principles that should guide change.

1. Modern skills, not old fashioned curricula

You have 20th century teachers educating 21st century students. It’s like a 100-year gap.

—Ulises Brengi, 22, Argentina

There was a strong sense that schools and universities aren’t currently equipping young people with the right skills, and aren’t teaching in a way that makes the most of modern technology and resonates with young people today.

“I believe we need to make educators aware of the fact that education curricula are outdated,” said 20-year old Rafik Amrani, who studies business and computer sciences at the American University of Beirut. He thinks businesses have an important role to play. “They know which skills are lacking in their recruits so they can tell educators which skills are relevant,” he added.

2. Soft skills are key

Young people need strong communication and advocacy skills so they can ask for what they need and drive change.

—Maryam Elgoni, 25, South Africa

The young participants agreed that to be successful in the future of work, their generation will need strong soft skills such as communication, critical thinking and resilience – and that they’ll need to keep learning all their lives.

“When a policy doesn’t exist or a rule is in favour of a specific group in your community, you need to know how to be able to change that,” said Maryam Elgoni, a masters student in international relations. “For example, how to start a petition, organise a march, or effectively give input into a policy or your company programme.”

According to Ulises Brengi, a landscape architecture student at the University of Buenos Aires, we need to stop looking at skills as high-level, academic knowledge, and more as human skills. “I hope that this crisis will take us to a new and more responsible economy, not only based on making a profit. In order to achieve that, we need people with strong soft skills,” he added.

3. Digital connectivity and digital learning

This crisis has taught us that online learning is possible. It’s taught us how to use online tools to exchange skills, teach and learn.

—Rafik Amrani, 19, Algeria

Another theme that came through strongly was the potential of digital connectivity and online learning to expand access to opportunities for young people around the world.

“To reimagine the future of skills, I think we need more diverse online learning exchange programmes. And if we can make sure every young person, everywhere, has access to a cellphone and the internet, it’s a way for us to build a fairer future for skills,” Brengi added.

4. Reach vulnerable communities

In Sudan where I grew up, you don’t necessarily aspire to become an engineer, you aspire to become someone’s wife and I think that needs to change.

—Maryam Elgoni, 25, South Africa

Access was another key theme we discussed during the session. “It’s the notion of decentralising education and understanding that it doesn’t only happen in the classroom,” explained Elgoni. “It’s also about specifically trying to reach out to those who are in vulnerable situations.

“On the business side, it’s about creating opportunities for people in vulnerable spaces,” she added. “When you think of people getting internships, it’s often because they’re in the suburbs or they’re able to access office parks. We need to make sure young people in vulnerable communities have access to those opportunities too.”

Elgoni also shared a powerful vision for the future which we should all aspire to: “I look forward to a future where every young person who has a dream will never feel their dream is limited because of their circumstances,” she said. “That there is no skill that is unreachable because of who you are or where you are.”

Watch highlights from our session in the video above.

The session was just one expression of our shared commitment to helping to address the growing gap between the skills people have and those needed for the new digital world. Earlier this year, PwC and UNICEF embarked on a global collaboration to help upskill millions of young people around the world. In addition, as founding partners of the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution Platform, our organizations are contributing to the initiative to provide better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people by 2030. We’re also supportive of the Forum’s Great Reset initiative, aimed at creating a fairer, more sustainable world after the pandemic.

PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see http://www.pwc.com/structure for further details.

UNICEF does not endorse any company, brand, product or service.

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