Preparing Youth for the Future of Work

Over the past few evenings, I’ve been escaping from the news of the day by reading some science fiction. Or at least I thought my choice was science fiction. The book, Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, describes how automation threatens jobs and industries not in the distant future, but in the coming decades. Ford points out that while advanced technologies and automation have the potential to improve our lives by offering driverless cars, digital finance, and data-driven medical diagnoses, these advances also threaten jobs and industries.

Indeed, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors recently estimated that between 80-100 percent of long-haul trucking jobs would be eliminated by driverless vehicles in the next two decades. Other reports indicate that as many as 47 percent of all jobs in the US will be eliminated or transformed by automation and advances in computer technology. While disruptive, our well-educated workforce should be able to adapt and hopefully prosper from these changes. But, I thought, what of the developing world and especially its next generation of workers?

In many developing countries youth unemployment is already a problem. The International Labour Organization reports that after three years of improvement, youth unemployment is set to rise in 2017 and young people continue to be disproportionately affected by working poverty. In North Africa, youth unemployment remains stubbornly above 29 percent. New technologies will compound this on-going employment challenge. The World Bank recently estimated that as many as 85 percent of jobs in Ethiopia could be eliminated by automation, especially in light-manufacturing, the traditional growth pathway for low-income countries. While many new opportunities will be created in their place, these jobs are likely to require higher skills and greater flexibility than those held by most youth today.

For those of us who work to improve economic opportunities for youth, I believe these trends require an immediate response. We need to leverage our collective knowledge of what works– taking a positive youth development approach; building “soft-skills” for job-readiness alongside “hard” technical skills; partnering with the private sector throughout our work; and building scalable initiatives that meet the needs of not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of youth. At the same time, we must consider where the jobs will be in the future and what skills and capabilities youth should possess to access them. Through Making Cents’ partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation on the Digital Jobs Africa initiative, for example, we’ve learned that coding and other gig-economy jobs are obtainable for at-risk and marginalized youth. However, preparing youth to fill these jobs requires an intensive and targeted set of skill-building activities both before employment and on-the-job. Efforts like these need to be expanded if youth are to be prepared for the next generation of employment opportunities.

Of course, no single individual or organization can tackle these challenges alone. That is why I’m excited that Making Cents will engage in two major collaborative events this year aimed at advancing youth economic opportunities and strengthening our sector through learning and exchange. On April 4–5th in Washington, D.C., Making Cents will partner with PYXERA Global and contribute our expertise to solving the Skills Gap that constrains youth employment globally. Making Cents has also chosen the theme “The Future of Work” for our 11th annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit (GYEO Summit), to be held on Sept 27–29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. With this focus, we will convene leading implementers, funders, the private sector, policy makers, and young people to explore what the future of work for youth may hold, and how we can work together to prepare and equip young people to take advantage of it.

Through these individual and collective efforts, I believe that we can make this “science fiction story” one not of a jobless future, but one in which youth harness the potential of advanced technologies for their own benefit.

Feature Photo from Jessica Lea DFID

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