A perfect storm is brewing: high unemployment rates around the world, extreme poverty, particularly in emerging markets, and a lack of digital education and skills to fill thousands of vacant future-focused, digital jobs.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that more than 200 million young people are either unemployed or have a job but live in poverty. In many countries, youth unemployment is at record levels, from 38% in Italy and 39% in Spain to 47% in Greece and 53% in South Africa. Paradoxically, unemployment among young people is rising just as businesses of all types and sizes are struggling to fill a wide range of digital technology roles that are critical for future growth. The European Commission estimates that around 500,000 digital jobs across the European Union will remain unfilled by 2020.
The digital skills gap is growing, rightly prompting fears that a lack of relevant talent could stymie economic growth. There is no time to lose - the future competitiveness of Europe (and elsewhere) will be assessed by a commitment to ensuring economies have the skills required for a thriving digital economy.
Our latest research with YouGov among nearly 6,000 18-24 year-olds across 15 countries - The State of iGen - reveals there is a long way to go. More than two-thirds of young people interviewed said they had received insufficient or no careers advice at any point in their education. Of those who had received careers advice, 38% said advice was too narrowly focused on traditional, non-digital roles. Only 15% said their careers advice included future-focused, digital jobs.
A prolonged period of unemployment shortly after a young person leaves education to enter the workforce can have a lifelong negative effect on individual confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing, according to recent studies. Fifty-six per cent in The State of iGen study said that the hardest challenge for their generation is finding a well-paid, permanent job – a figure that is of even greater concern when 46% of respondents said that their future happiness is dependent on securing a well-paid, permanent job. Furthermore, as many as one out of five young people surveyed appear to have lost all confidence, saying they worry they lack the skills and experience to do any job at all, while nearly one third say they lack the skills to find a job they enjoy.
Despite around 40% of respondents thinking that most jobs and professions will be replaced by machines within 50 years, the majority favour traditional careers – with teacher, sales and marketing professional featuring in their ‘top three’ when asked to choose from a list of digital and traditional careers. And there was a startling difference between men and women. Young women favour traditional careers, with their top three choices being, sales and marketing professional, teaching and nurse or doctor, and young men favour digital careers, choosing games designer, coder and YouTuber. Perhaps this is a reflection on why more young women (64%) than men (49%) said that finding a well-paid, permanent job was their toughest challenge.
What is clear from our research is that inadequate careers advice with a bias towards traditional careers is preventing the majority of young people from benefiting from thousands of vacant digital jobs. It isn’t the only factor. Other recent research has shown that, while 16-24 year-olds are digital natives, there is a lot more to do in developing the digital skills required in the workplace. A combination of greater and much-improved careers advice in schools and digital skills training are essential to prevent future skills shortages and ultimately boost productivity.
Careers advice should be a core part of a young person’s schooling, not a nice-to-have add-on. Schools, colleges and universities must be incentivised to prioritise careers advice and digital skills. Governments, the education sector and businesses need to come together to find ways of ensuring young people are provided with high quality careers advice and training, with a focus on digital skills. While a problem needs solving, this is also an opportunity. As ILO Director General Guy Ryder says, “The digital economy has enormous potential to create decent jobs for youth and act as a catalyst for sustainable growth and development.”
Joakim Reiter writes as Vodafone launches international future jobs programme, “What will you be?” to provide career guidance and access to training content in the digital economy for up to 10 million young people across 18 countries.
Joakim Reiter is the Group External Affairs Director of Vodafone. Before joining Vodafone in April 2017, Joakim was the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Prior to that, he spent more than 15 years in the foreign service of Sweden, including as Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador to the World Trade Organization and at the Permanent Representation to the European Union. He also served as an EU negotiator with DG TRADE at the European Commission.
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