On 15th July 2021, the World Youth Skills Day was once again celebrated within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, still heavily affecting the lives and particularly training and employment perspectives of young people around the globe. The World Youth Skills Day 2021: Reimagining Youth Skills Post Pandemic a virtual event, co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Portugal and Sri Lanka to the United Nations, together with UNESCO, ILO and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth celebrated the creativity and resilience of young generations. This global observance gave youth the rightful recognition and visibility as the change makers of the future. Youth representatives and key stakeholders discussed the pandemic’s impact on youth skills development and employment, called upon governments to invest more in education and training, and showcased initiatives undertaken to support young people in their endeavors and build resilience and integrity.
In his welcoming remarks, H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the United Nations General Assembly recalled that 1.8 billion young people struggled to find work and employment and stressed out the importance of providing them with the necessary tools in order to reach their full potential and bring our societies forward. He added that by investing in youth skills “we are opening new gates for inclusive, transformative pathways for a sustainable and resilient future”.
Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, delivered a message on behalf of the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres. She pointed out that young people were already facing disproportionate levels of unemployment and under-employment before the pandemic. More than one out of five youth were not in employment, education, or training, the majority of them being young women.
“To recover better, we must address the longstanding disparities and challenges faced by young people. That means ramping up skills development and education, with a particular focus on climate action, sustainable development, gender equality and inclusivity. It is crucial to boost investments in Technical Vocational Education and Training, broadband connectivity and digital skills”. “I urge everyone to make the most of this framework and together, build an inclusive, fair and sustainable development for all”, she concluded.
At the first Interactive panel “Skills for today and the future”, H.E. Mr. Peter Mohan Maithri Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN, presented his government’s measures to ensure continuity in young people’s education and skills development. As the Sri Lankan provided students with interest free loans to purchase laptops, approximately 90% of them had participated in online learning courses during the pandemic, despite a lack of experience and training; the government has also established regional learning centers for children without internet facilities and supported teachers to ensure the continuity of learning.
“Young people are the agents of change in our nations and their inclusion in peace, security and economic and social development is key to fight against climate change, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic”, he added.
Enriching the discussion from the labor’s perspective, Ms. Martha E. Newton, Deputy Director-General for Policy at ILO, underlined the importance of the collaborative efforts notably between workers, employers and different institutional bodies. She also recalled that, in 2020, ILO has endorsed a new 10-year action plan aiming at strengthening policy responses and scale up impact to address the current situationas well as ensure a better future of work for young people, through a transformative, human-centred approach.
“We really are counting on you! We need your energy and we need your creativity! I grew up with a model: be the change you want to see!”, Ms. Newton said.
The second interactive panel of the World Youth Skills Day focused on the role of partnerships in scaling up youth skills development and in ensuring the continuity of learning. During his presentation, H.E. Mr. Francisco Duarte Lopes, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, pointed out that unemployment and under-employment have adverse and long-lasting consequences for individuals, especially for young people. He highlighted two initiatives implemented by the government of Portugal to foster youth skills post-pandemic: the “Youth plus digital” to align professional training with the real needs of the labour market, and “Youth impulse initiative” to tackle youth unemployment through hiring incentives for small- and medium-sized companies, internships and financial support to encourage entrepreneurship.
“Portugal is strongly committed to implement programmes aiming at improving digital competencies and employability for young people and we stand ready to continue cooperating, learning and exchanging experiences with other countries and stakeholders”, he concluded.
Mr. Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO, underscored UNESCO’s important work in assisting governments to build resilient education and training systems. Mr. Chakroun warned that the TVET sector has been heavily affected by learning losses because of insufficient public allocations and to the fact that TVET delivery through distance learning is further complicated due to its focus on hands-on-training.
“In order to encourage more significant investment in TVET, it is important to embrace the cooperation and partnership with the variety of private sector, as UNESCO did with both big companies like Microsoft, IBM and Huawei and also with smaller organizations. We observe great interest and expectations related to TVET training of youth, but, unfortunately, the investment is insufficient. This proves that, at the institutional level, governments were not prepared to properly address the remote learning”, believes Mr. Chakroun.
He added that UNESCO is continuously engaged to support policy actions tackling inequalities and promoting equal opportunities in education, skills and employability starting by the most vulnerable groups including women and girls. Through its Global Skills Academy (GSA), the Organization is aiming at equipping 1 million youth with employability skills. One of its recent initiatives to endorse entrepreneurship amongst young women is well reflected through the online mentorship programme Women@Dior, providing female students from 15 countries with technical and vocational education skills and helping them to become the new generation of leaders. Representing Dior, Ms. Emmanuelle Favre, Senior Vice President for Human Resources, highlighted five core values the young women are acquiring during the programme including self-care, awareness, autonomy, and creativity.
Watch the recordings of the event here.