This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future.
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“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past, and imagine the world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next”.
— Arundhati Roy (2020)
— Musical Youth (1982)
Around the world, young people have been taking a more prominent role in recent years in addressing the critical societal challenges of our time, injecting much needed urgency, to tackle climate change and the growth of inequalities within our societies. Their energy, vision, determination and impatience are both a source of inspiration and genuine pressure to leave words behind and effect tangible change. If the tide has started to turn, youth deserve their fair share of the credit.
But how much is my view shared by young people themselves? Do young people feel their efforts are making such a difference? Do they believe they are being properly listened to? Perhaps most important of all, how confident are they that the actors and institutions in our democracies, expected to act on their wishes, are really up to the job?
Our own recent analysis is sobering: compared with their parents’ generations, young people may be less likely to feel they’re heard in the political debate or to trust their government, and may be more be disenchanted with democracy. This should be setting off alarm bells.
Just as the advent of the health, economic and societal crisis engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and amplified many pre-existing trends, so we must anticipate this reflected in youth engagement and expectations. The question is whether the crisis will serve to turbo-charge positive change to transform our societies or will it serve to stymie the hopes and dreams of young people, to scar rather than heal.
The COVID-19 Crisis has already taken a significant toll on the lives of young people. The education of 1.6 billion students has been severely disrupted and the prospects of those leaving education today are too often bleak. Whilst online learning has grown exponentially, it remains the preserve of the few, both in terms of stark differences between regions of the world and within our societies. The proportion of students with access to the internet, to a computer they can use for schoolwork, or to a quiet place to study at home varies enormously depending on where they are.
Despite emergency measures in many OECD countries, 1 in every 7 young people of working age were unemployed by the end of 2020. Making ends meet has been especially difficult during the pandemic, with those households headed by under-35s who are losing income, likeliest to fall into poverty.
Something of a silver lining is visible on this cloudy horizon: young people have been resilient and active during the pandemic, helping to foster much needed social cohesion by making major contributions through community service: they have taken the lead in helping the elderly isolated in care facilities or providing peer-to-peer mental health advice and educational support.
To their credit too, many countries and governments within the OECD have responded to the crisis by introducing measures specifically targeted to support young people. Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan includes measures to help youth receive emergency income support, develop skills, and contribute to their communities through volunteering. And Germany, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom, have all provided practical guidance to young people on how to cope at home during confinement. Young people have also benefited from crisis measures supporting low-income households and the unemployed.
But more needs to be done, both to weather the ongoing storm and to prepare for the post-COVID world. Struggling with and surviving the rigours of the pandemic, has once again showed us the importance we human beings attach to strong social bonds to help keep it all together. This timely reminder of what makes us happy should serve to underline the importance of nurturing that sense of togetherness and community that must be the hallmark of any successful and sustainable recovery.
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So how do we at the OECD fit into the picture? Our business is “better policies for better lives”, a simple yet ambitious recasting for a post-financial crisis world, of the OECD’s founding mission to “promote the economic and social well-being of peoples”, 60 years ago. In the wake of 2008, we felt the need to understand better what mattered most and to whom. We pursued and redoubled existing efforts to understand and capture well-being "beyond GDP", finding better ways to measure the progress of societies by analysing the many dimensions that shape people’s quality of life.
We created the OECD Better Life Index, our first genuine engagement initiative with the general public, allowing people to visualise and compare countries’ performance on well-being from jobs and health to safety and the environment. More importantly, in today’s context, we asked a global audience to communicate what aspects of their life were most important to their well-being. Well before COVID-19, health, education and life satisfaction were ranked consistently highly by our audience of millions. In the decade since, the OECD has continued to help countries improve the well-being of their citizens.
Today, as the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt even as vaccination campaigns roll out, we need the vision and experience of every generation to recover. Because youth have most to gain or lose, the most invested over time, governments and institutions like ours must do more to put their concerns at the centre of any recovery strategy. Young people themselves need to have the opportunity and agency to shape a better tomorrow.
This is why we have created Youthwise, where 18-to-30-year-olds share and bring to bear their wisdom, hopes and fears, insights, aspirations and concerns to inform and improve the work of the OECD on their behalf with a special emphasis on the changing worlds of jobs and skills, on the future of work.
Youthwise participants bring their generation’s insights and ideas to the OECD and its stakeholders. They have a voice in the renewal of the OECD Youth Action Plan, take part in our events and activities including the OECD Forum, our Global Parliamentary Network and join other youth leaders at interactive Y20 workshops, as well as leading local events for their communities and networks.
So I call on all 15-to-30-year-olds from all OECD countries to visit our new I am the Future of Work, Now What?! platform to learn more about Youthwise and how your peers are being affected by the changes in learning and jobs. And please spread the word!
Together, we will get through this crisis. With your help, we will all Recover, Imagine and Dare to build a better tomorrow.
|Tackling COVID-19||Future of Work||Future of Education & Skills|
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