Globally, the population of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 has grown by over 30% to 1.2 billion in just two decades. Over the same period, their participation in the labor market has declined by 12% and is expected to deteriorate further with time.

The World Economic Forum suggests that young people already in the labor market should be upskilled or reskilled. For those yet to enter, the education curriculum must undergo serious scrutiny to align with the ever-changing needs of the labor market.

Tomorrow’s Skills Are Needed Today

According to the World Skills Clock by the Education Commission, 67% of the world’s youth are without digital skills. If not addressed, the gap between what is taught and what is needed could widen further, exacerbating the global youth unemployment crisis.

The first step in resolving this issue is knowing which roles are in demand and which ones are slowly fading away. For example, there has been a decline in the need for accountants, bookkeepers, data entry clerks, and general operation managers, but a rapid increase in various professions, such as digital marketers, software developers, business developers, and information security analysts.

The shifts in demand for green and digital skills do not come in isolation; they come with the wave of digitization, automation, and environmentally conscious industries.

Collaboration Closes the Gap

Governments worldwide understand the long-term impact of skills mismatch on businesses and the global economy. For instance, the European Commission has set targets to ensure that 70% of adults have basic digital skills by 2025. For Africa, the Western and Central Africa Regional Education Strategy proposes an ambitious target of training at least 1 million more young people in digital skills by 2025, with the goal for 60% of them to obtain better jobs.  The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) published nine recommendations in an attempt to reverse the negative impact caused by school closures related to COVID-19, which affected more than 152 million children across its member states, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

But governments cannot close the gap alone. They need to work with businesses and non-profit organizations to protect the future of young people, economies, and businesses. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) help by delivering unprecedented cooperation and collaboration among civil society, business, government, and NGOs in achieving developmental targets.

Beyond government targets, a shining example of public-private partnerships is the one between SAP and UNICEF, which aims to upskill young people and connect them to employment, entrepreneurship, and social impact opportunities. To date, 3 million young people in India, Turkey, and Vietnam have been reached. More work is needed globally to help empower marginalized youth for employment.

UNICEF/GenU programs in the regions focus on upskilling teachers, as they are the carriers of our educational vision. Vietnam is an excellent example of SAP’s support in enabling UNICEF to launch an augmented virtual reality and gamification in teaching and learning programs. Through these programs, 432 teachers have been trained in introducing visual and interactive science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning to their students, building teachers’ capacities to use innovative teaching tools.

Over the next three years, SAP, UNICEF, and GenU will continue to pilot a program that supports learning to earning pathways in the digital and green economies for under-served young people, empowering them with both hard and soft skills needed to flourish in the changing global economy.

The new program will be piloted in early 2023 – leveraging Youth Agency Marketplace (Yoma), a GenU signature solution – in Nigeria, the Philippines, and South Africa. The aim is to provide more than 500,000 young people with foundational and digital skills acquisition opportunities by the end of the first year to transform their life trajectories . The partnership will also support SAP’s educate to employ initiative, which aims to educate youth between the ages of 16 and 24 years on soft skills, foundational knowledge, and SAP skills using the student zone on the SAP Learning site, where students can learn about the latest SAP solutions for free in order to kickstart their careers.

The skills mismatch crisis is not just about bridging the gap between education and the world of work. Instead, it is about finding a solution to global unemployment, increasing the competitiveness of economies, and enhancing their attractiveness to investors, all of which are essential for growth. Businesses and communities must continue to unite and work together to ensure the future of labor markets has the necessary skills.

After all, education is the key to unlocking change. It creates a ripple effect to solve many social and environmental issues beyond economic growth.

Feeling inspired? For further information, visit generationunlimited.org and learn more about the SAP and UNICEF partnership here.

Eugene Ho is global CSR director for Future Skills at SAP.