On the occasion of World Youth Skills Day 2017

17 July 2016, 3-6pm, CR 3

Opening statement by Jayathma Wickramanayake,

Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth

Excellencies, fellow youth leaders, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to be with you here on the commemoration of the World Youth Skills Day as well as my first public engagement Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

As you know, the Secretary-General’s vision on youth, which places young people as a cross-cutting priority for the UN system understands and recognizes the critical importance of closing the youth skills gap and empowering young people with education and training that is key to realizing their full potential.

Three years ago, as a youth delegate to the United Nations for Sri Lanka, I had the honour of working with Member States to pass resolution 69/145 which established this internationally recognized day.

At that time, the need to focus global attention on this issue was clear.

The youth unemployment rate was at a record high. More than 40% of the world’s youth were either unemployed or had a job and yet still lived in poverty.

More was needed to deliver on a coordinated and coherent approach for young people and ensure they gained the education and skills they needed to reach their full potential and live good and fulfilling lives.

And indeed, efforts were being made.

Millions of young people from all over the world had been consulted in the post-2015 process, to have a say on the world they wanted to live in.

The World Conference on Youth had recently concluded in my home country, Sri Lanka, which saw thousands of young people and youth organizations come together and agree  the need to “Recognize and promote youth entrepreneurship and skills development” to ensure sustainable development.

A year and a half later, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in 2015 in which Member States agreed on the need for youth skills development with clear metrics under Goal 4, target 4.4 which commits to “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”

At the start of 2016, the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth was launched to tackle the youth employment challenge and assist Member States in delivering on the Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.

The recent launch of the campaign on Digital Skills for Decent Jobs for Youth is a much welcome development and will contribute to advancing the objectives of the Global Initiative. As the future of work will undoubtedly be based on the developments of information and communications technology, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize ILO and ITU for their leadership and continued partnership.

And whilst the last three years has seen some progress in coordinating global efforts to address the youth skills gap, the issue has been further affected by continued dramatic advances in the digitization of societies and economies across the world.  We must keep up.

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020 more than one-third of skills (35%) that were considered important in 2015’s workforce will have changed. Advances in areas such as robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and biotechnology will have drastically altered the skills needed in the workplace and made insecure many millions whose skills will have been outdated in just a few short years.

The World Bank forecasts that new technology could displace between one and two-thirds of workers across the world. And the most vulnerable workers will be the ones who are most affected. As young women are less likely to have access to technology and digital fluency compared to young men, the digital gender divide will have adverse effects on attaining full and decent employment for young women worldwide.

Therefore, women are a significant source of untapped potential in the global workforce, and increasing their digital fluency can result in the alleviation of female unemployment and underemployment, increase equality in the labour market opportunities and result in sustainable economic growth.

While this raises concerns about the ability of policy and political efforts to keep up with the digital revolution, or the fourth industrial revolution as we call it, some of the same forces which are drastically changing the nature of jobs offer new opportunities for skills development and knowledge transfer.

For instance, the rise of artificial intelligence and mobile technology is changing how people around the world learn and interact and offer new opportunities for further education and skills development including through Massive Online Open Courses and Open Educational Resources. Today, young people value technology as a means of communicating and connecting with others, including employers.

With the 2030 Agenda, all Member States have committed to substantially increase the number of youth who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. They recognized that without skilled and employable young people, our chances of achieving the Goals are greatly diminished.  It is time to take that commitment seriously.

In this spirit, I would like to suggest four key areas which are critical to these efforts:

First, a coherent effort to anticipate and forecast what the demand for skills in the future will look like, should be developed in partnership with- employers and educators across regions, sectors and markets, so that our efforts will not be outdated before they’ve had impact.

Second, we must adapt existing policies and initiatives to be fit for the digital era and ensure that we remain flexible enough, to adapt these further in the future. The first 15 years of this century saw some of the most rapid technological advances in human history and there is no sign that this will slow down in the years ahead.

Third, we must ensure that national youth policies are integrated, holistic and funded. Our efforts to support young people and ensure their prosperity are diminished when they operate in silos without proper financing.

And fourth, we must ensure that education is holistic, not only addressing quickly changing technical skills, but also focussing on greater social skills learning to learn, knowing ones rights at the workplace and having the competencies to adapt to changing and demanding workplaces. Formal education alone is not enough to equip young people with the competencies needed for this world – non-formal and informal education play a very important role in this regard.

With all this talk of change in such little time, one truth remains. There is no better investment a country can make than in the capacities and potential of its young people.

I thank you for this opportunity, and as I settle into my new role I look forward to working with all stakeholders in this room to advance youth skills development in pursuit of a world where young people everywhere reach their full potential and no young person is left behind.

Watch the full event here!