NEW YORK (IPS): Many of us can remember the difficulties of getting our first job – the searching, the frustration of rejection, the nervous wait for an interview or the first day of work. Today’s staggering unemployment rates in many countries make it an especially difficult time for young job-seekers.

But imagine how much harder getting that first job is for young people who are unable to count on parental support. Those who grew up in alternative care, in families at risk of separation, who live with the emotional trauma of a difficult childhood, or who have limited schooling are at a particular disadvantage. For these young people, the first job is a matter of survival, the difference between an independent life of dignity or a life of difficulty and abandonment. For them, the first job is a sign of trust.

It should come as no surprise that weak skills training and education are leading factors in joblessness and irregular employment. School leavers and young people with a secondary school degree make up a disproportionate number of the 73 million under-25s worldwide who are unemployed. The situation in poorer regions is grimmer. More than one-third (37.8 percent) of young people in developing countries “are plagued by working poverty”, according to the International Labour Organization’s Global Employment Trends for Youth report. In other words, they hold irregular jobs and have less educational opportunity and fewer social protections.

Acknowledging such economic and social challenges, the writers of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included a number of commitments to help tackle youth unemployment. They recognised that empowering young people through training and meaningful work is essential to reducing poverty, inequality, and building a better world.

Yet the SDGs are only one step. With a global youth unemployment rate of 13 percent – nearly three times the rate for those over 25 – we need to rethink our playbook when it comes to helping the millennial generation develop the skills they need. That is especially true for those who grew up in vulnerable or marginalised situations.

International Youth Day, on 12 August, is as good a time as any to think about ways to help empower young people. If we are to reduce unemployment, governments must ramp up investment in vocational training and quality education that is adapted to changing times. Furthermore, we can be more creative in our partnerships with businesses, for example through job-training opportunities and mentorships. After all, investing in the well-being of children and giving young people a good start to independent life pays returns over decades and promotes positive economic development.

My own organisation has forged such business partnerships in recent years to create opportunity for young people. We linked students and young adults, many of whom grew up in alternative care or at-risk families, with corporate partners who offer mentorships and skill-building opportunities. Our GoTeach partnership with Deutsche Post DHL Group, for instance, has provided training and career opportunity to more than 7,000 15-to-25-year-olds in at least 26 countries. But above all, it has given them that first chance and the trust they needed. The young people take ownership by defining their needs and helping to design their training.

What we’ve seen since the launch of GoTeach in 2011 is that young participants gain confidence about their job prospects. They have better self-esteem, are more inspired about their career options, and are more motivated to guide their own future. Many also develop a strong rapport with their volunteer mentors. These volunteers in turn say they gain by helping to create better communities to live and work.

In July, such career partnerships were showcased at the UN Partnership Exchange, a forum for sharing good practices to help achieve the SDGs. These initiatives show how international organisations, governments, civil society and businesses can team up to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. Creativity, qualitative results, ensuring inclusiveness and meaningful participation in decision-making, plus focusing on equity over immediate return – these are some keys to the success of these partnerships.

We owe it to ourselves to help equip the next generation with the opportunity to take risks, learn, shape their own future and find a meaningful career. Workplace partnerships are one way to do that. If a fairer, more equitable and better world is the goal, then investing in stable and decent youth employment is one of the most beneficial investments of all.

(Sofía García García is the SOS Children’s Villages Representative to the United Nations in New York.)

(Cover Photo: With 600 million youths predicted to enter the job market by 2026, the rise in youth unemployment is a global challenge that must be tackled now. Credit: IPS)