Share experiences, scale up, think differently. Three key ingredients all stakeholders must remember when searching for solutions to the global youth unemployment crisis, according to participants at a recent World Bank Brussels Office event, which brought together youth groups, international NGOs, the United Nations and representatives of EU institutions.
With hundreds of millions of young people around the world unemployed, inactive, underemployed, or engaged in insecure employment, addressing this crisis is one of the most pressing global challenges we face today.
Evidence is critical
Yet it is evident that there is no silver bullet. "We don’t have the solutions yet, but we are trying to find them," said Mattias Lundberg, Senior Economist in the World Bank’s Social Protection and Labour team, speaking at the event in Brussels. “We need to understand what is happening in the real world."
This, he said, depends on better evidence gathering. "We need to base what we do on real evidence. What works for who, where? What is the experience and what can we learn from it?" he said.
In order to do so, a critical assessment is essential. "We need to think not only about what we can learn from success but also, and perhaps more importantly, what we can learn from failures, when things haven’t worked," he argued. "This means thinking differently, unpacking what we’ve done and why things didn’t work out as we imagined."
Here, participants agreed that the Solutions for Youth Employment Coalition, of which both Plan International and the World Bank are founding partners, can play a crucial role.
Going beyond technical skills
Alexandra Makaroff, Head of Plan International’s EU Office, called for an integrated approach. "Plan is implementing youth economic empowerment programmes in more than 40 countries worldwide," she said. "We have learned that it is essential to take into account a number of other factors which influence a young person’s prospects of securing decent work, such as discrimination against women and girls."
A major challenge is the mismatch between the skills young people have and those the labour market demands. And while it is critical to bridge this gap, she argued that successful programmes must go beyond simply developing technical skills.
"It is not only about technical skills, but also ‘soft’ skills – empowering girls to be more confident, to challenge stereotypes and harmful norms." she said. "We have a responsibility to ensure young people can realise their full potential and are not hemmed in by artificial boundaries and gender stereotypes."
From micro to macro
Given the scale of the challenge, it is critical that best practice examples are identified and replicated across different contexts. As Makaroff argued, "We need to look at micro, meso and marco levels if we are to make a real impact. This means getting buy-in from partner countries."
Her comments were echoed by Lundberg, who concluded by calling for a more systematic, scaled-up engagement with all partners. "We need to move from projects to policy. We can’t achieve our objectives if we just implement projects here and there," he said.