SDG Action Zone – The Future of Work: Digital Skills and Decent Jobs for Youth

News | 23 September 2020
The SDG Action Zone dialogue on “The Future of Work: Digital Skills and Decent Jobs for Youth”, organized jointly by the ILO, Microsoft Philanthropies and the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, highlighted that rapid technological advances are transforming the world of work, bringing both opportunities and challenges. As COVID-19 has disrupted employment globally, it is more important than ever before to leverage technologies and strengthen youth’s skills for the future of work. Matching youth’s creativity and innovation with technology-based solutions will pave the road to a pro-employment COVID-19 recovery. Solutions to turn the tide on youth employment in the times of COVID-19 must be comprehensive and sequenced while ensuring decent jobs for all youth, especially those more disadvantaged in the labour market.

The dialogue, moderated by Ms. Victoria Alonsoperez, UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, raised concerns about COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on youth. Ms. Naria Santa Lucia, General Manager of Digital Skills and Employability, Microsoft Philanthropies, stated that millions of workers globally had become unemployed or furloughed, and Ms. Sukti Dasgupta, Chief, Employment and Labour Market Policies Branch, ILO, pointed out that 1 in 6 youth had lost their jobs since the onset of the pandemic and many had lost their income. Education was being disrupted, and those entering the labour market were facing significant challenges. These difficulties were further causing severe mental stress for young people. There was a concern that a “lockdown generation” could be the result of the COVID-19 crisis – unless action was taken.

The COVID-19 socio-economic crisis has made youth employment a more urgent issue, and new technologies and digital skills can offer solutions to this pressing challenge. Even before the pandemic, technological change was transforming the world of work, creating a significant need for digital skills. Ms. Santa Lucia underscored that the fastest and most economical way to address the skilling shortage was to put technology to work. It was seen as an indispensable tool to skill more people faster, starting with digital skills themselves. The youth representatives also saw additional opportunities offered by technologies. Mr. Rares Man, Global Vice President of Marketing, AIESEC, stated that online classes were being offered more so than ever before, and Ms. Alonsoperez said that technology facilitated remote work and access to industries across nations. Mr. Lëmnec Tiller, CEO, Fundación Wayuuda, added that the uptake of digital skills could also have a multiplier effect on innovation.
In order to effectively leverage technologies and digital skills to boost youth employability and transform young people’s path into employment, the right employment and skills policies are needed at the national level, as pointed out by Ms. Dasgupta. These policies must be supported by fiscal stimulus, and job training and apprenticeships must be offered. Young workers must be protected, and social dialogue has to be promoted among youth. Combined, these comprehensive measures will facilitate young people’s transition to decent work.

Further, the right policies to prepare young workers for the future of work necessitates inclusivity at all levels. Concerns were raised that internet connectivity remained unequal, and the digital divide was affecting youth in many countries. The uneven access to digital skills also reflected structural inequalities. As Mr. Tiller’s work in support of indigenous communities exemplifies, targeted action is needed to reach the most vulnerable groups of young people. Leaving no one behind in the world of work will require an inclusive approach.

The dialogue concluded that digital jobs and digital skills are here to stay; the future of work will continue to be impacted by technological change, and it is therefore imperative to leverage technologies and provide young people with the access to digital skills, literacy and fluency. Technology-based solutions that can help young people advance in their education and work will be critical to recover from the socio-economic challenges posed by COVID-19 and to achieve decent work for all youth, in line with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.