5 ways to enhance digital skilling solutions for youth employment

The Need: Why engaging historically underserved young people for decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods is a global priority for NGOs, governments and businesses.
5 ways to enhance digital skilling solutions for youth employment
The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

Despite the diversity of local contexts across YMCA’s 12,000 communities in 120 countries, one leadership conversation remains a constant. That is the need to enable historically underserved young people to obtain relevant education, skills, networks, and capabilities to access decent jobs and build sustainable livelihoods. This is a priority, for NGOs,  governments and businesses, responding to three megatrends:

  • Demographic trends see working-age populations shift from developed economies in the global north to emerging markets in the global south. Of the 10.9 billion people who are projected to be born by the end of this century, 85% will be born in Africa and Asia, and 71% in what are currently termed low or lower-middle-income countries. Engaging this talent and ensuring these young people are positioned to participate in the jobs of the future, and in the just transition is an agreed labour market requirement and critical for political and economic stability in Africa, Asia and across the world.
  • A ‘Skills – first’ approach to talent management is now good practice, where businesses recognise the efficacy of broadening the base of incoming talent and training on the job. This reduces reliance on high-cost traditional recruitment pathways, compensates for deficits in the education system status quo, and places value on talent potential including for those historically underserved or less seen.
  • Pressure for social impact in ESG reporting and for companies to access new capital – rising regulatory, investor, employee and consumer expectations create pressure on businesses to generate positive social impact. This includes diversifying the workforce and including talent entering through less traditional pathways.

These trends point to an increased imperative for employers and governments to create pathways that enable historically underserved young people to build the skills and capabilities needed to access decent jobs and build sustainable livelihoods.

More on the Forum Network: How Best to Help Young People Prepare for Their Future by Director of Education, and the Next Generation, Bertelsmann Foundation

2023 is the European Year of Skills, to promote future skills, including collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. How can we fully support young people as they enter the world of work?

The Opportunity:  There are more opportunities than ever to support historically underserved young people’s access to quality education and decent work

Fortunately, there are ever more diverse opportunities to engage historically underserved young people in learning and skilling pathways to employment:

  • Technology is disrupting education systems, creating new ways for young people to access learning and job opportunities
  • There is a rising recognition among employers and governments about the value of apprenticeships and work-based learning to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in working and learning pathways that can lead to decent work
  • Private capital markets are increasingly participating in social and environmental change initiatives. Impact Investing markets (where people and planet impacts are expected alongside financial returns) are already valued at over US$1 trillion, forecast to reach over US$4 trillion by 2030.  This market creates incentives for more business solutions to generate greater social impact and increase opportunities for engaging the historically underserved.

How to Convert the Opportunity: YMCA is exploring five ways to connect historically underserved young people with the skills and capabilities needed to access decent jobs and build sustainable livelihoods

Youth economic empowerment is not new for the YMCA. Around the world, more than 12,000 YMCAs are working with over 50 million young people every year through a wide range of youth employment initiatives that span career counselling, job readiness, foundational skills, digital literacy and digital skills development, technical and vocational training, registered apprenticeships, entrepreneurship training and microlending, job placement, and employment centres. Many YMCAs work with young people from underserved and disadvantaged communities - immigrants, refugees, youth in justice systems, homeless young people, and young people in rural and poor areas (including in slums). Several YMCAs have active partnerships with employers. YMCA Spain, for example, works with 1,600 employers to connect young people, particularly girls exiting the justice system, with employers.  YMCA is also one of the largest employers of young people in the world.

Building a ‘life project’ creates strong foundations from which to begin to engage in learning and skilling opportunities and the greater likelihood that the young person will stay on the youth employment pathway.

Over the past year, the World YMCA, the international coordinating body of the global YMCA Movement, has been working with external partners and with YMCAs to understand where, and how the YMCA can make the greatest difference. We are exploring how digital skilling solutions can be more effective as part of a young person’s pathway to meaningful work by adding the following five areas of wrap-around support: 

  1. Invest in the foundations for learning readiness

Providers of skilling solutions recognise that readiness to learn is a critical foundation and pre-requisite for effective learning. Reaching the historically underserved is more complex than ‘pushing product’ into the market and requires dedicated competencies and evidence-based approaches to engage this cohort. Building life skills requires the building of trust and space to support the young person in ‘reimagining’ their futures and opening mindsets and expectations to pathways that often differ from their families, peers, and intergenerational experiences. Building a ‘life project’ creates strong foundations from which to begin to engage in learning and skilling opportunities and the greater likelihood that the young person will stay on the youth employment pathway. Ensuring these resources are available is a requirement of any effective approach to expanding the reach of digital skilling solutions.

  1. Take skilling solutions to the young people in their environments

Traditionally, learning and skilling solutions have been delivered in centres that require the young person to come to the solution. While this approach is effective for those who are aware of the need and benefits of obtaining certain skills, and being able to access such centres, it often leaves the underserved and marginalised left behind. Good practice approaches address this issue and take the solutions to the young person in their environment. In these contexts, the skilling solution is added into existing locally relevant activities and curricula as additional modules. Broadening the range of learning platforms is proving an effective approach to increasing numbers of young people accessing skills into pathways for decent jobs and meaningful work. YMCAs, for example, are travelling to rural and slum areas to provide young people and communities with access to computers, connectivity, job-relevant skills and online educational opportunities and building digital literacy initiatives into day camps and sports programmes.

  1. Prepare businesses

Successful transition to job placement requires intentional and thoughtful participation by businesses.  Building effective job pathways requires employers to redesign traditional practices and processes around recruitment, onboarding, retention, and talent development. Good practice employers that embed greater flexibility and responsiveness into internal talent management approaches report greater effectiveness in attracting and retaining diverse workforces and providing those historically underserved with sustainable, meaningful work.

  1. Use sustainable finance approaches

Those committed to reducing SDG 8.6, the number of young people not in employment, education, and training (NEET), recognise that existing funding approaches of philanthropy and development aid, are not enough to deliver the quantum of resources needed. They recognise that new sources of capital from private markets are needed. Impact investing markets, where financial returns as well as social and environmental impact returns are also expected, creates such an opportunity for sustainable finance approaches. These markets have financed the growth of ‘Skills and Pathways impact ventures’. These businesses aim to be financially sustainable generating profits AND are also purpose-driven, with a mission to get young people skilled and into jobs. Identifying high potential ‘Skills and Pathways impact ventures’ and supporting their integration into youth employment pathways, is an emerging new approach. It shows the promise of bringing greater sustainability into efforts to engage the historically underserved into skills and jobs of the future.

  1. Embed user-led design principles

Any effective approach to engage the historically underserved must include a component that embeds their voices into solution designs. Traditionally, education and skilling solutions are designed and delivered to this cohort without sufficient consultation, further reinforcing marginalisation. Effective approaches aim to embed the voices of young people into the Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Learning (MERL) frameworks, and into the adaptation of skilling solutions design and delivery. With more user-friendly solutions, it is expected that more young people will use the skilling solutions and engage in the pathways to job placement and sustainable livelihoods.

The above five approaches are of interest to YMCA and our partners. They form the basis for ongoing inquiry into better understanding how these approaches can be designed to support different communities’ operating contexts and how they can be best funded and supported for widespread rollout. This remains our priority as we continue to explore new ways to work across the YMCA Global Movement, and with our partners, to ensure all young people around the world have the opportunity to access decent jobs and build sustainable livelihoods.

Learn more about the OECD work on Youth employment and social policies

Successful engagement of young people in the labour market and society is crucial not only for their own personal economic prospects and well-being, but also for overall economic growth and social cohesion. Investing in youth is therefore a policy priority for the OECD. Through adequate skills, employment, social and broader policy settings, young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and maintain confidence in their future prospects.

Please sign in

If you are a registered user on The OECD Forum Network, please sign in