Add together not only those officially classed as ‘unemployed’, but also those who have simply given up looking for work and those who are part of the ‘working poor’ (i.e. earning less than $2/day), and the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 without productive employment apparently reaches an eye-watering 600 million.
That’s one in two of the total global population of 15-24 year olds. If they were citizens of a country, it would be the third most populous in the world, behind only China and India.
Gross oversimplification though it is (we are, after all, talking about the product of a major collision of demographics and global economic recession), my inner MBA can’t resist the temptation to categorise possible interventions using the time-honoured 2×2 matrix…
Boxes 1 and 2
Looking through the lens of sustaining innovation (improvements within the current paradigm), and seeing youth employment as predominantly a supply-side problem (an insufficiency of appropriate skills), would suggest interventions to improve young people’s readiness for the world of work.
That might include anything and everything from improving access to a quality education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds (creating equity of opportunity), to greater availability of internships and apprenticeships (providing more practical work experience), to better careers advice and guidance on things like CV writing and interview technique (improving chances of converting opportunities).
[A brief aside: equity of opportunity and richer work experience are where initiatives like the Akasa Young Pioneers program – which also happens to be linked to sustainable development – are to be wholeheartedly welcomed and supported, IMHO.]
Viewed as predominantly a demand-side problem (an insufficiency of appropriate jobs) might direct one towards equipping young people with the requisite skills and knowledge to consider setting up their own business, as an alternative to the ‘traditional’ corporate career path.
Indeed, development of a more entrepreneurial mindset might well be a bridge between supply and demand-side views of the problem. As EY Chairman and CEO, Mark Weinberger, alluded to in a recent piece for Forbes, studies suggest that the sorts of skills and behaviours typified by entrepreneurs – e.g. initiative and self-direction, flexibility and adaptability, communication and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving – are precisely those that employers currently deem most lacking among millennials.
All of the above are definitely areas where, as Mark says, business can and should be looking to lead and make a tangible contribution. That said…
Boxes 3 and 4
I can’t shake the feeling that the biggest inroads will only be made with systemic change – tackling profound questions like ‘Are we even teaching our kids the right stuff in the first place?’ and ‘Do our tax and economic policies really incentivise job creation?’
Admittedly I’m no expert, but I’ve unsurprisingly found myself nodding in vigorous agreement with a couple of passages that I’d like to share with you, the first of which comes from Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age – yet another outstanding and profoundly thought-provoking book from the brilliant Marty Neumeier (@MARTYneumeier):
“With the exception of language and math basics, the subjects we now teach at school are the wrong subjects. The right subjects – the ones that will matter in the 21st century – are metaskills. Students today should be learning social intelligence, systemic logic, creative thinking, how to make things, how to learn. What we now think of as subjects – sociology, trigonometry, physics, art, psychology and scores of others – should become ‘drill-downs’ from these metaskills – specific disciplines, designed to explore the higher order subjects…
Today we find ourselves caught between two paradigms – the linear, reductionist past and the spiraling, mutli-valent future. The old world turned on the axis of knowledge and material goods. The new one will turn on the axis of creativity and social responsibility. To cross the gap we’ll need a generation of thinkers and makers who can reframe problems and design surprising, elegant solutions. We’ll need fearless, self-directed learners who embrace adventure. We’ll need teachers, mentors and leaders who understand that mind shaping is world shaping – who give learners the tools they’ll need to continually reinvent their minds in response to future challenges.”
The second passage comes from Walter Stahel, founder director of The Product-Life Institute, in a contribution to A New Dynamic: Effective Business in a Circular Economy, published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
“Sustainable taxation should reward desired developments and discourage unwanted effects of activities. In a sustainable economy, taxes on renewable resources, including work – human labour – are counterproductive and should be abandoned. The resulting loss of state revenue could be compensated by taxing the consumption of non-renewable resources in the form of materials and energies, and of undesired wastes and emissions. Such a shift in taxation would reward a circular economy with its low-carbon and low-resource solutions.”
Having always felt that the tax system would provide a far more effective tool to incentivise the right behaviours than the blunt instrument of regulation, that makes intuitive sense to me. What do you think?