On 15 July, the world marked “World Youth Skills Day 2020”, a celebration aimed at recognizing the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship, and to highlight the crucial role of a skilled youth in addressing the current and future global challenges.

The theme this year, ‘Skills for a Resilient Youth’, reflects the unprecedented and challenging context of COVID-19 pandemic.

As revealed in reports of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the pandemic has affected young people more than any other group, with nearly one in six young people out of work. We are also observing an increase in unemployment being more pronounced among young women as compared to young men. Those that have managed to retain their jobs have seen their working hours cut by nearly 25 per cent.

With 16% of the world’s population belonging to youth (aged between 15-24) which in turn constitutes nearly 25% of the total working age population, enhancing the skills of the youth is an imperative that we cannot ignore if we are to successfully address the devastating socio-economic effects of the pandemic on the youth.

India is amongst the youngest countries in the world, and is therefore well poised to take advantage of its high demographic dividend. On World Youth Skills Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Digital Skills Conclave expressing the need for skilling, reskilling and upskilling the youth. The Prime Minister further highlighted that skills play a key role in making a person self-reliant and enhances one’s self-employment potential.

Likewise, the United Nations encourages all stakeholders to promote skilling programmes for the youth. This further has a domino-effect which help in making significant strides in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, not only does it contribute in attaining SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) by providing more opportunities to work, it also helps in achieving SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), and SDG 16 (partnership for the goals).

However, in current times, we have witnessed that economies around the world have been affected, subsequently hampering the possibility of improving the skills of the youth. The global pandemic has impacted not only employment opportunities but has also disrupted the delivery of education, training and skills development programs, and has also made labour market entry and transition between jobs quite challenging.

While this a difficult period that the world is going through, we cannot afford to miss any opportunity of empowering the youth. It is understood that the process of skilling has been hindered due to COVID19 but there is a need to adapt to the present situation and ensure that easily accessible skilling programmes are shared with the younger generation. Perhaps there is an emergent need to skill the youth as they can be the driving force in helping economies recover post COVID19 times.

To ensure that the skilling of youth never stops, especially during times of crises or pandemic, UNESCO launched the Global Skills Academy on July 15 2020, aiming to equip one million young persons with employability and resilience skills worldwide.

In India, realising the importance of training the youth with 21st century skills, UNESCO New Delhi has strategically enhanced its relevance and has engaged more deeply with countries in the sub-region that have expressed a need for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs. For instance, amongst other projects, UNESCO New Delhi is currently supporting a training course offered by Generation India Foundation, designed to upskill nurses and healthcare professionals in India engaged with treating Covid-19 patients. Over 30,000 nurses have already benefited by enrolling in the course since its launch in June.

The World Youth Skills Day serves as a reminder to nurture the youth with the 21st century skills which further helps to boost the economy and supports the youth to continue their personal development and contribute to address our common societal challenges, in our ever so growing competitive world.

As the generations of tomorrow, young women and men need to be equipped to walk our common path towards a new normal built for peace and sustainability.

Eric Falt is the Director, UNESCO New Delhi and UNESCO Representative to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka

Cover Photo: BASIT ZARGAR/The Citizen