4 Ways to Bridge the Global Skills Gap


The global youth employment crisis has implications for social stability and equality that exceed anything we have experienced in our history; 1.3 billion youth — the largest young generation in the history of the planet — are about to attempt to enter the workforce. But are they ready for it? Jobs historically held by the young are at risk of being automated at an accelerating pace; in a recent survey, 36% of CEOs said they were focused on improving productivity through technology and automation, a number more than double the share of CEOs who said the same in 2016. Bridging the skills gap is critical to maintaining social stability around the world. And doing so will require the actions of companies and governments together.

Already facing historic unemployment levels, young people around the world have lost even more of their already precarious footing over the past three years. And now, effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and global automation are making it extremely and increasingly difficult for millions of the world’s 1.3 billion young people to find work.

To understand the crisis, consider these facts:

  • While the youth population (ages 15 to 24) grew 30% between 1999 and 2019, their labor force participation rate globally decreased by approximately 12%.
  • Jobs historically held by the young are at risk of being automated, at an accelerating pace; in a survey, 36% of CEOs said they were focused on improving productivity through technology and automation, a number more than double the share of CEOs who said the same in 2016.
  • Nearly one-quarter of youth ages 18 to 24 stopped working during the pandemic, and many others had their hours and income slashed, likely because they were working in highly affected sectors.

While the global youth skilling challenge varies by country, region, or locale, there are four high-impact actions governments and businesses can take to address this issue, which, over the long term, may threaten social stability and economic recovery in many parts of the world. Here is what organizations, governments, and multilaterals can do to help address this crisis.

Understand what skills your organization or country needs.

Ask yourself (or your team): What specific skills does your country or business need workers to possess? Answering this question can help you build a pipeline of workers suitably trained for the future labor market that requires both digital and realtional skills, whether in regular employment, entrepreneurial ventures, or the gig economy.

The best way to answer it is with national skills maps, or an overview of all the skills future employees will need not just technical and job-specific skills, but emotional, relational, and communicative ones as well. The maps should include standardized definitions and methods that measure whether or not a skill has been learned.

For example, Singapore’s SkillsFuture program provides opportunities for all learners, from students through experienced careerists, to identify the appropriate skills for their chosen profession and provides access to the resources needed to master those skills. Targeted to all Singaporeans, it encourages life-long learning and skills development. Germany’s skills anticipation program uses “skills intelligence” to project what the future labor market might look like, even providing forward-looking career guidance to job seekers and insight to educators into what skills youth need as they prepare to enter the workforce. The newly released LinkedIn Skills Graph represents a momentous, globally relevant step forward for skill identification and mapping.

These platforms are useful because they are grounded by a skills taxonomy, that names and defines useful skills and ways to measure them; a skills map, that outlines categories of jobs in industries of national importance, including small and medium sized enterprises, and their requisite skills; and a skilling tracker, that helps identify educational and training requirements and outlines how these skills can be acquired, whether within the formal education system or through experiential learning. A global skills taxonomy, map, and tracking and forecasting engine for the skills that will be in demand is a critical next step for governments and employers — and indeed for the skill development and mobility of global youth.

Leverage corporate training outside of corporations.

Many corporations have internal skills development platforms that help current employees acquire new skills. But what about their future employees?

By pairing elements from best-of-class corporate programs with a government-led national policy framework, stakeholders can jointly help establish a high-quality national skills development program that is germane to national and local populations, efficiently achieves scale, and doesn’t need to be built from the ground up.

While it may seem difficult to convince a company to use their resources to train the “general public,” there are already examples. Consider Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Learn. AWS provides students and military veterans with access to skills training courses for cloud careers and outlines pathways to technology career tracks through its AWS Educate initiative, and its job board connects participants with technology jobs at Amazon and other companies. Microsoft Learn is an online training platform that helps any interested individual achieve proficiency on a series of Microsoft technologies. Yuwaah (Generation Unlimited India) and PwC are developing a “platform of platforms” that will aggregate existing platforms providing digital upskilling opportunities to help connect youth with options for training, career guidance and, ultimately, jobs. The partnership aims to transform education, skilling, and employment for 300 million young people in India by 2030.

These platforms can incorporate national skills maps and become an important complement to skills training provided in schools. As a model, a government could pilot such a track with a national industry growth sector, creating a business case for a broader set of national upskilling tracks across multiple industries. National governments, specifically ministries of education, labor, skills, and youth, can serve as the lead stakeholders in creating these maps, with direct and significant input from national and local companies, particularly SMEs; educational and industry associations; educators; and career guidance professionals.

National governments, particularly ministries of labor, youth, technology, and skilling, may be best suited to coordinate this effort alongside large national and multinational corporations operating within their borders.

Build a national digital skills verification trust.

Beyond interviews, aptitude tests, and online portfolios, employers lack a standardized, low-cost way to verify the skills new employees claim to have — regardless of their formal education level.

Creating a global or national verification system enables employers to identify the most useful skills for their current employees and set up new hires for success by indicating what additional training they should consider. Although micro-credentials and digital badging are a start, a national system built on a technology platform such as a distributed ledger or Blockchain will help employees track and store their skill base and provide employers with a trusted and easily verifiable assessment method.

We already have a few nascent examples. The Digital Credentials Consortium (DCC), created and led by universities with expertise in verifiable digital credentials design, aims “to create a trusted, distributed, and shared infrastructure that becomes the standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying digital academic credentials.” Although this specific program is a platform to verify tertiary academic credentials, the DCC’s founders acknowledge that it is best seen as part of a larger system that ties together post-secondary and life-long learning and records all the individual’s skills-relevant credentials throughout their lifetime.

Similarly, the Youth Agency Marketplace (Yoma) is a digital ecosystem platform developed by Generation Unlimited and partners (UNICEF, GIZ, and Botnar) where youth can engage in social impact initiatives linked to skilling and economic opportunities. The initiatives align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, creating a youth marketplace for skills, digital profiles, employment, and entrepreneurship. Public and private partner organizations use the site to interact with youth, supporting them and providing them with opportunities. A verifiable digital CV is registered, with certified credentials stored in a distributed ledger, and users are encouraged with rewards and incentives.

Such platforms can and should be connected to a national skills map framework, enabling youth to make optimal use of the Personal Learning Cloud, and specifically the corporate training resources made available to them.

Develop a regional and/or national skills forum to improve information sharing among all key stakeholders.

Sharing information about skills development across regions and even countries is an important part of solving the youth unemployment crisis. Why? Because the half-life of skills is short and getting shorter. We need a skills-in-demand forecasting engine that cuts across regions and industries. It takes employers, educators, government officials, and professional associations working together to address trends in the job market, identify skills gaps, and support the programs that youth need to thrive.

For example, Bangladesh’s National Intelligence for Skills, Education, Employment & Entrepreneurship (NISE3) gathers government stakeholders, skills service providers, industry associations, industry leaders, and others to facilitate information and data sharing around skill development. It’s here that key stakeholders can share information and best practices and acquire data related to upskilling and reskilling, and skills providers can align with industries. The platform facilitates job searching by providing, among other things, access to career counseling and guidance and information on entrepreneurship, training, and apprenticeship opportunities.

A Global Agenda

The global youth employment crisis has vast implications for social stability and equality that are unlike anything we have experienced in our history; 1.3 billion youth — the largest generation of young people in the history of the planet — are about to attempt to enter the workforce.

Philanthropic investments and layouts aimed at bolstering institutional education help, but do not address the core problem, which is one of insight, access, and trust,i.e. of identification, acquisition and verification of skills. These are informational problems that can be addressed by concerted, large-scale investments in skill mapping, measurement, verification, prediction, and development engines. The means for building out these platforms are all at hand, and much promising work has already started. But it is pursued in separate spheres, niches, geographies, and industries. Bringing them together and building out a global skills trust is imperative.

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