We young people know what we want—decision-makers need to listen and understand

Young people require innovative solutions to today's labour market and climate concerns. Carmen Romero of the Global Student Forum calls on leaders to listen to youth voices in these matters and usher in a more inclusive future. Banner image: Shutterstock/Giannis Papanikos
We young people know what we want—decision-makers need to listen and understand

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. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Students and young people like me are witnessing a crisis in political representation, stemming from a gap between the lived reality of decision-makers and our own. This is especially evident when it comes to the way decision-makers act on climate change. Politicians usually have what can be considered settled and stable lives, while young people nowadays don't really know what the future holds.

Young people need long-term solutions - the ones that have been provided up until this very moment are simply not enough. My generation has already experienced two major crises: first, the economic crisis in 2008, which left us without access to proper jobs that would allow us financial independence and resilient futures; second, the current global health crisis that has impacted each and every person in the world.

Some are clearly more affected than others, but what we are seeing is how the few richest people in the world keep on accumulating wealth while most of us suffer the economic hardship caused by the pandemic. It goes without saying that in many OECD countries young people are still privileged compared to the Global South.

Read more on the Forum Network: Giving young people a platform and engaging with local communities, by Ayla Johnstone, Chairperson, Franklin Youth Advisory Board

When thinking about how to better approach the challenges of the future, it is impossible not to think about climate change and how it has impacted our lives so far. But even more crucial is to think about the consequences it will have on our future, and this uncertainty leaves us with many unanswered questions. A central problem is that it seems like we, as young people, are not going to be asked what we want or what we expect from decision-makers and politicians.

For example, we can’t talk about green jobs without mentioning the concept of green economy. Yet without an agreed definition of these terms, for a lot of people it is not clear what “green jobs” are or entail.

According to Rutkowska-Podolowska (2016), green jobs are places of employment that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment in traditional sectors, such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. For many other researchers and scholars, green jobs could be also a solution for unemployed young people.

This definition allows us to understand the “green” part of the concept—but what about the “job” itself? As mentioned before, my generation has witnessed two crises and it is important to stress the fact that both have had an enormous impact on the labour market. Parallel to that, this effect has changed the way recent graduates or young professionals in general can fit themselves in this market.

When talking about access to sustainable or green jobs, we also need to think about labour conditions. The precarity we have been experiencing has made young people overly pragmatic when it comes to the way we approach the labour market. Many times we do not ask ourselves the crucial questions: “Do I like this job? Is this something related to my studies? Can I develop myself by doing this?” On the contrary, we take into consideration whether the salary is going to allow us to pay for rent, food and just maybe a bit of leisure, or whether the contract says 38 hours per week when in fact you’re working much more without being paid.

Read more on the Forum Network: Providing Youth with an Opportunity to Shape the post-COVID World: “Youthwise” for a Better Tomorrow, by Anthony Gooch, Director, OECD Forum

For The International Trade Union Confederation a “Just Transition” refers to “better and decent jobs, social protection, more training opportunities and greater job security for all workers affected by global warming and climate change policies”.

In my opinion, the green economy needs to be one that doesn't leave people behind, focusing instead on human beings and not primarily on products and profit; an economy that is structured for better and decent lives and jobs, and that is responsible and careful with our planet. This pandemic has been one of the clearest examples that prove we need to do things differently, otherwise the multidimensional uncertainty and anxiety that we young people are living with right now is simply going to get worse.

We young people know what we want, but we need decision-makers to listen and to understand that if they don’t change the system we won't have a future; sadly, the most marginalised people don't even have a present. My generation has not been the first one to suffer the consequences of climate change, and I am afraid it won't be the last, but it is still possible to change things for the ones to come. We have the chance—and the time is now.

Read the OECD policy paper Young people’s concerns during COVID-19: Results from risks that matter 2020 that provides cross-national information on young people’s concerns, perceived vulnerabilities and policy preferences

Young people’s concerns during COVID-19: Results from risks that matter 2020

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth projectFind out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

Related topics:

Tackling COVID-19 Climate  People Power  Future of Work

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