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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of young people everywhere. Many of the worst consequences of the pandemic – school closures, fewer employment opportunities, low wages – have forced our youth to alter their personal, professional, and educational plans. If left unaddressed, these sacrifices will reverberate for years to come and leave an entire generation – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – with bleak futures.
Already, there is evidence to suggest that these sacrifices are having a profound impact on our global economy. Since the onset of the pandemic, one in six young people have had to stop working, and 42% of those who have continued to work have seen their incomes reduced, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Without this income, young people are less likely to reinvest in local economies, finance their educations, or become entrepreneurs.
The severe impact that the pandemic has had on our youth has also affected their mental well-being, to the point that 38% of them are uncertain of their future career prospects. Businesses can help to address this worrying trend by providing young people with the necessary tools and resources to be prepared for work and ready to thrive. In close partnership with governments and international institutions, the private sector can improve employment opportunities for young people, extend access to quality services, and create an enabling environment for new forms of innovation that will benefit the global economy – and the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere – in the years to come.
Bridge the Gap
Closer collaboration between business leaders and educators can lead to improved employment opportunities for young people. By strengthening ties with academic partners, companies can ensure a more seamless transition between the halls of higher education and employment. While job placement schemes are essential, they typically favor a select few. To fully prepare the next generation of talent, academic and private sector partnerships need to run much deeper than just internships and career days.
And there are some good examples of this, such as the Alliance for YOUth founded by Nestlé, which upskilled 20 million young people in 2020 alone. The alliance is made up of 22 international private companies that are committed to supporting youth around the world by providing them with the necessary skills to thrive in the world of work. To achieve this, they leverage their resources and networks to support, advocate and develop educational programs that enable young people to transition from education and training to employment.
Establishing deeper bonds between academia and the private sector– and moving beyond the surface of internships and job placement schemes – will benefit higher education institutions, companies, and, most importantly, students.
Provide Meaningful upskilling
Companies that offer internship and apprentice schemes must make sure that these opportunities are providing meaningful upskilling for young people. Rather than assign interns with clerical work, companies should provide them with tools and skills that will increase their chances of full-time employment. Early-career job programs are an opportunity for interns and apprentices to access proper mentoring and training, so that they leave their work experiences truly upskilled, confident, and more prepared to progress.
To ensure recognition of this training, some companies are providing their interns with certifications that will give them with a leg-up in the labour market. In Mexico, the telecommunications company Movistar, provides interns with the opportunity to partake in virtual trainings focused on employment skills, social entrepreneurship, and project management. Not only do these trainings provide interns with skills, but they also provide them with valuable certifications that can be applied once their work experiences end.
Encourage young entrepreneurs
The private sector can work together with governments and educational institutions to encourage and support an entrepreneurial mindset among young people. Most notably, the private sector can provide young entrepreneurs with basic support services that they often cannot afford, like marketing, legal, and accounting resources. This pro-bono support can help entrepreneurs jump start their businesses and create new forms of wealth and innovation for the benefit of all.
Companies can also work with policymakers to reduce red tape and provide entrepreneurs with the tools and resources to spur innovation. Legislative reforms, such as France’s tech visa, provide entrepreneurs with the ability to expand their operations, fund their ambitious ideas, and join a community of like-minded innovators.
In this same spirit, the International Chamber of Commerce has launched the ICC Centre of Entrepreneurship to provide specialised training, mentoring, and support services to help entrepreneurs establish, fund, manage, and expand their start-ups. The first regional ICC Centre of Entrepreneurship was launched in Istanbul to serve the Central Asia and Caucus region in early 2020 and was followed by a hub in Beirut to serve the Arab region in October 2020. This year, ICC plans to launch future hubs in Africa, South America, and Asia.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to our youth – but there is hope. The private sector can and should work in collaboration with governments and international organisations to provide the next generation of innovators with the support they need. The OECD’s Stand by Youth initiative is a positive first step in bringing together policymakers and business leaders to improve the economic prospects and well-being of young people everywhere.
We owe it to the younger generations to help them regain a sense of purpose, create new opportunities, and brighten their futures.
John W.H. Denton AO is the Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). He is a global business leader and international advisor on policy and a legal expert on international trade and investment.
He is also a Board member of the United Nations Global Compact and Co-chair of the B20 finance and infrastructure taskforce, as well as a founding member of the Business 20 (B20), the Australia–China CEO Roundtable and UNHCR in Australia.
Mr Denton serves on the Board of leading global infrastructure group IFM Investors. Mr Denton is also the Chair of the Asia Pacific advisory board of Veracity, a global advisory group based in New York, and Chair of the Moeller Institute advisory board at the University of Cambridge.
He co-led the Australian Government’s 2012 White Paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” and previously chaired the APEC Finance and Economics Working Group.