How Can Sports Help to Promote Youth Employment?

What do employers expect from employees? For the most part, that they are hard-working, punctual, disciplined, creative, team players, proactive, risk takers, responsible, leaders in their own fields, respectful, results-driven, positive, competitive, fun and energetic.

These qualities are known as "soft skills." They are common expectations from the world of work. But they also found in another world that is very popular with young people: sports.

In a recent show on the Asia Pacific Youth Employment Network (APYouthNet) I interviewed the youngest-ever world champion of badminton, Ratchanok Intanon -- also known as Nong May -- whose story is a great lesson in humility. She grew up in poverty in the outskirts of Bangkok and owes her success entirely to hard work and perseverance. That makes her an inspiration not only to athletes but to millions of young people who see in her story an example that while poverty may make starting out tougher, success itself does not discriminate. The same applies to the world of work: It is harder to succeed if you are young and poor, but the only way of getting on is to keep trying your best and to never give up.

This leads us to a simple question: Isn't it strange to think that young people can excel at sports but do not possess the necessary skills for the jobs that they want? Why is it that only formal qualifications apply during a hiring process? Isn't it ironic that employers often refrain from hiring young people for their apparent lack of soft skills rather than for their lack of specialist experience, which can ultimately be obtained through in-house training?

Understanding how soft skills that can be developed through sports -- for example ethics, attitudes and communications -- are relevant to the world of work provides an interesting perspective on youth employability.

A number of program have already tried to resolve this dichotomy. Successful initiatives include "A Ganar" in Latin America and "Just Play" -- a program of the Oceania Football Confederation designed to contribute to community development priorities in the Pacific Islands. The latter targets children aged six to 12, but there are plans to extend it to other countries and older ages. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has expressed interest in the idea.

The ILO has long advocated for sports development and youth employment by supporting programs for youth sports and peace. In 2006, it also published the book Beyond the Scoreboard, edited by Giovanni di Cola, which looks at youth employment opportunities and skills development in sports.

The recent Pacific Youth and Sports Conference in Noumea, New Caledonia was a great opportunity to discuss many of the ideas and programs that are being implemented in the region on youth and sports. It focused on health, social inclusion and education and capacity building.

How are these issues linked to sports? Firstly, sports can be used to tackle non-communicable diseases, prevent sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies and improve mental health. Secondly, sports not only foster social inclusion but can also help to prevent domestic violence and anti-social behavior as well. And thirdly, sports can help promote school attendance, develop a range of life skills and encourage active citizenship.

Attracting young people to a football pitch, a rugby field or a badminton court can be a powerful way of enhancing their confidence and teaching them new skills. While this will not always replace the more traditional methods of delivering training, it does offer us the chance to develop innovative youth employment programs.

In the words of Nong May: "There is only one number one. It depends on how much you practice. The more you practice, the sooner you will achieve your goal".

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