How can young people help themselves, both practically and professionally? How can developing countries cut youth unemployment and realise their full potential? How can the United Nations University make a difference? Ibrahima Kaba, a PhD fellow from Guinea in West Africa, and Diego Salama, a research assistant from Bolivia in South America, share their views ahead on the first ever World Youth Skills Day.
In November 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 69/145, declaring every July 15th as World Youth Skills Day. Among the motivations for establishing this day the General Assembly pointed out its concern about the high number of unemployed youths worldwide, estimated at 74.5 million in 2013 — most of whom live in developing countries. The UN then called on all its members to tackle this problem by improving access to better quality education and training.
Coming from two developing countries, we wholeheartedly believe that young people are a determining factor in social change, economic development and technological innovation. In order to position youth from developing countries properly at the centre of economic and political progress, there is a need to empower them in a multidimensional way. One of the key points of this effort has to revolve around education.
“Through different research projects, clusters and activities we have been able to go beyond the ‘ivory tower’ and learn how to bridge the gap between research and practice,” explains Ibrahima Kaba, UNU-MERIT.
There has to be a bigger and more concrete effort to provide access to education. It is clear that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had a positive impact in this field together with the UN’s Youth-SWAP Programme. In addition, many UN Member States have made education a national priority by enacting policies to fight illiteracy. However, as we transition from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we believe that there are still challenges ahead, both in technical and tertiary education — which is why the celebration of this day is quite fitting.
At the university level, it is becoming a requirement to provide students with a multidimensional education. Put simply, this is because the next generation of decision-makers needs to be able to understand the complexities of public administration, foreign policy, economics, etc. On the one hand, there is a clear need to study the theoretical framework which governs the way we understand each field; on the other hand there is also a need to learn how to implement and apply said theories in the real world.
Working and studying at UNU-MERIT, we have been granted an opportunity to conduct research with some of the world’s top academics and practitioners. Through different research projects, clusters and activities we have been able to go beyond the ‘ivory tower’ and learn how to bridge the gap between research and practice.
Gathering in educational hubs like UNU allows us to share experiences and come to the realisation that developing countries have similar challenges — albeit under very different circumstances. From another angle, working and studying at an institution like UNU invests us with a sense of duty: to pass on the privilege and ensure access to education becomes the norm (rather than the exception). Having said that, however, this kind of education is just one component of the skills we need to obtain.
“…[I]t would be shortsighted and irresponsible not to organise, not to take a stand, or not to have a positive influence on our societies,” says Diego Salama, UNU-MERIT.
There is also a need to internalise the realisation that vocational and technical training is as important as tertiary education. The dynamics of the global economy and the needs of companies, have led to increased demand for professionals with specific expertise and skills that are not necessarily available at traditional universities. Many industries and fields are looking for people with specific skills to solve problems in a practical, simple and pragmatic manner.
Young people cannot leave their future to the current generation of leaders; they have to take matters into their own hands, to the extent that it’s possible. By strengthening civil society at the local, national and international level and establishing youth networks focused around developing the voice of the youth, we can place ourselves as a decisive actor in the decision-making process. Of course, it would be far too idealistic of us to think that youth can solve all these challenges alone; but it would be shortsighted and irresponsible not to organise, not to take a stand, or not to have a positive influence on our societies.
Celebrating days like this sends a message to young people: that the UN understands the challenges we are facing, particularly in the developing world. By the same token, young people need to use these opportunities to hold both the UN and its member states accountable for the progress (or lack thereof) on youth policies. World Youth Skills Day is a chance for young people like us to come together and become part of the change that we want — and expect — to see.
This article originally appeared on the blog of the United Nations University Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT).