The global coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow over this year’s International Youth Day. According to the United Nations, there are currently around 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 years in the world.
While the first stage of fighting Covid-19 had to focus on protecting the older generation against the disease’s lethal threat, it is the young who will be particularly affected by the long-term impacts on the economy caused by the pandemic.
The challenge is not only unprecedented; so far, it is also impossible to properly assess its scale. However, one thing is certain: the longer the crisis lasts, the deeper the consequences will be.
Facing this new reality, a joint effort by multilateral institutions, national governments and businesses will help mitigate the immediate impact for the young and, at the same time, lay the foundations for a better future.
In order to address the negative impact of the pandemic on the economy, the EBRD has scaled up its response through investments, technical assistance and policy engagement in over 40 countries from central Europe to Central Asia and North Africa.
Even before the global pandemic hit labour markets, young people across the world and in many of the EBRD’s countries of operations faced considerable challenges in their access to economic opportunities. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 64 million young people were unemployed worldwide before the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the crisis, large numbers of the young faced unequal access to physical and digital infrastructure, which limits education and employment opportunities.
While it remains impossible to predict how traditional classroom training will be affected by Covid-19 in the short and medium term, challenges in accessing education are likely to lead to longer-term negative consequences, especially for young women who disproportionately assume caring roles in families. Evidence from past pandemics, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, demonstrates that girls are more likely not to go back to school after a disease outbreak has passed. Moreover, it is important to highlight that even if access to education is possible, younger people from low-income families are more likely to fall behind.
Without adequate skills, such as digital ability, many young people will continue to struggle to gain a solid position in the labour market upon leaving education. Based on OECD data 2020, around 19 per cent of 15-20 year-olds on average are not in employment, education or training across G20 economies. This is only likely to worsen in the post-coronavirus world, with temporary furloughs expected to lead to permanent layoffs and irregular contract employment on the rise.
Governments can make important contributions to address this issue, by:
1- Continuous support of work-based and dual learning models, as well as flexible arrangements combining part-time work and short-term training modules to improve and maintain the quality of skills, in line with changing market needs.
2- Ensuring equitable access to education and employment for young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, less developed regions as well as those young people with disabilities.
3- Focusing national skills development policies on responsive lifelong learning, digital skills and skills related to the greening of economies, in order to prepare young people for the future of work.
As skills demands and the way we work change, the collaboration between policymakers and the private sector will need to ensure that training institutions are able to equip students with the skills and competences necessary by businesses and that young people are compensated adequately. This is particularly relevant for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), which is in high demand by the private sector but suffers from uneven quality and poor salary prospects. In most EBRD countries of operations, TVET provision needs to be prioritised and upgraded significantly to be fit for the future of work.
This is where the EBRD is making a distinctive contribution by bringing together the private and public sectors. The EBRD supports high quality, work-based and certified training for young women and men across its countries of operations, in partnership with national education authorities and local TVET schools and in line with the needs of private sector employers.
The Bank also strives to achieve gender balance in training by setting targets, ensuring that the training materials are gender-sensitive and providing outreach specifically to women students in male-dominated occupations, such as technology and engineering. In Egypt, for example. the Bank has addressed the economic and financial inclusion of women and young people by rolling out the Youth and the Skills in Business programmes in the country.
The EBRD’s support for the provision of skills to the private sector is not limited to specific business areas. With the Bank’s support, a number of companies have enabled students to acquire skills in areas ranging from electrical engineering to culinary arts, energy-related occupations or various medical professions. In 2019, for example, the agribusiness company Migros supported 2500 students to acquire new skills in retail through its training centre.
There are numerous economic, social and environmental challenges to providing access to skills, education and training for young people. This complex task requires concerted action by multiple stakeholders.
The EBRD is well-placed to support these efforts: it combines investments with the promotion of market-relevant education and training, as well as decent employment and supportive public policies. In so doing, the EBRD is contributing to equitable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth across its regions of operations for years to come.