Integrating young people into the labour market is critical for the dynamism of our economies as well as the health of our businesses and society at large. Unfortunately, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have been devastating for the young generation, disrupting their education, limiting their employment opportunities and creating mental health issues. Addressing the challenges young people face should be a priority for governments, business, international organizations, and society at large. Doing so will not only ensure the availability of new skills and talents now, but also act as an investment in the future of our economies and societies.
We must therefore do all we can to ensure that there is no lost “Covid generation.” As the officially recognized business voice to the OECD, representing the leading business organizations in OECD countries and beyond, Business at OECD (BIAC) therefore launched a global Business for Youth campaign to share pro-active examples from our global network to support youth and address the challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis.
Why is it important to share best practice?
For many companies, their ability to compete in global markets depends on access to skills and talent. While recognizing that the capacities of what companies can do to offer employment opportunities varies, many business leaders can and are taking important steps to support young job-seekers. We are convinced that sharing their successes can be an inspiration for others. It is also important to highlight what governments can do to support companies to offer opportunities for the transition of young people into the labour market.
Business and employers’ organizations are also playing an important role, acting as intermediaries between educational institutions and the private sector by establishing structured programmes and institutional frameworks, organising events connecting the young to employment opportunities, sharing best practice, and raising awareness.
What must be done to get youth into the labour market?
Tackling the unprecedented challenges young people are facing will require partnership between governments, educational institutions, business and key stakeholders. Cooperation is essential to tailor career orientation, bridge the skills gap, and ensure students develop the skills that firms need. In our outreach to our members, they have identified, among others, the following key challenges and opportunities:
- The need to help students with a smooth school to work transition. As young people are about to enter the labour market or preparing for higher education, they need a better understanding of the returns and opportunities specific academic and vocational pathways might offer, where job opportunities exist, in particular in light of the economic shifts related to the pandemic, and what current and future skills requirements are.
- Early experience of the workplace can support this, and work experience and internships are therefore often an important first step. They also provide companies an opportunity to collect fresh ideas and identify future employees. As internship programmes have suffered from Covid-19, showcasing best practices in the face of economic challenges is particularly important. Apprenticeships provide another route to support young people into the labour market and address the mismatch between the skills people have and the skills employers need. Government support schemes play an important role here in providing the right incentives and support to companies to offer apprenticeships.
- Youth entrepreneurship is another important avenue for young people to find their way into employment. However, young entrepreneurs often require tailored training and mentoring to develop the skills and experience to succeed. There is a need to help nurture students’ entrepreneurial skills early on, improve access to finance for young entrepreneurs and foster mentorship-based and tailored training schemes for young adults starting their own business.
- Business action for youth increasingly involves upskilling and training programs, to tackle the skills gap. Through their own workforce programmes and dialogue with the public sector, business can help develop relevant and practical education and training programmes that meet the needs of both businesses and the young, and reach out to students from diverse backgrounds.
- Finally, as the digital transformation accelerated during the Covid-19 crisis, young people’s employability now increasingly depends on their digital skills. Customizable learning materials, digital mentoring and investment in training teachers and managers is more important than ever to prepare young people for tomorrow’s labour market.
Public-private cooperation is essential
We can only successfully address the challenges facing the young generation today if we work together to ensure there is no lost generation. Forging public-private partnerships, with a particular focus on youth programmes can be a win-win situation. Effective continuous dialogue between education institutions, the private and the public sector will be critical to giving young people a chance, boosting the talent pipeline and building stronger businesses.
And let’s not forget, even small steps matter. In our Paris-based office, we at Business at OECD have continued our internship and young professionals programme throughout the pandemic. We will continue to work closely with our wider membership to share best practices and will seek close dialogue with the OECD to ensure that public policy action will be supportive of the important role that business can play to support youth during these challenging times.