How to address the widening youth skills gap

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC & Kevin Frey, CEO, Generation Unlimited


  • The pandemic has deepened the existing youth skills gap, leaving millions of young people with inadequate access to employment opportunities.
  • Global youth are redefining the concept of the workforce but need the necessary skills and support to make these changes.
  • PwC, UNICEF and Generation Unlimited address this skilling challenge in their latest research paper, “Reaching YES” and urge all stakeholders to collaborate in creating opportunities for young people.

Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and today we continue to confront its health, social and economic impacts. In addition to changing the way we live our lives, it also caused us to question what the future holds. The waves of the pandemic continue to ebb and flow, but we are learning to adapt to the constantly evolving crisis.

The ongoing pandemic will continue to shape our world, and many of its effects will still be felt for years to come – particularly when it comes to education and employment and the next generation’s ability to prepare for the future.

The pandemic’s effects on the youth skilling challenge

Even before the pandemic, education and labor systems were struggling in their ability to prepare young people with future job skills, and approximately 267 million young people (aged 15-24) were left not in employment, education, and training (NEET).

The pandemic has only deepened the existing skills gap, and millions of young people, specifically those marginalized, have now been left with inadequate access to education and skill-development opportunities.

Despite the growth in the youth population, their participation in the labour force has been steadily decreasing. Moreover, those who do hold formal employment are often underemployed or possess skills that are not aligned to employers’ needs. Others have jobs in the informal economy, which usually involves low pay, hazardous working conditions, and little job security.

This unemployment and underemployment can have broad societal implications, including deepening polarization, the erosion of institutional trust, and social unrest. The world’s youth deserve more, and we all have a part to play to ensure their participation in the global economy. From businesses to governments, nonprofits, and NGOs, we must recognize the urgency of this skilling challenge and prepare now for a more sustainable future.

Addressing the youth skills gap

To help address the skills gap, PwC, in collaboration with UNICEF and Generation Unlimited, set out to further explore what is preventing youth from obtaining the necessary skills to secure stable and meaningful employment. Our latest research paper, “Reaching YES” (Youth Education and Skilling), invites governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and young people themselves to come together and help the next generation flourish in this rapidly evolving digital world.

Our youth will be the ones to build a better, more sustainable world, but they need access to the tools, education, and opportunity to make the change. The skills gap is a global challenge.

COVID-19 has a profound impact on workers, and PwC’s 2021 survey of 32,500 workers in 19 countries expressed a mix of hopes and fears regarding the near- and long-term future of employment – from the traditional corporate environment to the informal gig economy and entrepreneurism.

Specifically, 52% of youth (18-24 years old) either agreed or strongly agreed that traditional employment will not be around in the future, as they will promote their own personal brands and sell skills on a short-term basis to those who need them. Additionally, 62% of youth either agreed or strongly agreed that ‘automation would put many people’s jobs at risk.

Identifying three major skills gaps

Our global youth are redefining the concept of the workplace and workforce and are interested in bringing their skills to bear on the economy in new and extraordinary ways. However, to do this, they need the necessary guidance to equip themselves with skills that will be applicable to future jobs and technologies and relevant at local and industry levels.

Currently, there are three skills gaps that we must help the youth navigate to be viable participants in the global economy:

– Identify the skills needed for jobs of the digital future;

– Help the youth obtain those skills, including prerequisite stepping stones necessary, and;

– Create a system by which to certify the skills the youth have acquired.

Closing the skills gap

Closing these gaps will take a whole-of-society approach, sharing knowledge, research, resources, and best practices from the public and private sectors, educators, and youth. We identified four goals to close gaps:

1) Create a national skills mapping system that includes a taxonomy of general skills and categories with ways to measure skills competence.

2) Use corporate training to support a national skills-building engine that features proven private-sector upskilling programmes and government policy frameworks that are efficient, scalable, and affordable.

3) Build a national digital skills verification trust platform — like a secure distributed ledger or blockchain — that enables youth to register and store their skills credentials.

4) Develop skills forums to improve information-sharing among key stakeholders that address trends in the job market and identify skills gaps, skilling programmes, and skills youth need to thrive.

We have the rare chance to chart a new course. If there is one long-held principle that should endure, it is that change is in the hands of the next generation. Therefore, we need a commitment from all stakeholders to cooperate in creating opportunities for youth and pave the way toward a better, more inclusive tomorrow.

Find out more here.

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