The Secret to Eradicating Youth Unemployment? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Secret to Eradicating Youth Unemployment?

The Secret to Eradicating Youth Unemployment?

By Lynda Brendish


Because it’s important to give students the skills to tackle big challenges. 

By Lynda Brendish

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If you’ve ever been unemployed, you’re probably familiar with the particular kind of demoralization that comes with a long, unfulfilling job search and the frayed self-worth that sets in when success is elusive. If you also happen to be in the 16- to 24-year-old range, your likelihood of unemployment is higher than any other age group. In fact, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dipped in May 2017 to its lowest point since May 2001, the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 16 and 24 is much higher — around 11 percent (and 13 percent globally). That’s 6.7 million American youth who are actively looking for work but unable to find it; the rate is double that for African-American youth. The fiscal cost of that is $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes, according to a recent study commissioned by the White House Council on Community Solutions. Failing to create jobs for unemployed young people today will leave taxpayers with a huge bill down the road.

By 2020, more than 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma. Of that, about half will require a four-year degree.

On the other side of the coin are employers, many of whom have vacancies they can’t fill because they can’t find someone qualified. Increasingly, open roles require a higher level of education and job readiness training. In technical terms, this mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers need is called structural unemployment, but it’s more commonly referred to as a skills gap.

Across the board, we’re hearing from employers who are desperate for workers with the right skills.

Tim Lawrence, Skills USA

Closing that gap is the focus of events like World Youth Skills Day, which was established by the United Nations in 2014 and is held every July 15 to recognize the need for youth training and skills development globally. “The skills gap is real, and closing it is vital to our future prosperity as a nation,” says Tim Lawrence, executive director of Skills USA, an organization that works through industry and education partnerships to train students in workplace and technical skills for job readiness. “Across the board, we’re hearing from employers who are desperate for workers with the right skills, and who believe the widening gap will impact their ability to meet customer demand,” he says.

This matters because as we enter a period with critical challenges around the climate, energy solutions, a growing population and social unrest, it’s young people who will be called on to solve them. To do that, they need to be equipped with both the skills and economic stability to do so. On another level, employers need a pool of skilled workers to grow their businesses, and beyond that, countries need the same to grow their economies. That’s why youth skills development has a lot of support in the private sector, whether it’s the industry partners that Skills USA works with, many of which are in manufacturing, health care and engineering, or whether it’s JPMorgan Chase, which has invested $75 million in a global New Skills for Youth initiative to help young people access exactly the kind of career-focused training programs that can help prepare them for well-paid jobs and careers.

The impact of reducing youth unemployment goes beyond helping employers find employees. There are societal implications — jobs reduce poverty, for one thing, and there’s evidence that high male youth unemployment is strongly correlated with social unrest — which means that increasing youth employment rates could very well help create a safer society for us all, as well.

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