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Urgent need to prepare young people for futuristic jobs: Unicef’s Kevin Frey

NEW DELHI :

There is an urgent need to prepare young people to be responsible adults, by preparing them for types of jobs that are yet to be created, said Kevin Frey, global chief executive of UNICEF Generation Unlimited, a new vertical of the UN body that focuses on 10-24 year olds. In an interview to Mint, Frey explained the rationale behind the growing focus on youth, job uncertainties world-over post the pandemic, and the growth of gig work. In his first visit to India, Frey elaborated upon how Unicef is looking to work with states, and institutions to improve engagement to better role of youth in policy making, sustainable development and decent work. Edited excerpts: 

What’s the motive behind the Generation Unlimited initiative of UNICEF? 

Today’s young people represent the largest cohort ever – an unprecedented 1.8 billion+ globally – who require a new inclusive approach, given the extraordinary economic, social and cultural challenges they face. India, with more than 333 million 10–24-year-olds, has the world’s largest youth population. Meeting their needs will be a considerable challenge. But it is also the most significant opportunity India has for economic and social progress.  

That is the reason why…UNICEF launched the global Generation Unlimited movement to meet the urgent needs of young people between the ages of 10-24, expanding learning, skill development, employment and engagement opportunities.  The India chapter of Generation Unlimited – YuWaah. 

Are you working with the Indian government and the states?  

We at YuWaah are working with a few state governments to enhance young people’s access to education, skilling, and civic engagement opportunities. In 2020, with our collaboration with the Government of Punjab, YuWaah, along with our Civil society partners, started the Pride of Punjab initiative, wherein more than 70,000 young people have worked alongside local Panchayats…on diverse topics…including employability skills.We successfully established a partnership with an expansive youth network of half a million young people in Maharashtra too. 

In both Karnataka and Telangana, with the support of State Governments, we are engaging young people through School Innovation Challenges aimed at nurturing design thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship among school students. 

How to get ready for a changing ‘future of work’ scenario in India and elsewhere? 

 

The future of work is a complex topic to speak about because it’s changing so quickly. It’s no secret that COVID has presented us with unprecedented challenges – social, economic and environmental. The challenges are more acute for young people in disadvantaged communities and those who lack opportunities because of their gender, race, sexuality, disability or ethnic background.  

 

There is an urgent need to prepare our young people to be responsible adults, by preparing them for types of jobs that are yet to be created, for technologies not yet invented, to solve problems not yet anticipated. The average person currently changes careers 5 to 7 times during their working life and according to LinkedIn, as a young worker you are likely to change jobs 4 times in your first 10 years after graduation. 

The nature of work has fundamentally changed as well. McKinsey is predicting that by the end of 2021– gig jobs will actually outnumber traditional nine-to-five, office-based jobs. And by 2027, up to 60%  of the workforce will consist of freelance professionals. In this context, UNICEF launched Generation Unlimited and YuWaah have several movements to create better education, skills, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people worldwide and in India. 

In India and elsewhere youth employment and employability are a twin challenge. How should India deal with it? 

Youth employment is critical for the social and economic stability and growth of any economy. That is why society needs to give it the most significant attention. 

Young people today are subject to extreme market volatility and uncertainty. Furthermore, COVID-19 has exacerbated the pre-existing conditions of the digital divide, gender-inequalities, and urban-rural societal inequalities. The rapid shift to e-learning prompted by the pandemic has resurfaced long-standing issues of inequality and a digital divide in India for learning and skilling opportunities of young people in India and around the world.  

An estimated 10 million are expected to drop out due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Future of Jobs report 2020). This would further widen the gender gap in education as girls are more vulnerable to such shocks. Over 4.1 million young people in the country lost jobs due to the COVID-19, according to a joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO). One of the adverse long-term effects of Covid-19 will be a dramatic decrease in human capital and the shortage of a skilled workforce.  

While the world is moving towards more digital, where future jobs exist, there is a strong need to expand our academic curriculum to include life skills and social-emotional learning for the 21st century. 

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