Throughout most of my childhood and into adulthood, I can recall the numerous times people would say, “If you work hard and get a good education you could do and be anything”. Despite the fact I grew up surrounded by broken dreams and misplaced hope, this message has always resonated with me. In an environment where people wore poverty like a coat to protect them from the bitter realities of our community, I wanted something different and knew education would be my lifeline.
As the first of 16 children to graduate high school and college, I’ve seen first hand what the lack of job training can and has done to an individual's’ ability to feed their family. Even now, more than five years since I graduated college, I stand amongst my peers- the largest youth cohort in history, more than 1.8 billion strong. I know we are lacking the basic skills needed to realize our dreams and the promise spoken of by our parents. Currently, 263 million children and youth are out of school, and millions more aren’t getting the quality education they deserve. That sits as a daunting backdrop to the fact that nearly 50% of the jobs we are training young people for today will not exist when they enter the workforce.
So what does this mean for the most digitally connected generation? Who, if current trends continue, are destined to be outsmarted and outworked by automation and technological advancement in the coming decades. Advancement that will usher in exciting innovations and new opportunities for jobs. But without the skills to adapt to the evolving job market, young people will not only be unemployable, businesses will lack the talent necessary to compete in the global economy. Even now, young people are heavily excluded from the job market with nearly 75 million currently unemployed. Coupled with a growing need for “new skills”, that number will continue to rise as technology grows.
Since 2013 the demand for skills has increased all over the world. In Australia, for example, digital skills have increased by more than 200 percent, critical thinking by 150 percent, creativity by more than 60 percent, and presentation skills by 25 percent. These demands reveal the lack of disconnect between the workforce and the classroom, leaving young people to deal with the consequences of an outdated education system. An education system, that still reflects the industrial revolution, that filters young people into assembly lines, while also waging a war on creativity.
“Regardless of where young people are in the world, only they can fully articulate their experience and help provide unique insight to the challenges they face and how to get their peers engaged and motivated to participate.“
Less than a month ago I joined the Global Business Coalition for Education as Head of Youth Engagement and Skills because it is a unique opportunity to combine my two passions – youth development and creating unlikely partnerships for the advancement of young people. These passions are what drive my ambition to help solve this growing employment crisis, one that has already turned many of my friends’ and classmates’ lives upside down. Struggling to pay back student loans at a time where they can’t find a job within their chosen field, disheartened by the sheer number of rejected job applications or turned away because they lack the basic qualifications needed due to the rapidly changing technology advances. Many of the young people I mentor who are yet to enter college are eager to find a part-time job that hasn’t yet been eliminated by a machine or find an employer who’s willing to work with their limited skills. I see it as my duty to make sure these stories aren't overlooked or forgotten because this is reality and a human centered approach is needed if we are to move education and employability into the 21st century and beyond.
To address these growing concerns, we must remove the barriers for collaboration and curate a community of practice that allows for the two most impacted populations – job makers (businesses) and the job seekers (youth) – to identify challenges and develop pipelines for youth to access the skills they need to thrive. That can’t be done without first placing young people at the center of change and working with leaders who have the ability to make tangible impact. It’s not enough for leaders to deem a quality education as important, without actually ensuring that education will meet the needs of both the community and the economy.
There is a growing need for business leaders to take a more proactive and authentic approach to youth skills and workforce development that doesn’t leave out the expertise of young people. Regardless of where young people are in the world, only they can fully articulate their experience and help provide unique insight to the challenges they face and how to get their peers engaged and motivated to participate. These are issues that have even larger implications beyond any individual’s employability, they exacerbate a number of social and economic issues, putting into question the sustainability of communities around the world. An investment like this today, can help prevent the world’s largest generation of youth from being unemployed, having poor health, civil unrest, child marriage, exploitation and many other vulnerabilities.
Due to these challenges before us, I’m excited by the “Youth Skills and Innovation Initiative” a partnership between the Global Business Coalition for Education and Intel to forge an unlikely collaboration between the business community and youth leaders. A partnership that will help place young people in the driver’s seat, right along with the business community to hopefully revolutionize workforce development methods that are currently leaving too many beyond – particularly our more marginalized populations.
It’s expected that 15-year-olds today will have more than 17 jobs in five different industries over their lifetime. Let's help to ensure that the skills they’ll learn will enable lifelong learning, in the pursuit of their dreams and for the betterment of all our communities.
Jamira Burley is a White House Champion of Change and Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree. For over a decade she’s worked as a strategist for both private and public entities with an expertise at the intersection of youth, policy and social good. Currently, Jamira is the Head of Youth Engagement and Skills for the Global Business Coalition for Education, helping to ensure a collaborative relationship between youth and business leaders; to enable innovative ways to educate, engage and activate young people around the world.